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Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Languedoc-Roussillon

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The region of Languedoc-Roussillon extends along the Mediterranean coast of France between the mouth of the Rhône and the Pyrenees for a distance of some 200km/125mi, bounded on the north and west by the river Aude, on the east by the Golfe du Lion and on the south by the Pyrenees.

The landscape of Languedoc-Roussillon offers a variety of attractions - wild rocky gorges, fertile orchards and market gardens (the much sought-after primeurs, early vegetables, come from Roussillon), old hill villages, the ruined castles of the Cathars on mountain crags and interesting old towns, as well as the seaside resorts along the coast. The mild climate is a further attraction which draws holidaymakers to this region.

Montpellier, France

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Uzes, France

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Perpignan, France

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Carcassonne, France

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Highlights:

Languedoc Region

Cap d'Agde in the Languedoc Region.
The Languedoc extends from the southern fringe of the Massif Central to the shores of the Mediterranean.
The largest district in the region is the Coteaux du Languedoc. A number of communes in this district have been elevated to the status of Cru, including: Cabrières, La Clape, La Méjanelle, Montpeyroux, Picpoul de Pinet, Pic St-Loup, Quatourze, St-Christol, St-Drézery, St-Georges-d'Orques, St-Saturnin and Veérargues.
Another major district within the Languedoc is a hilly area in the west: Corbières. This is an interesting district to explore. It has improved substantially in recent decades, and of note is the influence of Spain in the village architecture and interior of houses.
There are Maisons des Vins in the towns of St-Chinian, Olonzac, Béziers, Carcassonne and Lézignan-Corbières which will provide information on visiting châteaux.

Saint-Gilles, France

St-Gilles lies not far beyond the western border of Provence on the northern edge of the Camargue, 16km/10mi from Arles. The town is primarily important because of its 12th C. church, one of the most important Romanesque buildings in Southern France.
St-Gilles is a starting-point for trips into the Camargue.

Saint-Gilles Church

In the heart of Saint-Gilles Old Town stands the church, erected in the 12th C. and restored on a smaller scale in the 17th C. The west front is exceptionally fine (the light at its best in the late afternoon) with its three doorways and wealth of decorative figures, which include the first detailed representation of the Passion in Western sculpture. The damage inflicted on the church during the French Revolution makes the importance of its architecture all the more significant.
The entrance to the crypt is on the right of the facade. The interior of the church, which has three aisles but no transepts, is characterized by Gothic forms which are surprisingly broad for this period.

Saint Gilles - Vis de St Gilles

In Saint Gilles, to the left of the church facade a narrow lane leads to the ruins of the old Choir, which was destroyed in the 17th C. Here is the Vis de St-Gilles (Screw of St Gilles), a now free-standing staircase dating from the 12th C. The complicated shape of the spiral staircase in the interior of the building is an incredible masterpiece of the stonemason's art. Also to be seen here are the remains of the old apse (the bases of pillars, etc.)

Saint Gilles - Maison Romane de Saint-Gilles

In Saint Gilles, from the open space in front of the church (Place de la République) a narrow lane leads to the charming little Place de l'Olme. Here stands the Maison Romane (Romanesque House) which has capitals decorated with figures to be seen on its first and second storys. Inside there is a museum with an early Christian sarcophagus, relief fragments and a natural history collection. From the hall on the second floor there is a fine view across the roofs of St-Gilles. Immediately adjoining is the tourist office.

Sete, France

Seagulls around the lighthouse at Sete.
Sète (pop. 39,579), situated at the foot of Mont St-Clair, is traversed by many canals. After Narbonne and Aigues-Mortes were cut off from the sea by the accumulation of sand it became the principal port for the North African trade. It is now an important fishing and commercial port. The Vieux Port dates from the time of Louis XIV. From the Môle St-Louis there are fine views of the town and Mont St-Clair (175 m/574ft; views), on the slopes of which is the 18th C. citadel. In the "cimetière marin", the "cemetery by the sea" celebrated by Paul Valéry (1871-1945), a native of Sète, in a famous poem, Valéry himself is buried. Near the cemetery is the Musée Paul-Valéry, with mementos of the poet and exhibits and documents on the history of the town. There is also a room devoted to the singer Georges Brassens (1921-1981), who lived as a boy in Sète and is also buried here.

