Slightly off-the-beaten-track, the Languedoc-Roussillon region captures the hearts of tourists with its distinctive Mediterranean charm. Sunny, mild weather and beautiful coastal scenery combined with cultured cities and ancient Roman ruins make for an interesting holiday experience. The region stretches along the Mediterranean coast of France, between the mouth of the Rhône and the Pyrenees. The landscape is one of wild rocky gorges, vibrant orchard forests and colorful market gardens. The ancient hilltop villages and ruined mountaintop castles add an element of romance.
Must-see sights include the fairytale fortified city of Carcassonne and closer to the sea, the bustling city of Montpellier and the sultry city of Perpignan. The favorite seaside resorts of Cap d’Agde and Port-Camargue offer sandy beaches and fewer crowds than the French Riviera. A special festival called “Les Troubadours” celebrates the unique cultural heritage of Languedoc-Roussillon. The festival presents the music of the medieval troubadours in concerts held in beautiful historical locations in the region.
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Carcassonne surprises visitors with the real image of a fairytale scene. From afar, the rows of turreted towers and crenellated ancient defensive walls create a stunning impression. Known as the Cité, this incredibly well-preserved medieval fortified town offers a fascinating tourist experience. The hilltop town stands at an elevation of 148 meters, a location that was advantageous during the Middle Ages. Carcassonne is elliptical in plan, surrounded by a double circuit of thick protective walls with 54 towers. Dating in part from the Visigoth period, the fortifications were reinforced by King Louis IX in 1250 and by Philip the Bold in 1280. The walls remained completely intact until the French Revolution. Inside the walled Carcassonne Citéis a completely enclosed world of narrow cobbled streets that transport visitors back to the Middle Ages. All buildings, squares and alleys have retained their medieval character. There are amazing historical monuments such as the former Saint-Nazaire Cathedral , built between the 11th and 14th centuries. The Gothic choir from the 13th to the 14th century contains 22 statues, spectacular stained glass windows from the 14th to 15th century and a number of important tombs, including that of Simon de Montfort. If you are visiting in July, keep in mind that Carcassonne is one of the best places in France to visit Bastille Day fireworks .
With its elegant buildings, grand public squares and balmy weather, Montpellier is a top tourist destination in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. This vibrant university town belonged to the Kings of Aragon in the 13th century, was a Huguenot headquarters in the 16th century and is still a center of culture today. The city has a wealth of art galleries and museums. The Musée Fabre (39 Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle) has an exceptional collection of paintings by Italian, Dutch and French masters from the Renaissance to the 19th century.
The city itself is like an open-air museum. Tourists will enjoy walking through the narrow medieval streets and discovering private mansions. From the Place de la Comédie , stroll through the Rue de la Loge pedestrian zone and Rue Foch, lined with handsome 19th-century buildings. This route leads to the Promenade du Peyrou , an elevated park with an exceptional view down to the sea. An organic food market is held nearby in Boulevard des Arceaux on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. On the eastern edge of Montpellier’s old town is the Esplanade Charles de Gaulle , a lovely area for a leisurely stroll.
About 15 kilometers from the sea, Perpignan is a sunny Mediterranean town with distinctive red-tiled buildings and squares shaded by leafy trees. There is a clear Spanish influence due to its proximity to the Pyrenees which border the Catalan region of Spain. In the historic center is the Place de la République , the site of the Théâtre Municipal. At the north end of the old town lies the Castillet , a 14th-century fortified gate tower resembling a castle, which is the main landmark of Perpignan. The Castillet houses the Casa Pairal , a museum of Catalan folk art. From the top of the Castillet Tower, visitors can enjoy a beautiful view of the landscape.
Another must-see attraction is the 14th to 15th century Saint-Jean Cathedral , with a lavishly decorated interior. Its most notable features are the 16th and 17th century reredos and the white marble high altar. Outside the cathedral, the Chapelle du Dévot Christ features an expressively carved crucifix. South of the old town, within the massive star-shaped citadel, the Palace of the Kings of Majorca offers a beautiful example of medieval architecture. Built in 1276, this palace was the residence of King Jaime I, who created the Kingdom of Mallorca in 1229.
