Stretching from Provence to the Pyrenees, this sultry, sun-baked territory (now part of the greater Occitanie region) feels like a country in its own right. It’s been a strategic border since Roman times and is awash with historical reminders, from Roman aqueducts to hilltop Cathar castles. Today it’s best known for its vineyards, which produce a third of France's wines, and the busy beaches sprawling along its Mediterranean shore.
Each of Languedoc-Roussillon's three main areas has its own distinct landscape and character. Bas-Languedoc is home to the biggest beaches and the captivating cities of Montpellier and Nîmes. Inland lies the high, wild country of the Grands Causses and Cévennes, with a fascinating mix of hills, caves, gorges, forests and surreal moonscape plateaux. Roussillon, in the southwest, shares close ties with Catalonia just across the Spanish border, including traditional sardanes folk dances and a passion for rugby and vibrant summer festivals.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Languedoc-Roussillon.
The extraordinary three-tiered Pont du Gard was once part of a 50km-long system of channels built around 19 BC to transport water from Uzès to Nîmes. The scale is huge: the bridge is 48.8m high, 275m long and graced with 52 precision-built arches. It was the highest in the Roman Empire. At the visitors centre on the left, northern bank, there's an impressive, high-tech museum featuring the bridge, the aqueduct and the role of water in Roman society.
Nîmes’ twin-tiered amphitheatre is the best preserved in France. Built around 100 BC, the arena once seated 24,000 spectators and staged gladiatorial contests and public executions; it's still an impressive venue for gigs and events. An audio guide provides context as you explore the arena, seating areas, stairwells and corridors (known to Romans as vomitoria), and afterwards you can view replicas of gladiatorial armour and original bullfighters’ costumes in the museum.
Founded in 1825 by painter François-Xavier Fabre, this exceptional museum houses one of France’s richest collections of European art. The galleries collectively showcase the last 600 years of artistic activity in Europe; most of the big names are represented here. Recent renovations have transformed the museum into a light, airy and engaging space.
Built on a steep spur of rock, Carcassonne’s rampart-ringed fortress dates back more than two millennia. The fortified town is encircled by two sets of battlements and 52 stone towers, topped by distinctive ‘witch’s hat’ roofs (added by architect Viollet-le-Duc during 19th-century restorations). Note that to actually walk on the ramparts, you have to pay to enter the Château et Remparts.
Roussillon had its artistic heyday around the turn of the 20th century, when Fauvist and cubist artists flocked here, attracted by the searing colours and sun-drenched landscapes. This wonderful museum was created in 1950 by Pierre Brune and Frank Burty Haviland, who convinced friends including Picasso, Matisse, Chaïm Soutine and Georges Braque to donate works. The result is one of the finest collections of modern art outside Paris. Take your time – this place is a real treat.
Signs warning of dinosaurs line the drive up, but this dinosaur park is no gimmick – the biggest cache of dinosaur eggs ever discovered in Europe was found here in 1996. Ongoing archaeological digs are unearthing more fossils and footprints. Life-size dinosaur models stand in the parkland and bilingual signs bring exhibits to life. A section of the park focuses on our prehistoric ancestors. The park's 11km west of Bouzigues via the D613.
This fortified château belonged to the House of Crussol, who were the dukes of Uzès for over 1000 years until the French Revolution. The building is a Renaissance wonder, with a majestic 16th-century façade showing the three orders of classical architecture (Ionic, Doric and Corinthian). Inside, guided tours (in French) take in the lavish ducal apartments and 800-year-old cellars; you can climb the 135-step Bermonde tower for wrap-around town views.
The gravity-defying Viaduc de Millau toll bridge hovers 343m above the Tarn valley, making it one of the world’s highest road bridges. At its northern end (in Brocuéjouls, about 5km west of the centre of Millau), the Viaduc Expo visitor centre explores the story of the bridge’s construction and offers 45-minute guided visits (in English on request). There's an upmarket cafeteria and you can walk to a viewpoint to truly appreciate the bridge's astonishing dimensions.
Founded by Cistercian monks in 1093, Fontfroide Abbey became one of southern France’s most powerful ecclesiastical centres during the Middle Ages. Highlights include the tranquil chapter hall, refectory, cloister and monks’ dormitory, as well as a rose garden added during the 18th century. Fontfroide also produces its own renowned wine, which you can sample in the on-site wine shop or, better still, in the vaulted restaurant. It's 15km southwest of Narbonne via the D613.