The France Page - Regions
Languedoc covers roughly the region between the Rhône and the Aude River, extending northwards to the Cévennes and the Massif Central.
The name derives from Occitan (French: langue d'oc), the language spoken in the region before French became the general usage language.
Roussillon is the area stretching from the Aude to the Spanish border. Today the two are combined to form the administrative region of Languedoc-Rousillon.
Languedoc has been settled by the Greeks, Phoenicians and Romans, and invaded by the Alamanni, Vandals, Visigoths, and Saracens. Some parts of this area have been part of the dominions of the kings of Aragon and the kings of Majorca; it did not come under French control until the 16th century.
The Rhone delta influences both the Camargue and the majority of the Languedoc coastline. The coastal plain is low, flat and sandy with a number of lagoons. Only at Sete, Cap d'Agde and the Pyrenees do the mountains extend to the coast and produce cliffs.This is in contrast to Provence and cote d'Azur where the mountains descend to the sea.
Further North, Languedoc extends to the Cevennes, and lower Massif Central.
The highest point in Languedoc is Mt Lozere at 1669m (5480 feet).
Languedoc has a long and diverse history. As part of the Mediterranean basin, it has been influenced by the various civilisations in the region. This has resulted in rich and varied architecture.
* BC 450,000 Tautavel man lived in Rousillon. Traces of prehistory have been found in Languedoc
* BC 7500 - 1500 The remains of buildings, tombs and artifacts indicate the development of modern civilisation
* BC 800 Believed Etruscan settlements
* BC 600 - 50 Establishment of Greek colonies
* BC 560 Establishment of Phoenician settlements
* BC 60 Commencement of Roman occupation
* AD 300 - 500 Invasion by Alamans, Vandals and Visigoths
* AD 476 Collapse of the Roman empire
* AD 700 Occupation by the saracens
* AD 865 Formation of Catalonia
* AD 900 - 1300 Intermittent war resulting in changes of ruler. Elimination of the Cathares
* AD 1276 Much of present Languedoc was under the rule of the king of Majorca
* AD 1500 After a long period of war and famine the French establish control of the region
* AD 1559 Protestant v Catholic wars ended by Edict of Nantes granting freedom of worship
* AD 1666 Canal du Midi started
* AD 1875 Phylloxera attacks the vines
* AD 1962 Repatriation of North African colonists to Languedoc
Wine and agriculture
The soil and weather define agricultural production.
The building of the irrigation Canal Philippe Lamour in the 1950's changed the possibilities and landscape. The canal originates at the mouth of the River Rhone and extends along the Languedoc coastal plain, with branches to the valleys. The latest plans are to extend it to Barcelona.
Languedoc is the largest wine producer in France.
As in Provence, wine has been produced in Languedoc for more than 2000 years. The Greeks, and later the Romans, established colonies to produce wine and olives.
In later times the area produced high volumes of weaker wine to blend with the strong wine imported from the North African colonies. During the 1960’s the vines were replanted with the high volume, stronger, but undistinguished Carignan grapes.
With the worldwide excess production of wine the Languedoc area has been actively replanting with varieties intended to produce better quality wines. Today, increasingly, Grenache, Syrah, Merlot, Cinsaut, Mourvedre, Sauvignon and Viognier are used for wine making. Languedoc is becoming a respected producer of quality wines, and many domains produce wines that command high prices.
As in historical times, production of sweet wines, such as Muscat de Lunel continues along the coastal plains.
Other major crops are olives, rice, fruit and lavender, with significant market gardening activity.
Sheep and goats are reared in the mountainous areas, mainly for cheese production.
The coastal lagoon of Lake Thau produces large quantities of shellfish, particularly oysters and mussels.
Fishing, both inshore and further afield, is a significant industry along the coast. The largest centre is Sete.
Languedoc has historically been an agricultural economy and achieved little success in establishing a manufacturing base, other than for the production of preserved fruit and fish.
Previous industries have included salt production (initiated by the Romans and still active), Silk production (now virtually ceased), textile production, iron and steel production and leather working. Coal mining was an important industry around Alés.
Today Languedoc has an expanding economical base, which includes -
* computer software companies
* high tec research centres
* marine leisure industry
* corporate head office locations
* service companies
* distribution services
The coastline, sheltered by mountains, provides a varied climate.
The coastal plains are typically Mediterranean, rarely freezing in winter, and enjoying average high summer temperatures of nearly 30 C (86F).
Further inland, the maritime influence is less, and temperatures are a few degrees cooler in winter and warmer in summer. Nimes is reputed to be the hottest place in France, and recorded a shade temperature of 43C (110F) in 2001. 2003 was a hot summer with many windless days exceeding 40C.
Mountain areas have higher rainfall, temperatures depend on altitude.
In most of Languedoc, a nice winter day can be as warm as 20C (70F).
Rainfall is medium at around 700 mm (28 in) per year on the plain, more in the mountains. Summers are exceptionally dry with occasional, but often very heavy, rainfall in the autumn months. In September 2002 680mm (27 in) of rainfall was recorded in 48 hours near Anduze causing severe flooding further down the river valleys. This rainfall is equal to the annual rainfall in London, and represents 680 litres per square metre (16 US gallons per square foot).