In the foothills of the Cévennes mountains, Nîmes has the greatest wealth of ancient buildings in France. The most important monument in Nîmes is the Roman amphitheater in the city center. One of the best preserved of all 70 known Roman amphitheatres, this 1st century AD monument measures 133 meters by 101 meters with a capacity of 21,000 spectators. The amphitheater has a richly decorated main entrance and 124 exits. The 60 arches of the exterior facade are embellished with pilasters and Doric half-columns. Cultural events are still held at the amphitheater throughout the year. Another incredible Roman monument is the Maison Carréeon the Place de la Comedie. This perfectly maintained Roman temple in the time of Augustus, between 20 and 12 BC, stands on a podium. At the end of Avenue J. Jaurès is the peaceful Jardins de la Fontaine (Gardens of the Source). Created in the 18th century, the gardens include the ruins of an ancient shrine at a holy spring. The Musée Archéologique has an exceptional collection of Gallo-Roman archaeological finds. Near Nîmes is the Pont du Gard , an impressive Roman aqueduct.
Once an important Roman port, Narbonne is now a laid-back seaside resort. Narbonne’s central feature is the Place de l’Hôtel-de-Ville , which is lined with stately buildings. The 13th to 14th century Palais des Archevêques (Archbishop’s Palace) houses the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire with a superb collection of 19th and 20th century paintings, enamels, furniture and faience ceramics; and the Musée Archéologique with prehistoric, classical and medieval antiquities. The Passage de l’Ancre, a street that runs between the Tour Saint-Martial and the Tour de la Madeleine, connects the 12th century Vieux Palais (Old Palace) to the Palais Neuf(New Palace), although it was built in the 14th century). The Cour de la Madeleine in the Vieux Palais is especially impressive. Saint-Just Cathedral was built between 1272 and 1332 in a bold Northern French Gothic style. The cathedral has a beautiful choir and beautiful stained glass from the 14th century. To the southwest of the town is the early Gothic (12th to 13th century) Church of Saint-Paul-Serge . About 30 kilometers from Narbonne in a peaceful valley lies the Cistercian Abbey of Fontfroide . The abbey’s humble 13th-century Romanesque church and serene cloister blend into the peaceful natural surroundings.
The historic town of Uzès is located outside the borders of Provence, about 40 kilometers west of Avignon, in a pleasant setting above the wooded valley of Alzon. Visitors will appreciate the attractive ambiance of Uzès, with its narrow streets, quiet alleys and shady boulevards. The central square, the Place aux Herbes , is shaded by leafy plane trees, lined with arcades and open-air terraces, and features an ancient fountain at its centre. On Saturday mornings, a market takes place on this atmospheric medieval square. Other places of interest include the Château Ducal , which was built in several phases from the 11th to the 17th century, and the Musée Georges Borias, a museum of art, archeology and history, housed in the Ancien Evêché (former episcopal palace).
Famous for its medieval fortifications , the historic town of Aigues-Mortes is located 47 kilometers west of Arles on the edge of the Camargue Nature Reserve . The massive city walls took over 30 years to build; they form a rectangle, which is still complete and surrounds the city. The ring of walls has 15 towers and ten gates, some with towers. A wide path within the wall enabled the defenders of the city to move quickly from one place to another to fend off invaders. The best way to discover Aigues-Mortes is to walk around the walls from the Porte de la Gardetteand then through the narrow streets of the Old Town to soak up the Old World ambiance. Aigues-Mortes dates back to the time of Saint Louis (King Louis IX) who bought the region from the monks of Psalmody in 1240.
Less than 10 kilometers away from Aigues-Mortes is Le-Grau-du-Roi , an old fishing village that is now a modern seaside resort. Continue south four kilometers to the popular holiday destination of Port Camargue , with its wide sandy beaches and pretty holiday homes. Another favorite seaside resort is Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer located about 30 kilometers from Aigues-Mortes within the Parc Ornithologique du Pont De Gau , a fantastic place for birdwatching.
