Thursday, 11 April 2013

Tourist attractions in Languedoc-Roussillon

An introduction to Languedoc-Roussillon

Banyuls sur mer   Historically, the area known as "Languedoc" covered a large part of southern France;Roussillon is a much smaller area, being more or less the area covered by the Eastern Pyrenees department. Roussillon, in the past, was the northern part of Catalonia., and people here still speak Catalan as well as French.

The regional capital of Languedoc-Roussillon is the city of Montpellier, a thriving modern city in the Hérault, with a historic centre; other major cities in the region are Nimes, NarbonneSete and Perpignan.
     Unlike Provence, Languedoc has a considerable coastal plain, and except in the department of Eastern Pyrenees, much of the coastal area is flat. In the past, the land was swampy and plagued with mosquitoes, which is why tourism did not develop here in the 19th century, as it did on the coast further east. However, the swamps were drained long ago, and the mosquitoes brought under control, leading to the tourist development of this long coastline as from the nineteen-sixties. 
     Today, the coast of Languedoc is characterised by long sandy beaches, often with plenty of space, and a modern tourist infrastructure, with twentieth-century resorts such as Cap d'Agde, Palavas, or Narbonne Plage. The brash developments of the sixties have had time to mature, parts of the coastline have been recovered for more environmentally sensitive tourism development; and among  the quite densely built-up resort areas, there are attractive bits of coastline and hinterland. However, as a general rule, the areas within 20 km of the coast have been extensively developed for tourism in the last forty years.
    The fertile coastal plain is given over to agriculture, vineyards and - particularly in Roussillon - fruit and vegetables. Languedoc is one of France's major wine-growing areas.
    Those who do not want to spend their holidays being char-grilled on a beach will perhaps prefer to discover the old Languedoc, away from the cities and the immediate coastal strip. Inland Languedoc is a beautiful area, characterised by vineyards and "garrigue", arid rocky Mediteranean hills with their vegetation of scrub, aromatic bushes and occasional fields. Further inland, the valleys of the Cevennes, more wooded and rural, give way to the Cevennes hills, the southeastern peaks of the Massif Central.
    The area has a lot of historic cities, such as Nimes with its superb Roman remains, the famous walled city of Carcassonne, the former Roman provincial capital of Narbonne, and other smaller ancient cities, such as Agde . 
    The Pyrenees, forming a natural land barrier between France and Spain, are a beautiful range of high mountains,  wooded on their lower slopes, but offering good mountain and hill walking higher up - not to mention the attraction of day trips into Spain.  The coastline where they meet the sea is unlike the rest of the Languedoc coast, and is characterised by old coastal villages such as Banyuls and Collioure, rocky cliffs and small coves. The villages on the Pyrenean coastline can be reached directly by train.

Access to Languedoc : by TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon, or from Lille; train from many cities, motorway from Paris, Lille, Strasbourg, Nancy, Lyon, Geneva. There are airports at Nimes, Montpellier, Carcassonne and Perpignan, with low-cost flights from the UK, Belgium and Holland..

The Origin of the name "Languedoc":
The "Langue d'oc" was the version of French spoken in the south of the country, and Languedoc referred to the part of France in which the "language of Oc" was spoken. "Oc" was the word for "yes" in this part of France, at a time when people in the north of France said "oeuil", an old French word that has become modern French "oui". Today, the "langue d'oc" survives in the many patois still spoken by a few people in rural areas of this part of France.

Main tourist attractions in Languedoc Roussillon

The ramparts of Carcassonne
The ramparts of Carcassonne ©

Canal du Midi - world heritage site
The Canal du Midi

Pont du Gard

The Pont du Gard, near Nimes   - photo W Staudt

Banyuls sur mer
Banyuls sur Mer - Pyrénees orientales:
and below, the Petit train jaune scenic railway, near Perpignan.
Petit train jaune des Pyrénées

Below: Impressive Aude gorge, in the Pyrenees
High valley of the Aude - Pyrenees
Including different departments:
  • Le Canal du Midi - (34,11) world's oldest commercial canal, built in 17th century. From Agde to Carcassonne, - and beyond to the Atlantic. Canal with shaded cycleway and footpath. UNESCO world heritage site.
  • Les Cévennes: (30, 34) beautiful mountains, with steep wooded valleys. National Park area. Impressive caves .
  • The Coast:(30, 34, 11, 66) plenty of beaches, marinas and small ports. Miles of sandy beaches, crowded in parts at times, but also including long expanses of fairly empty sand.
  • Gorges du Tarn (12 - 48)  dramatic and deep gorge of the river Tarn, through the limestone rock of the Causses.
By department East to West

  • Bagnols sur Cèze (30) Musée Albert André. Fine collection of late 19th century French art, including works by Bonnard, Matisse, Marquet, Signac, Jongkind, Rodin and more.
  • Nimes: (30) old city with narrow streets, and remarkable Roman remains, including the Arena and the Maison Carrée
  • Le Pont du Gard: (30) UNESCO World Heritage site, impressive Roman aqueduct, just north east of Nimes.
  • Aigues Mortes: (30) fortified town near the coast, once a port from which the Crusaders set forth.
  • Train à vapeur des Cévennes: (30) Cevennes steam railway. From Anduze
  • La Lozère: (48) sparsely-populated upland area, with a dry climate, mountains, spruce forests and gorges...
  • Montpellier: (34) regional capital, with old centre, the Musée Fabre, churches and other sites.
  • Agde : attractive old small city, old streets, market, cathedral, waterfront.
  • Béziers: (34) traditional Languedoc city, with old streets, churches and gardens.
  • St. Guilhen le Désert (34) - small mediaeval city with romanesque abbey and ruined castle. Also the nearby Grotte de la Clamouse: magnificent stalacmites and stalagtites.
  • Sète: (34) fishing and commercial port. Old town, beaches, boat trips
  • Narbonne: (11) former Roman city, once the regional capital, with an impressive cathedral, underground Roman grain-store, and canalside quays.
  • Carcassonne: (11) UNESCO World Heritage site, a historic city encircled by medieval ramparts. 
  • Cathar country: a collection of fabulous mediaeval castles, veritable eagles nests perched on rocky crags, guarding over this once turbulent frontier region. Of special note are the castles of Quéribus and Puylaurens.
  • Cathar country tourist train, departs from Rivesaltes near Perpignan, and rises to Axat in the Pyrenees.
  • Sigean (11) African safari park: perhaps the best and the biggest (almost 700 acres) wildlife park in France (opened in 1974).
  • The Canal du Midi: (34, 11)  UNESCO World Heritage site, the world's oldest major canal, opened in 1681, linking the Mediterranean and the Atlantic
Pyrénées Orientales
  • Céret (66): Museum of Modern Art, with works by Picasso, Chagall, Matisse, Braque etc.
  • Collioure & Banyuls: (66)  picturesque  villages almost on the Spanish border, where the Pyrenees meet the sea.
  • Le Train Jaune(66) take the train up into the Pyrenees, from near Perpignan. Spectacular scenery, and open-top wagons.