Bigger than a country, heir to a past so rich that it houses more sites on the register of World Heritage sites or classed as such than any other region in France, Languedoc Roussillon is a land where uniqueness is everywhere.
Now part of the Occitanie region, the Languedoc-Roussillon area, popularly known as the Languedoc, is the central region of the south of France; it includes the western Mediterranean coast of France, stretching from the Rhone valley in the east, to the Spanish border in the south west, and comprises five departments four of these are Mediterranean coastal departments: the Gard, the Hérault, the Aude and the Eastern Pyrenees or Pyrénées orientales. The fifth department is rather different, being the upland department of Lozère, which forms the southern bastion of the Massif Central.
Exceptional places labelled “Grands Sites” or those inscribed in the World Heritage of Humanity by Unesco can be seen throughout the region. The Canal du Midi, the Chemins de Saint-Jacques, the episcopal city of Albi, the Causses and the Cévennes, the fortifications of Vauban, the Pont du Gard, the Cirque de Gavarnie and the Mont Perdu, the city of Carcassonne… Languedoc Roussillon is a veritable history book.
We have given a brief guide below to the highlights in each of the 5 departments that make up Languedoc-Roussillon.
Lozère, the most northern department in Languedoc, is best known for its dramatic and unspoiled scenery. One particular natural highlight is the Gorges du Tarn, lined by cliffs and steep forested slopes.
In the centre of the Lozère department we particularly recommend a visit to Mende considered in the 16th century as one of the richest dioceses in Languedoc, exemplified by the two impressive bell towers of Notre Dame cathedral and Saint-Privat.
One of most popular destinations in the Gard department is undoubtedly Nimes, both for the town itself and for its exceptional Roman ruins. Its ancient monuments have made a reputation for it. The amphitheatre naturally, one of the best preserved of the Roman world. Then there are the Maison Carrée, a temple that dominated the ancient city, the Gate of Augustus, the Temple of Diana and the Tour Magne.
No trip to Nimes would be complete without a visit to the nearby Pont du Gard aqueduct, one of the most impressive Roman monuments in Europe.
The coastline in Herault to east and the west of the department offer a choice of traditional fishing villages and beach resorts. The west is centred around the large seawater lake of Etang de Thau which is surrounded by several traditional fishing towns and villages such as Marseillan, Sete and Balaruc-le-Vieux. To the east the main highlight is the resort at La Grande-Motte, which offers stunning architecture as well as popular seaside resorts.
Among the most important towns in Herault are Montpellier, a town that retains a timeless charm thanks to the medieval appearance of its streets, and Beziers with its the Gothic cathedral of Saint-Nazaire and Saint-Celse which has the appearance of a fortress. Built between the 13th and the15th centuries and dominating the plain of the Orb, it bore witness to the “Sack of Béziers” during the Albigensian crusade.
Stretching inland from the Mediterranean along the Aude river. The first stop for most visitors is the exceptional fortified city of Carcassonne, certainly among the most interesting towns in France to visit with numerous historical monuments.
The ruined cathar castles such as those at Queribus and Peyrepertuse are another highlight of a visit to Aude as is the nearby Rennes-le-Chateau made famous by its mysterious church. Towards the coast you will certainly want to visit the lively town of Narbonne the “first daughter of Rome” and the oldest Roman colony in Gaul after Aix-en-Provence.
The most southern department in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, the Pyrenees-Orientales is ideal if you wish to combine a visit to the coast with excursions into the foothills of the Pyrenees. A highlight on the coast is most certainly the town of Collioure with a beach, a sea-front castle and an extensive old town with numerous pastel coloured houses and a wide variety of restaurants.
The Catalan influence in this area is clear and no more so than in Perpignan. A fine spa town with the river Basse going through it, Catalan Perpignan prefigures the atmosphere, the colours and above all the light of Catalonia in Spain.