Saint-Gilles is surrounded by a lush pastoral landscape near the Haut-Vaucluse countryside in Provence, about 16 kilometers from Arles. The highlight of a visit is the 12th-century church, the Eglise Saint-Gilles , one of the most exquisite Romanesque buildings in southern France. The church facade has a wealth of decorative figures, including the first detailed representation of the Passion in Western sculpture. In front of the church, on the Place de la République , a narrow alley leads to the village square, the Place de l’Olme . The most striking building on the square is the Maison Romane(Romanesque house), with capitals decorated with detailed figures. Inside is a museum with an early Christian sarcophagus, fine relief fragments and a natural history collection. From the second floor hall there are sensational views over the rooftops of Saint-Gilles and the surrounding countryside. Saint-Gilles is also a good starting point for trips into the nearby Camargue nature reserve, an easy day trip from Arles and only a short drive (16 kilometers) away from Saint-Gilles.
In ancient times, Béziers was a busy Roman military colony. The city has a stately location on a hill overlooking the Canal du Midi. Béziers has two interesting historic churches: the Church of the Madeleine , originally Romanesque but later modified in Gothic and then Baroque style, and the Church of Saint-Aphrodise , which contains a 3rd century sarcophagus. In the center of the old town is the 18th century Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall). Standing on higher ground a few minutes’ walk away is the first Saint-Nazaire Cathedral , a rare 12th to 14th century fortified church, with massive towers and a large rose window on the western side. Continuing north to Rue du Capus it isMusée des Beaux-Arts housed in the Hôtel Fayet, a historic mansion dating back to the Middle Ages, but which was rebuilt in the 17th and 18th centuries. This beautiful fine arts museum is known for its vast collection of paintings, from the medieval to the contemporary era. On the south side of the city, the Church of Saint-Jacques dates in part from the 12th century. Further on, four kilometers west of the city, the Oppidum d’Ensérune archaeological site reveals the remains of an Ibero-Greek settlement from the 4th and 3rd centuries BC.
At the crossroads of the Cady and Têt rivers, the historic village of Villefranche-de-Conflent is listed as one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France (Most Beautiful Villages in France). The medieval fortified town was once an important stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Above the town is a huge UNESCO-listed citadel with fortifications rebuilt by Vauban in the 17th century. Within the ramparts are atmospheric narrow alleyways; elegant houses from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries; craft boutiques and other inviting shops. Another highlight of the village is the Eglise Saint-Jacques , built between the 12th and 13th centuries. The church has a beautiful sanctuary with remarkable paintings by Saint Pierre and Saint Antoine.
Villefranche-de-Conflent is located 50 kilometers west of Perpignan in the Parc Naturel Régional des Pyrénées Catalanes (Regional Natural Park of the Catalan Pyrenees). The town is a good base for visiting the high mountain Valley of the Cerdagne with its varied landscape. Continue south of Villefranche-de-Conflent to discover the village of Corneilla-de-Conflent at the foot of Le Canigou mountain. The small village has an old church, the Eglise Notre-Dame de Corneilla , which dates from the early 11th century and was later incorporated into a monastery. The doorway of the church features a finely carved tympanum and the interior is richly decorated.
At the foot of Mont Saint-Clair, the charming town of Sète is crossed by many canals. After Narbonne and Aigues-Mortes were cut off from the sea by the accumulation of sand, Sète became the main trading port with North Africa. It is now an important fishing and commercial port. The Vieux Port (Old Port) dates back to the time of Louis XIV. From the Môle St-Louis , there are beautiful views of the city and Mont Saint-Clair. Sète is also known for its Jazz Festival that takes place every July. The high-level festival offers a varied program of performances. Musical concerts range in style from classical to contemporary jazz.
Céret is a pretty artists’ town about 20 miles southwest of Perpignan in a beautiful rural setting. At the turn of the 20th century, the Catalan sculptor Manolo and the composer Déodat de Sévérac inspired many celebrated artists to come to Céret, turning the town into an artists’ colony. The Musée d’Art Moderne now has many modern works of art including pieces by Matisse, Chagall, Maillol, Dalí, Manolo, Picasso and Tapiès. The museum’s war memorial was designed by Maillol.
13 Amelie les Bains
Nestled in the idyllic Tech Valley (12 kilometers from Ceret), the spa town of Amélie les Bains is named after Louis-Philippe’s wife. The mineral waters of the natural springs have been praised for their health value since Roman times. The remains of ancient Roman baths can be seen in the modern spa establishment. The town also has a historic church dating back to the 10th century. A major tourist attraction of Amélie-les-Bains is the lively International Folk Festival . This annual week-long festival in August showcases folkloric dance and music from around the world. Amélie les Bains is also a good base for a trip to the Mondony Valley, about eight kilometers southeast, where a hiking trail leads to Roc de France near Montalba at 1450 meters. This advanced climb takes about three hours and offers scenic views.
