Where old and new meet to stunning effect.
When you think about the south of France, the Cote d’Azur the classic Riviera is what comes to mind for most.
But I’m recently back from a different part of the southern country the Languedoc region in the south west.
It’s absolutely stunning, very diverse and considerably less touristy. Forget Provence in the height of the season and head for quieter Languedoc-Rousillon.
Two other journalists and I flew from Edinburgh to Beziers with Ryanair (not the best experience as Beziers is a tiny airport with next-to-no facilities, but it’s only two hours 15 minutes and a cheap flight).
On arrival we were heading for the village of Marseillan. It’s the heart of the oyster production region and also home to the Maison Noilly Prat the famous vermouth drink that is so beloved as an ingredient in a ‘real Martini’.
Made only in this beautiful spot, you can take a tasting tour to learn about this delicious blend of wines, herbs and spices that dates back to 1855.
From there it was on to see first-hand how the delicious Bouzigues oysters find their way into all the markets and restaurants in this area.
From the Thau Basin, they taste stronger and saltier than their Atlantic cousins and are absolutely delicious.
They take their flavour from the fresh underground water that flows through the lagoon’s oyster farms.
We visited the Mas de Jeanne oyster farm, run by a couple who single-handedly produce around seven tonnes a year.
For just seven euros you can eat six wonderful fresh oysters, drink the delicious local white wine and also drink in the view from their relaxing balcony.
Book ahead by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visit lemasdejeanne.blogspot.fr.
From there it was off to the delightful town of Ste (visit tourisme-sete.com).
Due to all the canals it’s been given the second name of the Venice of the Languedoc.
Built on the flanks of Mont St.Clair, wedged between the Thau Lagoon, the Sea and the canals, Ste is one of the largest ports on the Mediterranean with regular ferries to Morocco.
There’s 10 miles of beaches and a stunning old quarter from the 17th Century and the days when Italian immigrants moved here.
It has lots of steep, twisty, winding streets and an area called MaCO which is covered with street art and is an open-air museum and full of quirky fun.
For a great minibus tour of Ste you need to know about the grand tour offered by local cheeky chappy Arnaud.
For 16 euros you get a 90-minute tour of this beautiful town, with all the highlights and lots of local anecdotes.
His English is fluent and his sense of humour brilliant! Book ahead at onsetegrandtour.fr.
Afterwards we enjoyed lunch in Halles de Ste Market at the restaurant Halles et Manger.
Using all the magnificent fresh food from the market, it’s a great place to stop for a well-priced meal using the fabulous fresh ingredients that this region can offer.
A canal boat is a good idea too and there are plenty on offer. During that you can see the local sport of water-jousting yep, you guessed it two blokes, big pole, one ends up in the water!
The next day it was onto Montpellier, the regional capital. Staying at the Mercure Hotel was not an experience I’d repeat, so forget that, but DO have steak and chips at restaurant Chez Boris fabulous food with outdoor seating for the summer.
Montpellier is very much a city of two tales: the beautiful medieval old town and the cutting-edge new town.
As you’d expect the old district is the most impressive by far. In the 17th and 18th Centuries, the city’s Mediterranean climate attracted noble families who built stately city mansions and many remain today, along with the university with the oldest medical school in the world.
From Place de la Comedie, the main square, it’s an easy walk to the broad tree-lined Esplanade Charles de Gaulle and Quartier de l’Ancien Courrier a maze of narrow medieval streets that makes up the oldest part of the city-centre.
On our last day it was off to Pezenas a Renaissance town between the sea and the mountains, 45 minutes from Montpellier.
Despite the Biblical rainstorm we couldn’t not do the walking tour of this fabulous small town with its cobbled streets, creative craftsmen, exhibitions and artists. So much to see, so little time. Great food, superb local wines and a sunny climate, the sea and beautiful landscapes how good can it get? I WILL be back!
For more info, visit destinationsuddefrance.com.
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