Languedoc-Roussillon Villa holiday guide
Languedoc-Roussillon holidays take foodies, nature lovers, and Medieval history fans deep into French Catalonia. Spanish tapas bars reign in sunny Perpignan, former home to the kings of Majorca. Sand dunes play backdrop to a sweeping coastline in the Catalan village of Toreilles, home to one of the wildest beaches on the Mediterranean. And the beauty of sun-parched Carcassonne, Europe's largest Medieval walled city, is rivalled only by the Sun King's mountain citadel in Villefranche-de-Conflent. If you're a gastronome, head to Toulouse for meaty sausage, Pyrenean lamb and creamy duck cassoulet - best washed down with local Corbières red wine.
Montpellier, the regional capital, enchants with neo-classical squares and medieval gems like the 14th-century Cathédrale St.-Pierre with its fairytale turrets. Old wine warehouses - chais - line Narbonne's Robine canal, which joins the Canal du Midi and its cycling paths. While Toulouse, the pink city, is a foodie heaven with restaurants galore and the noisy Victor Hugo covered market, bursting with fresh fish, game and charcuterie. Spanish culture infiltrates Béziers, with its Victorian-era arena where corridas (bullfights) and operas are held. Le Castillet, one of Europe's finest city gates, topped with Moorish crenellations, is found in Perpignan, famous for its peachy streets and sprawling cafés.
Countryside in Languedoc-Roussillon
Discover basalt mounts speckled with red shale at Lac du Salagou in northern Languedoc. The way the landscape reflects on the freshwater lake is hauntingly beautiful. An underground world of aragonite and calcite rock formations await in caves below Clamouse. Or take in the spectacular over-ground scenery of Gorges du Tarn whose 50-metre-tall canyons slice dramatically through the slopes of Mont Lozère. For pure romance, vine-bordered paths at Villeneuve-Minervois lead to eerie 4,000-year-old megalithic tombs. One unlikely legend has it that one of them was erected by Roland, Charlemagne's nephew.
Eating and drinking in Languedoc-Roussillon
Sandwiched between the sea and the mountains, Languedoc-Roussillon serves the best of the surf and the turf. On a stretch of land surrounded by sea Sète is the place for fish. Head to its criée (wholesale fish market) early in the morning and watch local chefs fill their baskets with fresh sea bass, mussels and tuna. Further inland in Toulouse pork sausages are best enjoyed with creamy, white beans from Tarbes. Spain's culinary influence is omnipresent near the Spanish border. Tuck into prawn and chicken paella in Perpignan, or sip an apéritif over spicy chorizo and octopus tapas in the Catalan town of Prades. Wash it all down with a full-bodied Faugères red, made on the hills of Béziers; or a sparkling white Crémant de Limoux from the Carcassonne area.
Languedoc-Roussillon's National Parks
North of Béziers the Parc Naturel Régional du Haut Languedoc is a varied land of lush woods and rocky outcrops parched by the sun. In its eastern extremity the pretty village of Olargues woos with steep, sinuous streets, a Romanesque bridge and valley views over the river Jaur; while around Mont Caroux, hikers flock for alternate meadow and mountain vistas, punctuated by the earthy green of oak forests. Further south, near Narbonne, the Parc Narbonnaise is a haven for birdlife. Lose yourself amid salt flats frequented by flamingoes and scale the cliffs to spot migratory birds.
Arts and culture in Languedoc-Roussillon
See France's oldest botanical gardens at Montpellier's Jardin des Plantes, opened in 1593. It wows plant buffs today with almost three thousand species. In Toulouse, the Musée des Augustins, set in a former Augustinian convent, brims with Romanesque sculpture and paintings confiscated from aristocrats during the Revolution. On the other side of town, step into outer space at Cité de l'Espace, where a life-size model of the Ariane 5 rocket and a replica of the Mir Space Station keep families entertained for hours. Don't miss the IMAX cinema and its fascinating 3-D film about the Hubble satellite.
History in Lauguedoc-Roussillon
Southwest France is inseparable from the Cathars, Medieval religious separatists who shaped French history and left a trail of castles behind them in the process. Step back in time at the Château de Peyrepertuse in Duihac, where two Cathar ruins, joined by a vast staircase, melt photogenically into the jagged cliff top. Brave the hour-long hike to the top or take your car. Further north the Châteaux de Lastours's four castles once protected devout Cathar monks: The Quertineux section contains Romanesque church ruins, while the Surdespine section harbours murder-holes used for pouring hot oil onto attackers. For the best views head to the Montfermier Belvedere.
Active pursuits in Languedoc-Roussillon
With water courses galore and a mosaic of scenery to explore, kayaking is a fine way to sightsee in Languedoc-Roussillon. For cliffs that drop dramatically down to the river bed and waterfalls that plug into pea-green pools, head to the Gorges du Tarn, where several companies hire equipment and offer tours. If you're into adrenalin rushes, ride a trimaran - the 'racing car of the sea' - in Sète. The boats, which are used in international competitions, can reach a speed of 40 knots (74 km/hour). Challenging hiking routes and heart-stopping vistas are widespread in the Cathar country, across the verdant, mountainous Aude region.
Relaxation in Languedoc-Roussillon
Pamper yourself silly in Bagnols-les-Bains, near the Gorges du Tarn, where naturally hot thermal springs (45.5°C) have been soothing tired muscles since Roman days. Or head south to Llo (west of Perpignan) in the Pyrenees to contemplate snowy mountains as you soak in warm thermal water. In Montpellier stroll the landscaped parterres of Château de la Mogère, where English-style gardens lead you past flowerbeds strewn with statues. Feel the gentle sway of a barge in Carcassonne as you sail along the Canal du Midi, past tree-lined keys, vineyards and flower-filled meadows.