With the Puig de l’Estelle peak providing a picturesque backdrop, the small town of Arles-sur-Tech is blessed with a beautiful natural setting (three kilometers southwest of Amélie-les-Bains). The town grew up around a Carolingian abbey, the Abbaye Sainte-Marie , which was founded in the 8th century. The abbey church is well preserved and contains ancient sarcophagi, one of which dates from the 4th century. The church’s 13th-century early Gothic cloister is beautiful. (To find the cloister, you emerge from the north aisle of the church.) Close to the abbey is the town’s parish church, the Eglise Saint-Sauveur , with a majestic tower and an ornate interior.
For those who have time to venture beyond Arles-sur-Tech, one of the most interesting things to do is visit the Gorges de la Fou . This dramatic gorge is nestled in sheer rock walls that rise 200 meters at the canyon’s deepest point. The Gorges de la Fou is a unique tourist attraction (an entrance fee is required) with a 1,500-meter walkway that runs through the gorge, allowing visitors to admire the remarkable scenery.
Rising to 2,785 metres, Le Canigou is one of the highest peaks in the Eastern Pyrenees, with sweeping views across the landscape. This mountain can be seen in the background of Saint Martin-du-Canigou, a small village five miles from Villefranche-de-Conflent . Visitors will be delighted by the town’s beautiful scenery and historic church. The 11th century Romanesque abbey of Saint-Martin-du-Canigou has a beautiful cloister that provides a peaceful space for contemplation. Nearby is the village of Casteil , perched on a cliff at an altitude of 1,094 metres.
16 Head of Agde
Less than 30 kilometers from Béziers, this popular seaside resort is well designed to welcome visitors during the holiday season. There are many modern hotels by the sea and the sandy beaches have excellent public facilities. The old town of Vieux Agde is four kilometers away from the beachscape. The quaint town has narrow cobbled streets and three churches, including the 12th century Cathedral of Saint-Etienne , a fortified church with thick walls of black volcanic stone. The Musée Agathois Jules Baudou has an excellent collection of paintings, including folk art and religious art, and also displays items recovered through underwater archaeology.
The picturesque village of Prades stands at the foot of Mount Le Canigou in the Têt Valley. About 44 kilometers from Perpignan, Prades is part of the Parc Naturel Régional des Pyrénées Catalanes (Regional Natural Park of the Catalan Pyrenees) and is culturally linked to the neighboring region of Catalonia in Spain. The town has an interesting Gothic church, the Eglise Saint-Pierre , with a Romanesque tower and fine 17th-century paintings by the Catalan artist Léo Polge.
The famous cellist Pablo Casals (1876-1973) lived in exile in Prades. As a tribute to Casals, the city hosts an annual chamber music festival, the Festival Pablo Casals Prades . Held in July and August, the festival presents more than 30 concerts of classical chamber music and some contemporary pieces. Most concerts are held in the nearby community of Codalet (eight kilometers from Prades) at the Abbaye Saint Michel de Cuxà , a beautiful Romanesque church with exceptional acoustics.
This relaxed coastal town is located near the French border with Spain. Cerbère is only six kilometers away from the Catalan town of Portbou and shares some of the traditions of Catalonia. The main tourist attraction of Cerbère is its small protected beach . Holidaymakers will also enjoy the pleasant Town Square and picturesque waterfront lined with cafes and restaurants. To take in the beauty of the landscape, travel southwest of the city to the Cap Cerbère, a rugged promontory with exceptional views of the Spanish coast. Cerbère is easily accessible by train, and it is also possible to take a train from Cerbère to Barcelona in Spain, which takes less than three hours.