Sète Festival

This annual three-week festival takes place in July with a varied program of performances. Musical concerts, as well as theatrical and dance performances are featured throughout the week and the repertoire ranges from classical to contemporary.
The Sète Jazz Festival is also included in this bigger event and runs for five days in early July.
Address: Avenue Victor Hugo, F-34200 Sète, France

Beziers, France

The historic market place of Beziers.

Béziers (pop. 71,428), originally a Roman military colony (Biterrae Septimanorum), is finely situated on a hill at the point where the Canal du Midi crosses the river Orb, 15km/9mi from the Golfe du Lion. During the Albigensian wars the town was almost completely destroyed.

In the center of Béziers, running between the old and new towns, is the Allée Paul-Riquet. The church of the Madeleine, originally Romanesque but later altered in Gothic and then Baroque style, was the scene of one of the massacres of the Albigensians in 1209. Farther north is the church of St-Aphrodise (11th-15th C.), which contains a third C. sarcophagus.

In the center of the old town is the 18th C. Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall). The former cathedral of St-Nazaire, situated on higher ground, is a fortified church of the 12th-14th centuries with massive towers and a large rose window on the west front. The Gothic cloister now houses a Musée Lapidaire, with old tombstones and capitals. From the terrace in front of the church there are fine views.

A short distance away is the Musée des Beaux-Arts (pictures, Greek vases). To the southeast, housed in a former Dominican church, is the Musée du Vieux Biterrois et du Vin, a folk museum.

At the south end of the town is the church of St-Jacques, which dates in part from the 12th C. It has a richly decorated choir.

4km/9mi west of the town is the Oppidum d'Ensérune, with the excavations of an Ibero-Greek settlement of the fourth and third centuries B.C. There is a museum displaying finds from the site.

Cabrespine - Giant Hole of Cabrespine

This massive cave is 150 meters long and nearly 300 meters high. It is filled with speleothems, helictites, discs, aragonites and polychrome flowstones, among many other natural wonders.
Address: BP 2, F-11160 Cabrespine, France

Narbonne, France

Boat on a shore near Narbonne.
The old town of Narbonne (pop. 46,506), once an important port, now lies 16km/10mi inland as a result of the deposit of silt along the coast. The Canal de la Robine, which links the town with the river Aude and with the Mediterranean, was opened in 1789.
The Roman town of Narbo Martius, founded in 118 B.C., was an entrepôt in the trade between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic and until the fall of the Roman Empire was the seat of the Proconsul of the province of Gallia Narbonnensis. From 413 to 720 it was held by the Visigoths and thereafter by the Saracens, who were defeated by Pépin the Short in 759. In 817 it became the capital of the duchy of Septimania or Gothia; in 843 it passed to Charles the Bald; later it belonged to the Counts of Auvergne and then the Counts of Toulouse; and finally in 1507 it was united with France. Evidence of these vicissitudes is provided by numerous inscriptions, architectural elements and fragments of sculpture.

Town Hall

The central feature of Narbonne is the rectangular Place de l'Hôtel-de-Ville, with the former Archbishop's Palace (13th-14th C.), between whose three massive towers Viollet-le-Duc inserted the neo-Gothic Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) in 1845-1850. Within the Town Hall are the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire (paintings of the 19th and 20th C., enamels, furniture, ceramics) and the Musée Archéologique (prehistoric, classical and medieval antiquities). The Passage de l'Ancre, a street running between the Tour St-Martial and the Tour de la Madeleine, links the Vieux Palais (12th C.) with the Palais Neuf (14th C.). The Cour de la Madeleine, in the Vieux Palais, is particularly fine.
Address: Palais des Archevêques, F-11108 Narbonne, France

Cathedral of St Just

Cloister of the Cathedral in Narbonne.
In Narbonne, on the north side of the Town Hall is the imposing Cathedral of St-Just, with a magnificent choir (at 41 m/135ft one of the highest and largest in France) built between 1272 and 1332 in a bold North French Gothic style; the rest of the building remained unfinished. It has beautiful stained glass (14th C.) and a rich treasury (tapestries, goldsmith's work).
In the southwest of the town is the Early Gothic church of St-Paul-Serge (12th-13th C.), with a fine choir and furnishings. In the Crypte Archéologique are the excavated remains of an Early Christian necropolis (fourth C.). A little way east is the Maison des Trois Nourrices (House of the Three Nurses), a 16th C. house in Renaissance style in which Cinq-Mars, one of the conspirators in a plot against Richelieu, was arrested. Farther east is the old Eglise de Lamourgier (13th- 14th C.), with a battlemented choir. It now contains a Musée Lapidaire with ancient and medieval remains.

