The Villages Group

Lifestyle of Languedoc

Think of the south of France and most of us picture sun-baked Provence or the chic Riviera, but these familiar honeypots are only one chapter in the area's story. Just next door is Languedoc-Roussillon. Wrapped around the western curve of France's Mediterranean shore, it's a region rich in natural beauty, vibrant culture and fascinating history.

Languedoc-Roussillon's vital statistics make for tantalising reading: 300 days of sunshine a year, 135 miles of coast and six Unesco world heritage sites, including the Canal du Midi, opened in 1681 to connect the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Everything from olives to oysters is farmed here, too, alongside 740,000 acres of vineyards – three times the amount found in Bordeaux. Best of all, it's within easy reach of the UK. The region's five airports are less than two hours from London, while the train from Paris takes about three hours to reach the coast.

Once here, dip into a diverse landscape, from the snow-capped Pyrénées in the south to the lagoons of the Camargue on the Provence border. Follow narrow, winding roads up to ruined castles or precariously perched hilltop villages. Enjoy cultural events in the region's major cities, which include Perpignan and Montpelier, or watch live sport in the rugby hotbed of Béziers. Then embrace the great outdoors: walking, kayaking or simply sunbathing by the sea – Argelès-sur-Mer has a six-mile stretch of sand, while the pretty ports of the Côte Vermeille, beloved by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, still charm today.

Languedoc-Roussillon is divided into five départements. The southernmost, Pyrénées-Orientales, is sometimes called northern Catalonia as many inhabitants along the mountainous Spanish border speak Catalan, and the anchovies of Collioure form the basis of many a Catalan dish. Its most famous peak, Canigou, is popular with trekkers in the summer, or you can explore the towns – the citadel of Mont-Louis and the fortified town of Villefranche-de-Conflent are both world heritage sites.

Moving north, the rocky landscape of Aude is home to 11 castles built by the Cathars, a fascinating Christian movement brutally suppressed by the Inquisition in the 13th century. Carcassonne is the jewel in the Cathar crown and a world heritage site, but you will find Roman architecture too – the handsome city of Narbonne was one of the empire's provincial capitals – and flourishing alongside, the vineyards of the Pays Corbières Minervois, producing some of the region's most quaffable wines.

Discover more about the South of France courtesy of SUD DE FRANCE DÉVELOPPEMENT

Find out more about this wonderful region of France:

The Gay

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