On the southern coast of France along the Mediterranean Sea lies an enchanting wine region abundant in sunshine, culture, history, and natural beauty. Most wine lovers recognize the name instantly. After all, Languedoc-Roussillon (Lahn-guh-dok Roo-see-ohn) is one of the world’s largest wine producing regions, accounting for about two billion bottles of wine each year—one-third of all the wine produced in France.
Vines have grown here since they were introduced in 500 BC by the Greeks and have always been the source of the region’s commerce. Over the past few decades, Languedoc-Roussillon has experienced a rebirth of sorts. Long known as a producer of table wines (vins du pays) giving more attention to quantity than quality, the region’s winemakers have changed their focus, concentrating on noble grapes and reduced overall production for the sake of excellence. Today, Languedoc-Roussillon is one of France’s most successful wine regions, with more than 740,000 vineyard acres—and a wonderland for wine tourists longing to taste every morsel of the good life.
FOODS TO TRY
Bouchon du Languedoc a pastry made of honey, almonds, and pine nuts
Cassoulet a slow-cooked rustic stew of white beans and meats
Confit de canard a preserved duck
Truffles an earthy fungi tuber, a great delicacy
Clafoutis baked black cherries covered with a thick flan-like batter
WINES TO TASTE
Banyuls a sweet wine made from Grenache
Crémant de Limoux a sparkling wine
Costières a dry white wine
Maury a sweet red wine
Muscat a sweet white wine
Saint Chinian a pungent blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Carignan
Whether you want an activity-packed itinerary filled with museums, galleries, and entertainment, or a non-scheduled visit of historical towns, châteaux, and beautiful beaches, Languedoc-Roussillon will delight you. And so will the wines.
At the heart of it all, lies Canal du Midi, a wonderful water wine trail that winds its way through the region’s sundrenched vine yards, old trading ports, and medieval towns. Built in the 17th century by Pierre-Paul Riquet to link the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea for trade purposes, Canal du Midi has become a singular passage for visitors to Languedoc-Roussillon. The 150-mile-long waterway, which earned a spot on UNESCO’s list of World Cultural Heritage Sites in 1996, is an engineering masterpiece.
It was here that a multiple (staircase-style) lock system was first constructed in Europe, and 64 locks are still in use—adding to the charm and excitement of traveling on a boat along Canal du Midi.
Pause or Moor along Canal du Midi (east to west) AgdeThis pleasant seaside town overlooking the sea offers great seafood restaurants and fun shops to investigate.
Béziers Known best for wine and bullfighting ferias, Béziers sits atop a rocky spur overlooking the Orb Valley, quaint mountain villages, and cascading mountain streams. This historic town is missed by many tourists, but it’s great for a stroll and a stop at Cathédrale St-Nazaire, which offers splendid views of the surrounding vineyards and foothills.
Fonsérannes This lock system consists of eight successive chambers that raise or lower boats a staggering 70 feet in height. It lends a magnificent view of the cathedral in Béziers.
Capestang This port town boasts the lowest bridge on the entire French canal system and creates the standard for those wishing to travel along the canal, because all boats must pass under this historic passageway.
Narbonne With a history dating back to 118 BC, Narbonne has gone from days as the busy capital of Languedoc to a pleasant town whose focus is wine. Visit the Horreum, a former granary dating back to Roman times, and the museums in the Archbishop’s Palace.
Le Somail This appealing hamlet lies at the heart of the Minervois wine region and draws many visitors, who enjoy its many hotels and restaurants. There’s also a fun hat museum, an antique bookstore, and a pottery shop to visit.
Ventenac Set among the Minervois vine- yards, this unspoiled, sleepy village offers a couple of restaurants and a bakery, plus Château Ventenac, a beautiful château with six guest rooms featuring poetry and cooking courses and its own wine museum.
Homps The quaint village of Homps is a great base town for exploring other nearby towns and sites. Tour the ruins of the old castle of the Malta Knights and visit St. Étienne. Cycle to the wine museum at Lézignan-Corbière.
Trèbes This little medieval boating town is teeming with restaurants serving local specialties alongside the canal. Festivals and open markets are popular here, as well as bike rides (you can go all the way to Carcassonne and back)!
Carcassonne Said to be the inspiration for the location of Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, this ancient walled city has a bustling port filled with restaurants, shops, and markets. Its lower town, Bastide Saint Louis, moves at a slower pace, with shops and cafés to enjoy.