Abbaye de Fontfroide

The Cistercian abbey of Fontfroide, situated in a romantic upland valley southwest of Narbonne, has preserved a simple Romanesque church (13th C), the finest cloister in southern France, the chapterhouse and the monks' refectories and dormitories.
Address: RD 613, F-11100 Narbonne, France

Aigues-Mortes, France

Ancient bridge at Aigues Mortes.
Famous for its medieval fortifications, the little town of Aigues-Mortes lies some 30km/20mi east of Montpelier on the western edge of the Camargue, the delta of the Rhône, which is here dotted with numerous lagoons. Two navigable canals, the Chenal Maritime and the Canal du Rhône à Sète, link the town with the sea, 6km/4mi distant.
The town owes its name of the "town of the dead waters" (aquae mortuae) to the bogs and shallow lagoons of the surroundings. St Louis (King Louis IX) possessed no lands bordering on the Mediterranean, so in 1240 he purchased the region from the monks of Psalmody (the remains of their abbey some 4km/2.5mi to the north are being excavated). He then bestowed a number of privileges on the town, which rapidly developed and prospered in the field of commerce and trade as well as in the traditional spheres of fishing and salt-mining. The seventh Crusade in 1248 and the eighth in 1270 sailed from here. The building of the town walls, financed by means of taxes, was expensive and lasted - with some interruptions - from 1266 to the end of the century. At that time Aigues-Mortes had 15,000 inhabitants. It started to decline in the middle of the next century as the waterways gradually silted up, but nevertheless remained an important trading port until the end of the 15th C., when Marseilles was elevated to the status of "royal town".
In the Hundred Years War, the great controversy about the succession to the French throne, the Burgundians, supported by England, conquered the town in 1418 and settled here. Afterwards the Gascons laid siege to Aigues-Mortes, penetrated the town one night and defeated the Burgundians. Their corpses were thrown into the southwest tower (now known as the Burgundian Tower) of the town walls and covered with salt in order to prevent decay.
In the Wars of Religion Aigues-Mortes became a refuge for the Huguenots, but following the Edict of Nantes in 1685 its towers served as their prison.

Town Walls

Tower of the ancient walls of Aigues Mortes.
The massive Aigues-Mortes town walls took over 30 years to build; they form a rectangle which is still complete and which surrounds the town. The ring of walls has 15 towers and is penetrated by 10 gates, some protected by towers; it comprises an area with sides measuring 567m/620yds, 497m/544yds, 301m/329yds and 269m/292yds.
Because of the narrow streets in the Old Town a visit on foot is recommended. There are parking lots on the northern edge of the Old Town, near the Tour de Constance (fee-paying) and outside the southwest town wall.
The tour of the ring of walls starts at the Porte de la Gardette, a few yards east of the Tour de Constance. A broad path inside the wall enabled the defenders of the town to get quickly from one place to another to repulse invaders.
It is also worthwhile following the ring of walls on the outside. There is a fine view of the Tour de Constance to be had from bridge which spans the canal, the Chenal Maritime. The southwest front - of cyclopean proportions, measuring nearly 500m/550yds in length - is particularly impressive. At one time the quays were situated here, which is why it has the most defensive towers.

Aigues Mortes - Tour de Constance

The tower of Constance in Aigues Mortes.

