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The other South of France – Languedoc-Roussillon

region languedoc roussillon

Expat in France, Honor Marks talks about life in the Languedoc Roussillon region, a central area of the south of France stretching from the Rhone valley in the east, to the Spanish border in the south west. Comprised of  five departments four of which are  Mediterranean coastal departments: the Gard (30), the Hérault (34), the Aude (11) and the Eastern Pyrenees or Pyrénées orientales (66). The fifth department is quite spectacularly different, – the upland department of Lozère (48), the “big country” of France, which forms the southern bastion of the Massif Central…

I moved to the Languedoc Roussillon just over six years ago. Coming out from very trendy South West London, I was also coming out of my comfort zone in oh so many ways!  But I was on an adventure and I still consider it so.

region languedoc roussillonWe chose this tiny wine makers village of Ferrals Les Corbieres because a) we found our home here with all its perfect potential and b) the location was just superb. Situated halfway between Medieval Carcassonne and Roman Narbonne, on the cusp of the Corbieres and Minervois (think delicious wine) 30 mins from the Mediterranean and surrounded by rivers and lakes. And a short drive to a motorway that whisks us off to anywhere we want to go including numerous airports. What I wasn’t expecting was how stuck in the 20th century it was, at least 30 years behind the UK. What was a girl who had spent the last 20 years in London going to do with all her stiletto shoes and handbags in this quiet rural village? And what would she do on a Sunday when all the shops are shut?

Fast forward 6 years, that girl can now be seen making Fig chutney and plum crumbles and roasted tomato salsa (all home grown may I add!) and still will find some way to climb into her four inch wedges to party on down with the best of them at the numerous village fiestas! Ferrals has also moved on and I can safely say that we are now only about… mmmm 25 years behind the UK!

This weekend saw our village’s annual Bastille Day celebrations. Always held on the 13th July – for €15 you will be offered a four course meal (this year’s was exceptionally good), copious amounts of wine (including an apero of Muscat and a bottle of bubbly) a live band ( the more you drink the better they get) and a really really good firework display. Now I am a big fan of fireworks and living in London I was used to seeing fantastic displays, I love them so much I even had them at my wedding. But my expectations were superseded this year by an amazing display accompanied by some lovely chorally type music. Once I had embarrassed my daughter (and probably myself) on the dance floor, by midnight it was time to go whilst I was still standing. My friends (who have flown out especially for this event for the last four years) and all our gite guests were also ready for bed!!

I cannot recommend this, albeit parochial, (some call it cheesy, or even kitsch) village affair enough.

Selflessly holding this evening on the 13th July meant that that we could choose from many of the numerous bigger city events always held on the 14th July.

Last year I went to Carcassonne. This is the KING of all firework events. With stunningly choreographed fireworks exploding over the entire Medieval city, Walt Disney couldn’t have animated it better himself. Get there early, take a picnic and sit back and enjoy – check out the video below – its simply wonderful:

This year we thought we would try out Gruissan, just along the coast from Narbonne. Gruissan is a small village perched amid the waves on a small hill, surrounded by ponds and the sea, in it’s centre is a Barbarossa Tower which is all that remains of the 11th Century fortress that once stood here. There is a legend in the village that the people here are descended from seven families who settled in Gruissan in the 13th Century.

We were not disappointed with our choice. After a fabulous meal of super fresh oysters and steak at a nearby marina restaurant, we took our rugs and watched yet another amazing firework display, this time over the Etang. The display was based from little boats moored out in the water but the nearby Cathar ruin on top of a hill also joined in with the wonderfully rehearsed display. I have never seen such fireworks and if you heard lots of shrieks and ooohs and arrhs then you probably heard me!

If this sounds up your street then whisk the kids out of school early next summer and bring them down to discover how fireworks should be done!

Honor Marks runs the Maison de La Roche, a once neglected wine domaine in Languedoc-Roussillon which has been bought back to life as gites.

Find out more about things to do and see in Languedoc-Roussillon.

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