Languedoc, part of the région of Languedoc-Roussillon, is one of my favourite areas of France. It's off the beaten track of Provence, whilst also providing warm weather in the summer and some of the greatest scenery in France; it oozes cultural heritage, be that art galleries, museums or châteaux. In addition, its many, many kilometres of vines and olive groves provide for an experience of a lifetime for any foodie or even a remote francophile, and the warmth of the sea means you can work off that gut at the same time as enjoying yourself! There's nothing like sampling local produce, such as olives, on a long summer evening in rural Languedoc with the cicadas singing whilst enjoying a drop or two of the local vin.
An avenue in the first village where we stayed.
- Where I went, and for how long
I went with my (admittedly, slightly dysfunctional) family for a fortnight to a tiny, sleepy village in the Hérault département called Villemagne-l'Argentière for the first week - we stayed in a cool top-floor apartment above the owners' house where you could escape the heat of the day. Then we stayed in a larger village called Laroque (in the same département) for the second week. We flew to Nîmes with Ryanair (nightmare for legroom, but I can't recall any screaming babies) and hired a car from the airport there.
- What was great?
The sun! I can't remember a day when it rained or was remotely cloudy. Every day, the temperature was over 30°C by lunchtime and it was just beautiful: the whole landscape was bathed in sun and the rivers glittered like diamonds in the crown jewels of France (the literal crown jewels are now in the Louvre, for those wondering). Every day was t-shirt and shorts weather!
The scenery! It was really pretty and hilly, being in the foothills of the Cévennes. This meant you could get a great view if you climbed up a little way, which was great as long as it was shady! We also visited an old castle-monastery, which was really pretty and the chapel was exquisite, not in a grand way: it was very bare, with just wooden benches and a stone altar; the only decoration being a statue of St Michael overcoming a demon. Even the windows weren't made of glass, they appeared to be stretched animal skin or fabric over gaps in the walls, which meant that the whole chapel was very dark and added to the mystery of it.
The food! As I mentioned before, Languedoc is absolute heaven for foodies, and I may or may not have an olive addiction... Well, in France, it was a lot cheaper on that front. In addition, the wine was amazing, and we still haven't got through all of the good stuff we bought down there.
The chapel from the outside.
I think I lived off bread, olives, wine, salad and watermelon for the whole two weeks. Needless to say, I slimmed down a bit, swimming most days and basically eating vegetables for two weeks! I ended up looking fairly trim when I came back...
The culture and history! We visited Montpellier, the capital of Languedoc-Roussillon, one day, and loved it. The cathedral was amazing: an oasis of cool and calm amongst the busy, hot life of the city, with trams going to and fro. The buildings in the centre are similar to those of Paris - old and really beautiful. There were lots of tiny streets to get lost down (although we managed not to) and the tram system is really great - it's like a smoother, more reliable and generally better version of Park & Ride buses in the UK.
- What was a letdown?
The legroom on the Ryanair flight! I'm pretty tall (6'4"+) so I had to sit sideways the whole time to fit my legs in. It wasn't the most comfortable. Oh, and the security guards at Nîmes airport weren't the most friendly. Plus, I don't know about you, but I always get really nervous going through security at airports even though I'm not a criminal!
The worst thing, however, was that I got sunstroke from sunbathing too much without sun cream! I had to stay inside for days on end afterwards and it was too painful to do anything, even put a shirt on. I've watched my quota of daytime TV for years to come...
Feast your eyes on the stunning landscape!
- What does it cost to do it bare bones/live comfortably/live like a king?
The accommodation was about £500 per week - that was for a two-bedroom apartment sleeping 4 with its own terrace. The food isn't too bad, and the local specialities such as olives and wine are much cheaper than in the UK, due to lack of long-distance transport and no import taxes etc., plus the fact that supermarkets in France have to stock local produce by law.
The flights were roughly £50 one-way per person if I recall correctly, including all of Ryanair's fees and so on.
- Tips on being prepared
First and foremost: bring sun cream!
Another important thing to note is that you should at least have a go at learning the language. It's not that difficult if you actually try, and the locals will respect you much more for it. At the time of writing, Duolingo offered free language courses in French, German, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.
Don't forget French customs! If in doubt, use the formal "vous" instead of the more informal "tu" - as silly as this sounds, it does really matter to the French. There are some guides to French customs and etiquette here, here and here.
I shall leave you with this quotation:
“In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport.”
― Julia Child
She's right, too!
N.B. All images were taken by me.