The mightiest tower in Aigues Mortes town walls is known as the "Tour de Constance"; its name is said to come from that of a daughter of King Louis VI. It is also sometimes called the "Tower of Steadfastness". Forming the northern corner of the ring of walls, it is separated from them by a moat filled with water and spanned by a bridge. 54m/177ft in height and with walls 6m/20ft thick and measuring 22m/72ft in diameter, it is the epitome of a medieval defensive construction. From the earliest times it served as a State prison, for it was considered impregnable. Among those imprisoned here were, at the beginning of the 14th C., members of the Order of Templars, who had been taken prisoner by Philip IV on the pretext of heresy and immorality, from the 17th C. many Huguenots, and finally a group of Protestant women who were released in 1768 by clemency of the Governor; among these prisoners was the well-known Marie Durand, who spent 38 years in this dungeon and was renowned in France for her steadfastness. It was last used to imprison Napoleon's officers when the Royalists took Aigues-Mortes.

It is interesting to climb up to the little turret which is crowned by an iron cage and served as a lighthouse for centuries when the town was still a port. From here there is a charming panoramic view of the town and the surrounding countryside, as far as the Cevennes in the north and the concrete pyramids of La Grand-Motte in the west, salt-mines and the Camargue in the east.

Aigues Mortes - Tour Carbonnière

The 14th C Tour Carbonnière guards the only entrance to Aigues Mortes from the land side. The road passes through the tower, the gates of which used to be secured by means of a portcullis and mantraps inside. The little round tower, which protrudes from the top of the square edifice, probably dates from the 16th C, when the tower was in Protestant hands.

La Grande-Motte

A modern building in La Grande-Motte.
The modern holiday center of La Grande-Motte lies on the Golfe du Lion, 10km/6mi west of Aigues-Mortes and 20km/12mi southeast of Montpellier. It is actually not part of Provence but of the adjoining région of Roussillon.
La Grande-Motte came into being in 1974 as the first of the modern holiday centers which are essentially "drawing-board foundations" in the lagoon and dune country west of the Camargue; these centers include Port-Barcarès, Port-Leucate, Valras-Plage and Port-Camargue. It has developed into a huge holiday town, with a sophisticated infrastructure of accommodation, and entertainment and sporting facilities.
The place is grouped around the well-equipped marina, on both sides of which stretches a beach of fine sand. The typical silhouette is formed by pyramid-shaped blocks of apartments. On the east side of the harbor is a fine aquarium with more than 30 tanks.
To the north and east of the main road through the town are holiday houses, various sports centers and a holiday village.
In the nearby lagoons, Etang du Ponant and Etang de Mauguio, fairly large groups of flamingoes can be observed. Here there are also opportunities for water sports and fishing.

Surroundings

Le Grau-du-Roi, France

Le Grau-du-Roi a more conventional place than La Grande-Motte, is in the Département of Gard. It has developed around a fishing village which, however, has already been almost swallowed up by the usual concrete skyscrapers. To the northwest on the horizon can be seen the skyline of La Grande-Motte.
The lagoons, lying to the southeast, which extend into the countryside of the Camargue are used mainly for obtaining sea salt.

Port-Camargue

South of Le-Grau-du-Roi lies Port-Camargue, the newest and most easterly of the holiday towns on the coast of Languedoc-Roussillon. Port-Camargue has excellent boating facilities and broad sandy beaches. The complex of holiday homes and apartment blocks, generally only one or two storeys high, are built out into the lagoon so that boats can often be tied up right outside the front door. Two broad roads run round the edge of this attractive place and finish on either side of the harbor keeping traffic away from the residential area.

Les Corbieres

The Corbières are a range of hills in southern France, southeast of Carcassonne, which form a transition between the Massif Central and the Pyrenees, reaching a height of 1,231m/4,039ft in the Pic de Bugarach, to the east of Quillan. For centuries this was a region of strategic importance as a bulwark of the French kingdom against Spain, its natural strength being reinforced by a string of fortresses - Carcassonne, Puylaurens, Peyrepertuse, Quéribus, Termes and Aguilar. The castles of the early medieval period in this area served as refuges for the Albigensians during the Albigensian war. Since the region is only thinly populated, it is best explored in excursions from Carcassonne, Perpignan or Quillan.
The Mediterranean climate favors the growth of cedars and cypresses as well as firs and oaks.

