Départements: Aude, Gard, Hérault, Lozère, Pyrénées-Orientales
Principal cities: Carcassonne, Montpellier, Nîmes, Perpignan
Sweeping along the Mediterranean coast from the west bank of the Rhône River to the peaks of the Pyrenees, surprising Languedoc-Roussillon encompasses the vineyards of Minervois and Corbières, the highlands of the Cévennes and the mysterious Grands Causses—wild, windy and arid plateaus studded with strange rock formations.
The Romans arrived in the 2nd century BC, leaving behind at Nîmes the exquisite, perfectly intact temple now called the Maison Carrée and a splendid amphitheater still in use today. The nearby Pont du Gard aqueduct, a masterpiece of ancient Roman engineering, was built to carry water to Nîmes from springs near Uzès, a wonderful small town that was once the “premier duchy of France”.
Assailed by Crusaders, the heretical sect called the Cathars, or Albigensians, held out until the mid-13th century in the magnificent double-walled city of Carcassonne and the mountaintop castles of Peyrepertuse, Puilaurens, Lastours, Puivert, Quéribus and Montségur.
Annexed to France in the 17th century, Roussillon and its capital Perpignan still fly the red-and-yellow striped Catalan flag beside the French tricolor; the Catalan language is still spoken, and it’s not unusual to see local residents forming an impromptu circle to dance a traditional sardane.
Regional specialties: Roquefort cheese, made in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon; fresh anchovies from Collioure; oysters from Bouzigues; Corbières, Minervois and sweet Banyuls wines; Noilly Prat, vermouth made in Marseillan; and Byrrh, a wine and quinine aperitif.