About Southern France – Languedoc-Roussillon
Historically and culturally, this part of the south-west has developed at several removes from the rest of the country. During the Middle Ages, the Pyrenean foothills were dotted with a number of independent provinces, such as Béarn and Foix, satellites of the ancient Kingdom of Navarre. North of Foix, the Counts of Toulouse presided over their extensive domaines in Languedoc, stretching east to the Rhône, and south to Roussillon, the Catalan region at the eastern extent of the Pyrenees. The Toulousian court was renowned for its liberallty and civilizing influence; indeed Languedoc took its name from the language of the troubadours, langue d’Oc or Occitan, a fusion of Latin and French distinct from the northern langue d’Oil.
Until 2016, Langudoc-Roussillon was an official administrative region but since then, along with neighbouring Midi-Pyrenees, it’s become part of the much larger new administrative region of Occitanie. However, because it’s distinctive, Languedoc-Roussillon is still given a section of its own in this online guide.
The countryside around Toulouse is scattered with Cathar strongholds, towns and villages fortified by a fundamental Christian sect which rebelled against church corruption and materialism, much to papal disgust. They became the target of the bloody 13thC Albigensian crusades, a popular cause with the French crown, which was then able to gain a foothold in the south, annexe the independent principalities and suppress the traditional langue d’Oc. See North of Toulouse for information on exploring the Albigeois region in depth. To the east, distinctly Medierranean Roussillon, and its capital, Perpignan, remain strongly Catalan in character, and are featured in Roussillon: French Catalonya.
Inland from the Mediterranean coast, between Narbonne and Avignon, there are numerous traces of the Roman period: Nîmes’ vast arena and elegant temple, the impressive Pont du Gard aqueduct, even the name Provence is derived from the Roman Provincia.
Other best places to visit in the area include fairytale Carcassonne; Sète in the oyster season; and Nîmes – depending on how much time you have to spare. A neighbouring area of great interest is Rousillon: French Catalonya [clickable]. Think about seeing this area in combination with The South-West Coast and the Pyrenees – they enable you to explore all the way from Mediterranean Provence to the Atlantic – a magnificent journey – or vice versa.
There are TGV train services from Pairs to Toulouse (5 hours 10 minutes), and to Avignon (4 hours). Local train and bus services link Toulouse to Narbonne via Carcassonne; and Avignon to Narbonne via Nîmes (for Pont du Gard), Montpellier (for Sète), and Béziers.