Les Corbières Castles

The impressive ruins of the five strongholds which reinforced the defenses of Carcassonne, including the castles of St-Martin, Termes and Arques, lie close to N613, which runs through the Corbières region. Along N117 (Quillan-Perpignan), perched on bare rocky crags, can be seen the Albigensian strongholds of Puylaurens (near Axat) and Quéribus (near the village of Maury). North of Maury, beyond Quéribus, is the strikingly impressive Albigensian citadel of Peyrepertuse (the "cleft rock").

Gorges de Galamus

Gorges de Galamus in Southern France.
These picturesque gorges - Galamus, carved out of the hills by the river Agly, are up to 300 m/1,000ft deep.

Lagrasse

The little village of Lagrasse (pop. 600) has remains of fortifications and the abbey of Ste-Marie d'Orbieu, founded in the eighth century, with a small cloister of the 11th-13th centuries and a larger one of the 18th C which is now a hotel.

Lezignan-Corbieres

Lézignan-Corbières has over 400 hectares of pine forest which is perfect for walks and hiking.

Quillan

The Aude River running through Quillan.
The little town of Quillan in the southwest of the region, with a ruined medieval castle and an 18th C town hall, is a good base from which to explore the Corbières.

Agde, France

Agde, situated at the mouth of the Hérault between Sète and Béziers, was originally a Phocaean settlement. The name comes from the Greek agathos, "good". It is a town of picturesque narrow streets, with three churches, including the 12th C. Cathedral of St-Etienne (originally fifth C.), a fortified church with thick walls of black volcanic stone. The Musée Agathois displays items recovered by underwater archaeology and examples of local folk art.
4km/2.5mi away is the modern holiday center of Cap d'Agde, with all the amenities provided in these new developments.

Limousis Cave

This cave dates back at least to the Neolithic Period, when it was inhabited by man. It was also used in Roman times and in the Middle-Ages. The cave was formed from limestone in the primary era, and hollowed out by an underground river.
The Chandelier room is quite famous in the region. Equally important are the numerous stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, discs and pendeloques. The cave also has remains of cave bears, as well as an underground lake.

Ivy Hole Cave, Saint Ambroix, France

This is the biggest known cave in France, stretching at least 48 kilometers. It includes an underground river, as well as speleothems, draperies and even a prehistoric gallery. A railway has also been set up in the cave to take visitors from the ending point back to the main entrance. The track passes by standing-stones, barrows, nodules, fissures, lapies, avens and prehistoric grottos.

Ceret, France

An old bridge in Ceret.
Céret (alt. 171m/560ft; pop. 7,292) lies at the point where the Tech valley enters Roussillon. The Catalonian sculptor Manolo (1872-1945) and the composer Déodat de Sévérac drew numbers of artists to this little town, which now possesses many works of modern art.
The Casa Catalane de la Culture has rooms devoted to mineralogy and ethnology. The Vieux Pont or Pont du Diable, which spans the Tech in a single arch 22m/72ft high, dates from the 14th century. It affords fine views of Le Canigou and the Monts des Albères.

Musée d'Art Moderne

The war memorial was designed by Maillol, and the Musée d'Art Moderne has works by Matisse, Chagall, Maillol, Dalí, Manolo, Picasso and Tapiès.
Address: Boulevard Maréchal Joffre, F-66400 Céret, France

Courniou les Grottes - Deveze Cave

In the heart of Languedoc Nature Park lies what is known as the "Glass Spinner's Palace," or the Deveze Cave. There are numerous stalactites, stalagmites, aragonite flowers, and colorful draperies. Nearby is the French Speleology Museum.

Mialet par Anduze - Trabuc Caves

This 1.2 kilometer-long cave dates back to prehistoric times, when it was inhabited by man. It is well-known for its "100,000 soldiers," which are black aragonite formations, as well as the so-called "Great Wall of China."

Roussillon - International String Quartet Festival

This annual festival includes over 20 performances running from mid-June to mid-September. The concerts take place in various venues in villages in the Provençal hills.
Address: Les Amis de la Musique de Luberon, Roussillon, F-84220 Gordes, France

Rouergue - International Folk Festival

This annual week-long festival takes place in early August. Events include folk music concerts and dance performances.
Address: St Quentin-les-Troo, F-41800 Montoire-sur-le-Loire, France

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