Languedoc-Roussillon is a three-eyed hybrid, cobbled together in the 1980s by the merging of two historic regions. Bas-Languedoc (Lower Languedoc), land of bullfighting, rugby and robust red wines, looks towards the more-sedate Provence. On the plain are the major towns: Montpellier, the vibrant capital, sun-baked Nîmes with its fine Roman amphitheatre – and fairy-tale Carcassonne, with its witches’-hat turrets. On the coast, good beaches abound, old Agde lies somnolent beside the River Hérault and Sète, a thriving port, adds commercial vigour.
Deeper inland, Haut-Languedoc (Upper Languedoc) is quite distinct from the sunny lowlands. A continuation of the Massif Central, this sparsely populated mountainous terrain shares trekking, mountain pasture, forests and hearty cuisine with Auvergne, to its north. The small towns of Mende, Florac, Alès and Millau are like oases within the greater wilderness. The Parc National des Cévennes has long been the refuge of exiles and crisscrossed by marked trails. Trekking country too are the bare limestone plateaus of the Grands Causses, sliced through by deep canyons such as the Gorges du Tarn, perfect for a day’s canoeing.
Roussillon, abutting the Pyrenees, glances over the frontier to Catalonia, in Spain, with which it shares a common language and culture. Alongside the rocky coastline are attractive resorts such as Collioure, which drew the likes of Matisse and Picasso, while the gentle Têt and Tech Valleys stretch away inland. To their south, the Pic de Canigou, highest summit in the eastern Pyrenees and symbol of Catalan identity, pokes its nose to the clouds while, further east, the foothills are capped by stark, lonely Cathar fortresses.