Languedoc-Roussillon in the south of France includes the cities of Montpellier, Nîmes, Toulouse, and Carcassonne. One of the leading wine-producing areas of the world, it’s also known for its impressive Roman heritage and the 240km- (149 mile-) long Canal du Midi.
Both Languedoc and Roussillon are old provinces of France, the first named for the language (langue) spoken by its occupants, called Occitan, and the second from the Roman name Ruscino. Languedoc covers the present-day départements of Lozère, Gard, Hérault, and Aude, and Roussillon covers the Pyrénées Orientales, on the border with Spain. To the west, the city of Toulouse is in the Haute-Garonne département of the Midi-Pyrénées region.
The coast of Languedoc-Roussillon, from Montpellier to the Spanish frontier, might be called France’s “second Riviera” (after the Côte d’Azur). This land of ancient cities has an almost continuous strip of sand stretching west from the Rhône toward the Pyrénées, adored by sun lovers in July and August. But it’s a far more relaxed region than its eastern rival, particularly out of season when the beaches empty, the cities return to their inhabitants and the crowds disappear.
The area around the regional capital of Perpignan is French Catalonia. From the 13th to the 17th centuries, it passed between the kings of Aragón, Majorca, and France. In 1659, it became part of Louis XIV’s centralized kingdom. Though officially French today, cultural links with Spain are strong, and the high-speed rail link to Barcelona has brought the two Catalan cities even closer.
As for wine, Hérault, Aude, and Garde are some of the largest wine producers in the world. Huge investment over the years has led to a new reputation for the region’s wines and many have now been granted an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée. It’s become an area to discover small, boutique producers, biodynamic and organic experts, unknown labels and the local co-operatives. Look for Fitou in the Hautes-Corbières district near Narbonne, Minervois, north of Carcasssonne, Gaillace west of Albi, and Blanquette de Limoux, south of Carcassonne.