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5 REASONS TO DISCOVER LANGUEDOC
The oldest working canal in the world, this amazing work of engineering is considered by UNESCO to be a World Heritage site, and for good reason. During 15 years, from 1666 to 1681, 12 000 workers shoveled this long trench to become a navigated waterway. However, it wasn’t long before Louis XVI ran out of money to finance this great project. Its designer, Pierre-Paul Riquet, then gave of his personal fortune to continue. Unfortunately he passed away before he could see his life’s master-piece achieved. Opened in 1681, the 204 kilometers of the canal links Toulouse to the Mediterranean Sea. Once used for commerce, the canal is now primarily a tourist attraction where visitors can travel along by boat, or by hiking or cycling alongside it. There are also plenty of places along the way to stop and enjoy a leisurely lunch or savor a glass of wine. Connecting the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean, this magnificent feat has been referred to by the UNESCO as “a masterpiece of human creative genius”. It is a must-see attraction for anyone planning a trip to Languedoc.
This fortified city is located on the trade road linking the Mediterranean to the Atlantic and has always been a strategic place. Nowadays it is famous for its medieval fortress – the Cité de Carcassonne – one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It was renovated by Viollet-le-Duc in the 18th century and is therefore in remarkable condition. Make sure you see the Narbonne Gate, which defended the entrance to the fortified town and the magnificent basilica of Saint Nazarius and Saint Celsus (St Nazaire and St Celse in French).
The Cathars were Gnostic Christians and founders of a new religion in the twelfth century called Catharism. They were considered by the Pope to be heretics and were subsequently the targets of a full-scale crusade. The Cathars sought refuge in the South of France in castles and fortresses, many of which were located high atop the hills of Languedoc. They lost their battle and most were put to death for their beliefs, but many of the castles that once protected them still stand today. The castles that are accessible to the public require some hiking to reach, but their magnificent presence is a sight to behold and a visit to one of these giant monuments is a virtual step back in time.
The town of Perpignan is the economic and cultural capital of Roussillon, and a Catalan city. Even though Perpignan is located in the South of France, you will notice the strong influence of Barcelona, capital of the “new” Catalonia. With the architectural refinement of its cathedral, its royal palace, its convents and monasteries, its ramparts and fortifications similar to the Gothic quarter of Barcelona, Perpignan is one of the capitals of Gothic art in the Mediterranean.
Collioure is a lovely resort by the Mediterranean Sea. Many artists such as Matisse have painted the picturesque landscape of this Catalan port. The town was given back to France in 1659, after being annexed to the kingdoms of Aragon and Majorca. Collioure is also a fishing village, famous for its anchovies. Make sure to get some of these salty delicacies at the Societe Roque!
2 500 years ago, the olive trees were brought to southern France by the Greeks. The olive trees of Languedoc grow dry little black olives or juicy big green ones. Olives and olive oil are on all outdoor markets. This region consume 50 000 tons of olive oil per year! Make sure you bring some home.
The gastronomy from the South of France consists of dishes with eggplants or zucchini: Aubergines a la tomate (eggplants with tomatoes), Aubergines aux cepes ( eggplants cooked with mushrooms), Courgettes farci (Stuffed Zucchini) are to name a few. We also find influences from the Catalan culture with Cod, turkey, or chick peas “à la Catalane” – Catalonian Style.
Languedoc also has some great wines with world famous names such as Minervois or Corbieres. The AOC wines of Languedoc covers 120,000 acres of vineyards on the slopes and “garrigues” of the South of France. AOC is a guarantee of the quality of wine and it is the highest French wine qualification.
The region produces red wine, pink or rosé, and white wines. The diversity of soils makes it possible to produce wines of different types, and the differences are carefully maintained, with a constant eye on quality. Among many, we can name:
The Languedoc region in the South of France is located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea and therefore has always been an extremely important trade route.
It is composed of 5 departments: Lozere, Gard, Herault, Aude, and Pyrenees Orientales and its landscape is varied with farmlands and countryside on one hand, and important cities such as Montpellier, Perpignan, Beziers and Carcassonne on the other; and with vineyards as well as beaches on the coastlines of Languedoc.
Tourism will very soon overtake agriculture as the most important economic activity. The wealth of the natural heritage and history, and the mix between ocean and mountains give Languedoc plenty of options in terms of touristic activities; from water sports to spotting wildlife. Cyclists will also enjoy riding alongside the beautiful water, coastal stretches and quaint fishing villages.
The weather in Languedoc is mild to warm. Temperatures can range from 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit in the spring, 65 to 80 degrees during the summer months, and 55 to 75 degrees in the autumn season. Perfect for a cycling holiday!
The archeological and historical heritage is very important in Languedoc, relating from one of the oldest European Man (the Man of Tautavel, 450 000 years old) to Roman and Baroque churches and fortresses.
The population of the Mediterranean Sea arrived on the coast of Languedoc in the VI century BC. They introduced vineyards and olive production. The Phoenicians founded Collioure and Agde. Originally from Minor Asia, the Greeks of Phocee founded Massilia ( Marseille). The Masseliotes (inhabitant of Marseille) took control of Agde and it became an important commercial trade center between the Mediterranean and Northern Europe.
Around 120 BC the Romans conquered this southern region, Narbonne in 118 BC, then Beziers. In 27 BC, the Narbonnaise was created, a province that would correspond to today’s Languedoc.
The Roman history of Languedoc-Roussillon is long and has left some spectacular traces. The names of towns, the Catalan language, the region’s heady wines and olive-oil dishes all testify to the lasting influence of 400 years of occupation.
This is also a region where the “Cathars”, named after the Greek “katharos” or “pure”, fought the Catholic church in the 13th century. It took many decades to exterminate this movement whose followers believed the visible world to be the work of the devil. Nowadays, many impressive fortresses perched on dizzying heights and the ancient villages still bear witness to this lost religion.
The term “Languedoc” appeared in the XIII century to designate all the landmarks where it was said “oc” for “oui”(yes) by opposition of the Northern provinces where the dialect “oil” was spoken. The Occitan language was composed of several dialects: the gascon, the limousin, the auvergnat, the provencal, and the languedocien. In 1919, the Escola occitana school was created and in 1945 the Institut of Occitana studies to keep the language alive. It is indeed a national treasure as it holds 160,000 words versus 30,000 in French!