Where to stay in the Languedoc for sightseeing
Several towns and villages are good bases for a visit to the Languedoc-Roussillon. Beziers is located in the center of the region. At the eastern end are the towns of Montpellier and Nimes, and at the southern end, close to the beaches of Cap d’Agde and Port-Camargue, is Perpignan. Further north along the scenic Canal du Midi are Narbonne and the walled fortress town of Carcassonne. Here are some highly rated Languedoc hotels:
- Luxury Hotels : Within the walls of Carcassonne and with some rooms in the former episcopal palace next to the cathedral, Hotel de la Cite Carcassonne – MGallery Collection has a swimming pool and a Michelin-starred restaurant. Pullman Montpellier Center is located on the Place de la Comédie, close to the citadel and within walking distance of Musée Fabre. The Best Western Hotel le Donjon is located on the walls of Carcassonne and is surrounded by shops and restaurants. It is no more than a 10-minute walk from all parts of the old town.
- Mid-Range Hotels: L’Hotel Particulier is located in a nice neighborhood a 10-minute walk from the historic center of Beziers. It is housed in a beautifully restored villa, easily accessible by car. Hotel de L’Amphitheatre is perfectly located in Nîmes, less than 100 meters from the Roman Arena. La Residence is located in a quiet street, a few steps from the cathedral in the center of Narbonne. It offers rooms with balconies and is close to the lively market and walking paths along the Canal du Midi.
- Budget Hotels: A 10-minute walk from the famous Castillet of Perpignan, the Nyx boutique hotel is close to the city center and train station, but easy to get to by car. Ibis Budget Nimes Center Gare is located in the center of Nimes, close to the train station and the Roman arena. Hotel des Poetes is located near the historic center of Beziers and a short walk from the train station. It offers simple rooms in a quiet street.
Tips and tours: how to get the most out of your visit to the Languedoc-Roussillon region
The Languedoc-Roussillon region may not be as well known as the neighboring region of Provence, but it has a similar sun-drenched landscape and a wealth of cultural attractions. Taking guided tours makes the experience even more enjoyable, as many historical sites are difficult for a first-time visitor to discover on their own. Below are popular tours of Carcassonne, Montpellier and the Cathar castles near Perpignan, all led by expert guides:
- Carcassonne Walking Tour : The best way to experience the medieval splendor of Carcassonne is on the medieval tour of the Cité de Carcassonne. On this two-hour excursion, follow a local guide along the city’s grand ramparts and through narrow cobbled streets as you stop at must-see historic monuments. You will see the old Roman towers; visit the count’s castle; and admire the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire, with its glorious 13th-century stained glass windows.
- Montpellier Segway Tour : Many tourists enjoy seeing the sights of Montpellier by cruising around on a two-wheeled Segway. The two-hour Segway Tour of Old and New Montpellier allows visitors to easily explore the historic city center as well as the more modern parts of the city. This tour includes top attractions such as the Musée Fabre, the Place de la Comédie and the Promenade du Peyrou.
- Cathar Castles Helicopter Tour : For a truly unique experience, take a helicopter flight over the ancient Cathar castles. Departing from Perpignan, the Cathar Castles Tour soars by helicopter over the Mediterranean coastline, the countryside of the Côte du Roussillon and the rolling, vine-covered hills of the Pyrenees. This 35-minute guided tour is led by a professional pilot, who provides commentary as you fly over small villages and beautiful fairytale castles, including Quéribus Castle and Peyrepertuse Fortress.
Other beautiful destinations near the Languedoc-Roussillon region
Blessed with Mediterranean sunshine and a serene coast, the Languedoc-Roussillon region has a charm and character similar to nearby Provence. In fact, it makes sense to combine a tour of Languedoc-Roussillon with visits to places of interest in the western part of Provence for an interesting southern France itinerary. From Nimes, it’s just a 30-minute drive or train ride to Avignon, renowned for its 14th-century Papal Palace, and just a little further (40 minutes’ drive or an hour’s train ride) to Arles, where Vincent van Gogh painted his famous scenes of the outdoor cafes of the city.
To experience the rural landscape of Provence, drive from Nîmes to Les Baux-de-Provence in less than an hour. Or head north from Nîmes to the Haut-Vaucluse, an area that draws visitors for its ancient Roman archaeological sites and medieval hilltop villages. Several highlights of the Haut-Vaucluse are within easy reach of Nîmes and Uzès (30 to 90 minutes’ drive away). The Luberon area of the Haut-Vaucluse spoils visitors with many picturesque villages tucked away in the tranquil countryside. For those seeking an authentic taste of Provence, the port city of Marseille (about two hours from Montpellier) dazzles with its bustling port and vibrant cosmopolitan culture.