Languedoc, one of southern France's great old provinces, encompasses such cities as Montpellier (its capital), Nîmes, Carcassonne, and Narbonne. As neighboring Provence has become busier and more expensive, visitors are discovering the many charms and unspoiled landscapes of Languedoc. Vibrant Montpellier is home to a large university with a vast student population, making it one of the youngest cities in the country. Enchanting medieval market towns such as Uzès and Pézenas thrive by celebrating ancient crafts and traditions, their narrow streets filled with artisans' studios. Vineyards cover large expanses of the landscape -- which is not surprising considering that Languedoc-Roussillon is the world's largest wine region.
The coast of Languedoc-Roussillon -- from Montpellier to the Spanish frontier -- has nowhere near the level of development of the Côte d'Azur. An almost-continuous strip of sand stretches west from the Rhône River and curves snakelike toward the Pyrénées, stopping at the rocky coves of the Côte Vermeille. Inland, the dramatic hills and peaks of the Haut Languedoc remain remote and undiscovered by the average tourist, while the forests and hills of the Corbières highlands attracts wine lovers on the trail of robust reds.
Ancient Roussillon is a small region bordering Spain and forming the Pyrénées-Orientales département. It includes the city of Perpignan and towns of Collioure and Céret within its borders. This is French Catalonia, symbolized by the towering snow-capped Pic du Canigou looming in the distance. The region is inspired as much by Barcelona in neighboring Spain as by Paris. Over its long and colorful history, it has known many rulers. Legally part of the French kingdom until 1258, it was surrendered to James I of Aragón, and until 1344 it was part of the ephemeral kingdom of Majorca, with Perpignan as the capital. By 1463, Roussillon was annexed to France again. Then Ferdinand of Aragón won it back, but by 1659 France had it once again. The bright yellow and red Catalan flag is everywhere, echoing the enormous pride residents have in their heritage, cuisine, and traditions -- even if most people don't speak the language. Catalan, like many of France's regional languages, had been suppressed by Paris for more than 2 centuries, and as recently as the 1950s, schoolchildren were punished if they spoke it in class. Since 2007 it has been designated one of the official languages of Pyrénées-Orientales, and is visible on many of the street signs.
Like Provence and Roussillon, Languedoc has its own ancient language, Occitan. It, too, has just managed to survive official suppression over the centuries. Visitors are unlikely to hear it spoken nowadays, but many of the street names and signs are in both French and Occitan.
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