Some call Languedoc-Roussillon (now part of Occitanie), the true South of France – especially those lucky enough to live here! Edged by the sea, Languedoc Roussillon always seems bathed in glorious sunshine. Its coastline stretches from very edge of Provence to the Spanish border and Catalonia – some 220kms. Joanna Leggett, Marketing Director at Leggett Immobilier reveals why Languedoc-Roussillon is a great place to live.
Coast and country
Languedoc’s name derives from the ancient romance language which once dominated this area. It’s still spoken, to greater or lesser extent, in southern France, northern Spain, Monaco and even parts of Italy. In this medieval language the customary word for yes was ‘oc’ and it became known as langue d’oc. Langue d’oc split into increasingly distinct dialects – from Gascon to Catalan, and Provençal.
Languedoc-Roussillon stretches all around France’s most eastern seaboard with the Mediterranean and now forms part of the larger administrative district of Occitanie. In some ways it almost appears to be an amphitheatre for this part of the Western Mediterranean with its terraced vineyards. Around one third of all French wine is produced in this sunny region. Reds tend to be full-bodied and fruit driven, then there’s the ‘black’ wine of Cahors, Côtes de Nîmes, unoaked white wines, palest pink rosé. There’s Cremant de Limoux – supposedly older than Champagne – and unctuous sweet wines from Muscat to Maury – the latter is reputed to last up to 100 years. And of course, the famed apéro, Noilly Prat, is made at Marseillan just at the end of the Canal du Midi!
And then there’s the food… They say Languedoc-Rousillon sits between the olive groves of Provence and the Landes of Gascony – you could say between garlic and foie gras – and they use the best of these ingredients in their dishes. The coast is always close by so of course this means fish and oysters, mussels, scallops and clams to be eaten with garlic shallots and parsley. The traditional Bourride of Sète is made from the bony anglerfish – closely related to bouillabaise from Provence with broth strained at the end of cooking before being thickened with delicious aioli. Brandade de Nîmes is well known in France, salt cod with a mixture of oil and milk and it tastes much better than it sounds!
As soon as you head southwards towards Montpellier food starts to change – there are little pies – petit pâtes of Pezénas and Beziérs made with mutton, mutton fat, raisins, brown sugar and zested and then there is Cassoulet with varying recipes – the one from Toulouse includes goose or duck, mutton, famed Toulouse sausages, haricots and other delicious morsels. Then there are pâtés of foie gras and walnut and olive oil is used in abundance, plus lots of game.
The Spanish influence
Spain is not far away and the strong Catalan influence around the southernmost part of Languedoc-Roussillon is reflected in both the wine and food. Banyuls, a delicious, fortified wine, comes from around the beautiful port of Collioure close to the border with Spain. Around here many of the dishes are cooked in the more robust Catalan style – including anchovy pâtés or cod cooked in a spicy mixture of aubergine, peppers and tomato. This part of France has only been French since the time of Cardinal Richelieu (chief Minister of Louis XIII and of the Three Musketeers time) so both the style of eating and living are a mélange a mix, and some older people still speak the local Catalan.
The northernmost reaches of Languedoc take in the southern section of the Massif Central – the Haut Languedoc and Cévennes national park. These have traditionally been sparsely populated areas with extensive forests, fast flowing streams and have strong appeal for the adventurous or those who wish to fish for trout. Further south are Nîmes, with its Roman remains, and Montpellier closer to the sea.
Authentic villages and historic towns
This area was less ‘well fought over’ than many other parts of France, so villages were less likely to have been built defensively. Many still have half-timbered village houses which, in summer when brilliant flowers fall lushly from balconnières to adorn stone grey walls, are very picturesque. Downstream from the spectacular gorges the river Tarn flows through beautiful pastoral landscapes en route to Albi. Midi Pyrénées lies open like a flat book between the Massif Central and the Pyrénées mountain range. Also inland are Carcassonne, Toulouse and the luscious rich countryside of the Midi Pyrénées.
Inland Languedoc-Rousillon is diverse and beautiful, as is the Mediterranean coast. The very first time I drove back from close to the Spanish border with my daughter I was struck by white faced low mountain ranges over the coastal plains – painted so lovingly by Cézanne they had always seemed to be drawn from the improbable imagination of an Impressionist painter and yet here they are for real. Vast fishing areas lie to your right as you drive northwards – oyster beds are nurtured here in the salt water étangs – the perfect place to stop for a seafood lunch. Collioure is popular with overseas buyers, as it was with Matisse. Not for nothing is this fishing port known as the jewel of the Côte Vermeille. Moving further north, you cross the end of the Canal du Midi near Marseillan to arrive at Sète the perfect place to watch the sun set sitting beside one of its canals for a splendid fish supper!
Where to live in Languedoc-Rousillon
There’s so much choice when it comes to where to live in Languedoc-Roussillon and of course local agents know all villages and towns and can advise exactly what suits your dream list. Some of my favourites include the Catalan village of Fuilla from where it’s under an hour to the ski slopes or sea. It’s southwest of the ancient city of Prades, where Spanish guitarist Segovia lived for many years.
Rieux en Val is an historical village between Carcassonne and Lezignan, with a Roman bridge famed for its appearance in the classic ’60s film ‘Le Miracle des Loups’.
Pézenas is the most enchanting ancient town famed for antique shops and markets, ideally situated between the sea and hills of Haute Languedoc close to Cap d’Agde and with a wonderful climate. Montpellier and Bèziers with their airports are also close by.
The ancient town of St Hippolyte du Fort boasts no less than 17 fountains and several dozen sundials! Northwest of Nîmes on the road to the Cevennes national park, it’s known for its ancient fort as well as an old silk factory.
Carcassonne and the Roman city of Narbonne, about 45 minutes’ drive to the Mediterranean beaches and an hour and a half’s easy drive to Spain.
With such a varied choice of towns and villages, Languedoc-Roussillon, Occitanie, might be the perfect place to say ‘oc’ to a new life in the sun…
Joanna Leggett is marketing director at Leggett Immobilier – you can view their full portfolio of properties for sale in France at www.leggettfrance.com
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