The hidden side of Languedoc Meanderings through France
By Annick Dournes and Frederic de Poligny
If most of us know this Mediterranean region for its endless beaches where lively seaside resorts such as La Grande Motte, Cap d’Agde, Sète or Palavas les Flots, allow French and foreign tourists to enjoy sunny summer holidays, there is a more secret Languedoc where you can discover an unspoiled nature and exciting ways to explore it.
Yet this remote hinterland called Haut-Languedoc, is quickly reached by car from Montpellier or Bezier airports after a direct flight from London, Manchester or Edinburgh. But once there’s such a change of scenery that you could wonder if you really landed in France if it were not for the countless vineyards and the good food!
Located at the southernmost tip of the Massif Central the Haut-Languedoc is an astonishing geographic mix of mountains and valleys, of wild river gorges and plateaus with a climate subject to Mediterranean and continental influences. Gliding over this beautiful region might well be the best way to discover its diversity. If you go to the aerodrome of Bedarieux, a small town set at the foot of the mountain, qualified instructors will take you aboard a two-seated glider for a thrilling experience. Flying over vineyards, picturesque villages, rocky mountains, forests or lakes you will glide like one of the local griffon vultures that use the updrafts to endlessly turn over their territory. Unforgettable moments! To book a flight, go to www.planeur-bedarieux.org
Back on solid ground carry on your trip with another unusual “vehicle”: a cross-country scooter. These are electric scooters looking like small bikes without saddles that are very easy to drive if you have a minimum sense of balance. In Roquebrun, a lovely village famous for its orange and lemon trees and its fragrant mimosas, Pascal Miranda will take you on guided rides designed for all levels Beginners will start on flat paths such as the Voie Verte, a 80 km long way built on a disused railway that meanders through bucolic landscapes. Carrying a 3 kg battery in a backpack, wearing helmet and gloves you will ride up to 30 miles per hour. More advanced ones will go on more or less steep slopes for more thrills. More information at www.devaltrot.fr
Haut-Languedoc is a paradise for walkers. Countless hiking trails crisscross through breathtaking landscape in a preserved nature far from civilisation. For 40 years now the “Marcheurs du Caroux” welcomes trained hikers as well as families (children from 10) in cottages built with the local flat rocks and will take you up and down the Caroux, a low mountain massif. After an active and tiring day you will enjoy a tasty meal made with fresh local produce by Joelle, the great cook who takes care of the starving hikers since the 1970’s! All information; www.lesmarcheursducaroux.com
Springs, torrents, lakes, deep water tables… Water is everywhere in Haut-Languedoc. Since the 19th century people with skin, joints or nerves problems go to health resorts such as Avène or Lamalou-les Bains seeking for their curative properties. Today they also welcome healthy people who want to enjoy body and face treatments in a spa using these healing waters. In Lamalou-les-Bains they combine their ferruginous water (water with a lot of iron) with kaolin to make you feel wonderful. In this huge spa you can have a mud body wrap with kaolin and essential oils, swim in the relaxing pool, float in the mud pool, have an underwater massage… They will make you a personalized program for a few hours or… for a whole week! www.ot-lamaloulesbains.fr. There are many nice Bed & Breakfast in the area or you can stay at the 3-star hotel “L’Arbousier”,.This Art Nouveau style hotel is only a few steps from the spa. The owners are very friendly and the chef makes tasty meals for a very good value for money. www.arbousierhotel.com
While in Lamalou-les-Bains pay a visit to “L’Escale Fermière”, a shop where local producers directly sell their produce to the consumers. There are mostly organic products such as breads made by a man who grows his own cereals, grinds them and bakes different kinds of breads. There are also honeys, cheeses, fruits and vegetables, meat, dry sausages, pâtés and of course wines. Among them you will find wines made by Yannick Poras, a man with an atypical career. He was born in Brittany and worked for years for the French electricity company and got fed up with it. Twenty years ago he moved to sunny Languedoc to make wine. Little by little his quest for quality led him to make organic red, white and rosé wines with great taste qualities.
His vineyards are set on the hillsides at the foot of Mount Caroux in a village called Saint-Martin de L’Arçon. From June till late September he opens a wine bar in his cellar. From 5 till 8 pm you can have a plate of smoked or marinated trout fished in the local rivers, a dozen of oysters from the close Mediterranean oyster beds, smoked duck and foie gras, cheeses or vegetarian dishes… Each plate is to be eaten with a specific wine from the vineyard. www.lemasdurouyre.com
If this whets your appetite you will have a wide choice of restaurants to fulfil it. Here are a few places where we had a very good time and very good food.
On our way to Mount Caroux we stopped at the “Auberge de Mauroul” located in the Mauroul hamlet. Jean-Pierre cooks a traditional Mediterranean cuisine, while Brigitte takes care of the customers seated on the sunny terrace. An “invigorating “ stop before climbing up Mount Caroux! www.aubergedemauroul.fr
In Bedarieux, a small town surrounded by vineyards make a stop at “Chai Christine Cannac”, a wine bar dedicated to natural wines. These wines are made with minimal chemical and technological intervention in growing grapes and making them into wines. They are made without added sulphites and the wine making process is done by the natural grapes yeast alone. This leads to unusual wines with flavours we are not used to. Christine Cannac is a sommelier and serves only natural wines accompanied by plate of trout, blood sausages, duck and different kinds of tapas. The food is very good and I let you make your own opinion about natural wines…
“Chai Christine Cannac”, 3 Robert Schuman Square, Bedarieux
In Villemagne a lovely medieval village Frédéric and Christine Martinez created a restaurant in a former abbey. In a beautiful vaulted room you will have a refined and delicious meal made exclusively fresh produce. The menu changes as the seasons go by and wines are carefully chosen. Regularly Frédéric and Christine invite wine makers to share a special menu combining food and wines. Word of mouth travelled fast to recommend this address and booking is needed. www.aubergeabbaye.com
For more information about Haut Languedoc and Hérault: www.herault-tourisme.com
Text by Annick Dournes and Photos by Frederic de Poligny