Sailing, climbing, horse riding or sledding – there are many wonderful ways to discover the traditional region of Languedoc-Roussillon
Canoe the River Gard
The best way to view the famous three-storey Roman aqueduct, Le Pont du Gard, is by paddling beneath it on the River Gardon. That way, you’ll avoid the hordes of tourists. A good place to start is at the town of Collias.
Sail on a classic ship
Set sail from Leucate on board the Limnoreia, an old sailing ship dating back to the 1920s, or explore the canals of Sète in a mahogany Venetian speedboat called the Sant’ Elena.
Any self-respecting Catalan ought to complete the pilgrimage to the top of the Pic du Canigou (2,784m) at least once in a lifetime. Non-Catalans are more than welcome as well.
In the early 20th century many prolific artists were lured to the lovely town of Céret, in the Pyréneés-Orientales. Nowadays the Musee d’Art Moderne de Céret punches well above its weight, displaying works by the likes of Picasso and Matisse, both of whom were involved in its establishment in 1950.
The Musée Fabre in Montpellier is one of Languedoc’s finest art galleries, offering some stunning works from the last 600 years. Until October 17 there’s an exhibition dedicated to post-war American abstract artists who based themselves in France.
At Sète’s Musée International des Arts Modestes you won’t find any mention of classic art. Here, instead, is art on an everyday scale, with not a single big-name artist in sight. Previous exhibitions include Mexican masks, Elvis Presley memorabilia, pop-up books and figurines made of sugar. Totally original and often quite bizarre.
World-famous vermouth brand Noilly Prat offers cocktail workshops at the Masion Noilly Prat in Marseillan. Like 007, very much shaken, not stirred.
Learn all about the equestrian and bull-farming traditions of the Camargue cowboys while riding one of the famous white Camargue ponies. Evening meals and guitar music are also on offer.
Join nature therapist Vanessa Guérin for a special course in forest bathing (called Randôtrement) in the Vallespir forest. “Just like trees, we have roots. We’re deeply rooted in the ground,” she says. “Trees soothe us and bring us back to what matters.”
The giant Cabrespine cave now has three underground adventures on offer: you can walk the glass walkway, suspended 200m above the cave floor; or you can climb along the via ferrata route with its cable bridges, ziplines and steel ladders; or you can kayak on the subterranean river.
TOUR IN A 2CV
Your driver is called Fleury, your Citroen 2CV is called Maya. Together you’ll take a vintage car trip through the terraced vineyards of Collioure and Banyuls. Afterwards there’s wine-tasting at a Catalan vineyard.
CYCLE THE CANAL DU MIDI
Or the Aude section at least, which runs through Narbonne, Carcassonne and Castelnaudary. It’s mostly flat – so ideal for lazy bikers – but has plenty of bridges, aqueducts and locks to keep you entertained.
Enjoy the seals and sea lions cavorting in the giant sea mammals’ pool; watch the 30-odd species of sharks and rays patrol their 1,000m2 ‘requinarium’; and then marvel at the 2,000-odd species of fish in the remaining aquaria.
AQUALAND CAP D’AGDE
If you fancy getting wet and wild, Aqualand is the place to go. There are dozens of water slides here, offering ample adrenaline. How much adrenaline? Well, the names of the slides give you a good idea: Tornado, Boomerang, Black Hole, Anaconda…
Right on the edge of the Étang de Bages lagoon, in the middle of a huge nature reserve, the Réserve Africaine de Sigean safari park will make you feel like you’re in Africa, especially in the height of the Languedoc summer. Highlights include lions, white rhino, leopards, alligators, chimpanzees, zebra and perennial favourites, the meerkats.
The ski resort of Les Angles has installed a new year-round sled monorail. At 2,000m in length, it’s the longest in the Pyrenees, twisting, turning and rollercoasting through the forest at speeds up to 42km/h.
British architects Foster + Partners led the design of Narbonne’s new museum Narbo Via, dedicated to Roman antiquity, featuring a collection of 10,000 exhibits, staggering murals and an outstanding set of 760 funerary headstones. arbovia.fr
“A poem is never finished, only abandoned,” wrote Paul Valéry, one of France’s greatest symbolist poets. You’ll find plenty of his unfinished poems at the Musée Paul Valéry in Sète, the town that was his birthplace.
The Narbonne Regional Nature Park stands on a major migration route, making it a great place for birdwatching, with over 350 species visible at different times of the year.
In September and October there’s the Festival Internationales de la Guitare, at various venues across Montpellier (www.les-ig.com). In Narbonne, there’s Jazz a l’Hospitaletin in July (jazzhospitalet.com) and in Béziers there’s the annual Feria de Béziers (August 11 to 15).
From France Today Magazine