Spotlight on: Languedoc-Roussillon
Hugging the Mediterranean where the mountains meet the sea, Languedoc-Roussillon is a southern gem of breathtaking proportions, says Joanna Leggett
Stretching from the Pyrénées in the south, around France’s boundary with the western Mediterranean almost to the borders of Provence, Languedoc-Roussillon is a magical region.
Covering a total of five departments, its very name comes from the two ancient languages that are spoken in this region. Languedoc is the ancient language of Occitan – the tongue of the ‘oc’ – while a form of Catalan is spoken in Roussillon.
The Greeks and Romans traded here, the Crusaders passed this way and, more recently, Eric Cantona commenced his career at Nîmes!
It is the land from which the troubadours came – singing their 11th and 12th century poetry – inspiring the use of vernacular literature throughout medieval Europe.
In its most southern part it is also Cathar country, with ruined castles dotted atop the foothills of the Pyrénées, and the medieval walled town of Carcassonne, which, although somewhat Disneyesque from 19th century renovations, dominates its landscape from miles around.
We have all been seduced by various French Odysseys on television as presenters from Floyd to Stein have wended their way around and along the Canal du Midi sampling the best of local produce, all capped off by an apéro of Noilly Pratt, the legendary vermouth produced in Marseillan.
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Indeed, with this region being the largest contributor to the EU’s wine lake – wondrous wines abound – the region has its own appellation, ‘Sud de France’, which is now used for other regional products including cheeses, olives and even pies.
As for sport, the wonderful coastline of Languedoc-Roussillon provides opportunities for all manner of water sports. It is also a major centre for rugby league in France. At its southernmost part, Roussillon – or French Catalonia – is known for being particularly vocal in its support for rugby! Here the Pyrénées drop directly into the sea, creating spectacular cliffs and slopes where vines cling on to terraces, and further inland opportunities for winter skiing or summer hiking and rambling abound.
Its seafood is legendary too, with great seawater lagoons harvesting a bounty of oysters and other delicacies, while local fishermen bring back their catch to sample at waterside bars and restaurants.
Many of the towns and villages are considered to be among the most beautiful in France. Along the Mediterranean coast, the Impressionists came to marvel and paint, and Matisse in particular placed Collioure on the Fauvist map.
If you are seeking a home with breathtaking sea views, Cerbère is a picturesque seaside village that is something of a hidden gem, yet is just 15km from Collioure and the fabled Musée de Picasso.
Perched on a hill overlooking the village and the Mediterranean is a wonderful home that offers comfort and privacy. However, its main talking point has to be its spectacular outside terraces with their simply jaw-dropping views.
Consisting of two bedrooms and an office which could be turned back into a bedroom, and three bathrooms, accommodation is spread over two floors with doors opening to an enviable outside space. It also has a separate studio, which would be perfect for guest quarters, with a further terrace. There is also a garage.
Easily accessed from Perpignan or Girona airports, just a short walk from the beach and four kilometres from the Spanish border, this exceptional property has recently been reduced to €402,000.
Further inland, but still less than an hour from the coast and lying north-east from Carcassonne, Caunes-Minervois is famed for its red marble, which was used in the construction of the Château of Versailles! Lespinassière is a rural village situated in the Montagne Noire above the town which, while small, still provides all the local amenities required for everyday living, including those all-important boulangeries for your daily baguette, grocery stores and restaurants.
For sale here is a former maison de maître, which was once the village mairie. Built in 1889, it offers 400m² of living space with kitchen, dining room with an open fire and a drawing room opening off the generous entry hall, as well as one bedroom and a small interior courtyard.
On the first floor are four further bedrooms and a bathroom, separate WC and a study. Its attic could be converted into further living accommodation should you need more space. There is a pretty garden in front of the house, and, what’s more, a riverside barn opposite is included in the sale price of €172,000.
TWO BECOME ONE
Also at Caunes-Minervois, but this time within walking distance of all its amenities, is a perfectly renovated medieval property with large rooftop terrace. It actually consists of two homes which could either be used together, or separately, to provide income while you live in your own totally renovated quarters. The whole property is now for sale for €337,000.
Its original thick stone walls provide protection not only from the elements, but also, in days gone by, enemy arrows! No longer needing to withstand slings and arrows of potential misfortune, this period property has been lovingly refurbished into a spacious and comfortable family home.
Its five bedrooms, four bathrooms, library, sitting room with a large open hearth and formal salon provide expansive space for all your friends who are sure to visit. Its south-facing rooftop terrace has ample room for table, chairs and barbecue, and a view over the village towards the distant Pyrénées.
It is the second house, however, which provides real income potential for its new owner as a gîte or B&B business.
THE VINE LIFE
Perhaps in this part of France, so famous for its wine, it will be a former vigneron’s house in a Canal du Midi village that will really give you a taste for running a B&B business.
This delightful home has seven bedrooms, a courtyard and a barn suitable for conversion. Formerly operated as a B&B, it is just outside Capestang, a delightful quiet village with little traffic, except of course that which passes along the canal!
Originally owned by the village mayor, it has a handsome salon with decorative mouldings, a marble fireplace and patterned floor tiles, while enormous windows allow the light to flood in. The bedrooms, split over two floors, have washbasins and are easily big enough for showers or bathrooms should you wish to upgrade the accommodation for paying guests.
Its charming courtyard has a fountain, while virginia creeper scrambles all over the walls, providing colour and a home to local tree frogs. The village itself has two good restaurants, a general store and, perhaps most importantly for future guests, a wine cellar.
Ideally located, Béziers airport is 27km away, the sea even closer, and Spain is just over an hour away. Recently reduced to €224,700, this property provides exceptional value for a quality home.
CATCH OF THE DAY
At the eastern starting point of the Canal du Midi is the small town of Sète, which is known as the Venice of Languedoc.
Famed for its seafood and culture, Sète lies to the south side of the Bassin de Thau, an enclosed saltwater lake with fields of oysters and mussels, while on its other side is the Mediterranean Sea.
It also has a network of canals which provide the backdrop for the famed water jousts that have taken place here each year since 1666. From June to early September the town comes alive to the sound of traditional music during the earlier rounds of jousting; the festival culminates in the spectacle of the final tournament of the year which takes place around the feast of St Louis.
Just opposite the lagoon, and 10 minutes from Sète and its wonderful beaches, is a former fisherman’s home. A rare find, this house has been the subject of a modern architectural conversion and features a huge south-facing window to the front, providing its unique aspect from the water. Its living room is dominated by an immense modern fireplace, and it opens out onto the small garden complemented by the ultimate ‘must have’ for any self-respecting fisherman... your own private dock!
It boasts four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a contemporary kitchen, as well as a garage and several outbuildings, which provide potential for a summer kitchen and storage for your boat or all that surfing equipment.
Ideal as a holiday or a year-round home, what better way to finish the day than to sit on your private island sipping a glass of local rosé and watching the sunset over the Thau lagoon. The property is for sale at €360,000.
Languedoc-Roussillon is blessed by the Mediterranean’s warmer climate, providing the ideal conditions for outside living. This truly is a magical place.
Joanna Leggett is marketing director at
Tel: 08700 11 51 51