Languedoc-Roussillon

The coast of Languedoc-Roussillon runs along the Mediterranean shore, bordering Spain in its south-west corner, and extending into the eastern Pyrenees. It is divided into the following departments: Aude, Gard, Hérault, Lozère and Pyrénées-Orientales.

Lozère is the departement furthest inland, and has so much unspoilt scenery in its part of the Massif Central mountain range. The south-west holds some of the best spots to visit. Consider the 'Gorges du Tarn', the deepest European gorges. A road runs alongside, and allows visitors to appreciate the sights (significantly easier in some places than in others); Saint-George-de-Lévéjac has what is called a ‘point sublime', with dramatic views of the canyon and cliffs 500m high. This point is quite a bit off the beaten track, and more specifically off the aforementioned road. Villages that visitors may wish to see along this route include Montbrun, Sainte-Enimie and Castelbouc. The Corniche des Cevennes caves are huge. The ‘Gorges de la Jonte' are also a spectacle, and there is a national park in the form of the Cevennes. Most interestingly amidst these various natural landscapes is the Gevaudan wolf park, where these animals roam freely in around 20 hectares of space.

In Gard, the city of Nîmes is the most popular attraction, largely due to its Roman history. The 2,000 year-old elliptical amphitheatre which is now used for bullfighting, and the ‘maison carré', the only complete Roman temple in existence, are the two best examples of this. On a different note and certainly a construction of an utterly different style, Norman Foster's iconic glass building, the ‘Carré d'Art' is just next to it. Aside from this city, the fortified town Aigues-Mortes and the mediaeval Uzes might be worth popping into.

Ten kilometres inland in Hérault, is Montpellier, thought to be France's fastest-growing city. In the Place de la Comédie, the main square, a theatre stands proudly, and is artistically interesting to look around. In the Antigone district, new architectural styles blend effortlessly with old (although that is perhaps just a saying, as the new styles appear to have been applied with the existing city in mind!). France's oldest botanical garden (16th century) is in Montpellier, and there is also the ‘Jardin de Poitiers', a mediaeval-styled garden which is designed around church ruins. Beziers is not only right at the hub of France's biggest wine-producing region, but provides quite the journey through French history, with various Romanesque and Gothic buildings. Nearby, the delightfully unspoiled town of Pezenas was the inspiration for much of Molière's work, and he is commemorated with a statue.

Aube is where to go to see a variety of cathar castles, such as in Carcassonne, with its remarkable fortress. Near the coastline, the Sigean Nature Reserve offers 300 hectares to thousands of wild animals, such as lions and zebra. Limousis and Cabrespine have some caves to explore, and the Giant Cave of Cabrespine is one of the largest in Europe. In the Montagne Noire to the north of this department, there is many a village through which to go hiking. There is also a nice little jazz festival in the village of Roquefere here.

Pyrénées-Orientales borders Spain and is home to the illustrious Mount Canigou. This is considered a spiritual home of Catalan, with both French and Spanish Catalans flocking to it for the summer solstice. A good hiking setting, there is an annual race of 33km. The King of Aragon claimed to have seen a dragon emerge from the water and fly into the sky, whilst at the summit. Another evocative spot in this department is that of Perpignan, famously declared the centre of the world by Salvador Dalí. Perhaps an ideal itinerary would entail following the Tech and Tet Valleys. Tech Valley goes through Ceret, where Picasso lived (there is also a good art museum here). The ‘Gorges de la Fou' are worth a visit if you don't mind the imposition of a path laid out throughout, allowing visitors to explore the dramatic gorges entirely safely.