This weather pattern produces a pleasant sunny climate. Montpellier claims 300+ sunny days per year, Lunel 330+.
The cold Northerly Mistral wind from the Rhone valley influences Eastern Languedoc, and the North Westerly Tramontaine influences Western Languedoc. Both blow for a few days, several times each year.
Languedocs diversity caters for all tastes, from mountaineering to wind surfing, from birdwatching to sunbathing, from canoeing the rapids to diving. Less active visitors enjoy visits to historical medieval towns, art galleries and historical sites of interest. Still others visit the area for cookery, painting or other courses in nice surroundings. Many people just enjoy the weather, eat well, and sample the wine they will buy to take home.
* History is never far away in Languedoc. By following the route of the Via Domitia (main Roman road from Rome to Spain) it is possible to see many sites of interest including those at Nimes, and Narbonne. There are also superb sites in Arles, Pont du Gard, Rousillon, and over the border in Provence and Spain (Empuria Brava). Other Roman remains are visible including settlements and bridges throughout Languedoc.
* Equally there are many medieval towns and villages of interest. Many retain their original walls and chateau fort.
* Art lovers can visit the scenes of many artists masterpieces in the area. In particular, a visit to Arles will be of interest to lovers of the work of Van Gogh.
* There are a huge number of activities available in Languedoc. These include sailing, windsurfing, diving, gliding, hang gliding, white water rafting and canoeing, horse riding, walking, mountaineering, winter sports (in season !), swimming, cycling, golf, fishing, canal cruising, caving, water therapy, and even resident art, gastronomy and other courses
* For the less active, visits of gastronomic interest are available. Shellfish around Lac de Thau, sea and freshwater fish, widespread wine tasting, cheeses in the mountains, bull products, rice and salt near the camargue. Olive mills, vineyards and even snail farms are available for visits.
* Relics of old industries are plentiful including silk mills and magnanaries, quarries, coalmines, leather working etc.
* The former island of Sete was developed as a colony and a port by the ancient Greeks. Today it is a major fishing centre, as well as being an active port with freight and a passenger service to Tangier.
* For many, the appeal of sandy beaches with clean warm water is enough. From the Pyrenees to the Rhone, beaches are sandy with the exception of rocky coves at Sete, Cap d'Agde and near the Pyrenees.
* The coastline is dotted with former fishing villages of varying sizes. In the sixties a few purpose built holiday towns were built to challenge Spanish domination of the North European tourist business. Now mature, these towns demonstrate 60's architecture and a certain charm. Grande Motte is a good example.
* Montpellier, regional capital of Languedoc Rousillon, and Herault is an old university town. Medical schools were established during the occupation by the Moors around the 9th century. The Moors, at that time, were the most advanced scientific culture in the Mediterranean basin. Today Montpellier has stunning modern architecture alongside an ancient centre. The tram makes it easy to visit the numerous art galleries and museums.
* Nimes, the capital of Gard, was the Nemausus of Roman history. The arena (built AD or BC 0) is still in use. The old city and Maison Carre are worth visiting.
* Arles is of interest for its extensive Roman remains and also it's artistic history.
* Narbonne, just outside Languedoc, has fine Roman remains.
* Mountain areas include Mt Aigoual, Anduze, Florac, Ganges, Gorge du Tarn, Mt Lozere, Mende, Millau, St Guilhem le Desert, St Hippolyte du Fort, St Enimie, Sauve, Le Vigan,
Coastal towns include Beziers, Bouzigues, Camargue, Canal du Midi, Cap d’Agde, Collioure, Grande Motte, Grau de Roi, Maguelone, Marseillan, Meze, Sete.
Historical interest in Aigues Mortes, Beaucaire, Lodeve, Pezenas, Sommieres, Uzes, Pont du Gard, Lunel (inc Ambrussum).
There are many other towns, outside Languedoc, but within reach and worth visiting. The majority of these can be reached by car within less than 2 hours, but Barcelona is just under 3 hours from Montpellier. A small selection -Aix en Provence, Andorra, Avignon, Barcelona, Les Calanques, Figueras (Dali museum), Girona, Gorge d’Ardeche, Larzac, Les Baux de Provence, Marseille, Martigues, Mont Ventoux, Orange, Toulon.
The advent of low cost airlines, and more expensive channel crossing costs has increased the number of expat Brits wishing to buy property in Languedoc. Of course, the weather has some impact on this. At the same time our US cousins have discovered that France is not just Paris and Provence! The Languedoc property market is currently more stable than it has been over the last 5 years.
Many visitors fall in love with the Languedoc area and have visions of living in a dream property.
Others go on to buy a property in Languedoc, initially for holiday use, and often as an eventual retirement home. Property prices in Languedoc, as everywhere, vary according to size and location. In general terms, prices are lower than in European capital cities, Paris, Provence and Cote d 'Azur, but higher than in more rural, inland locations.
The coast has a more equitable climate, is busy in summer, maybe deserted in winter, and is more expensive than further inland.
The inland coastal plain usually has active towns with shops and markets nearby, is cheaper, with larger plots and is often calm and peaceful. Many small villages have attractive village houses within the ancient walls, and this attracts those wishing to live in a characterful, historical home.
The main towns offer more facilities and higher prices, but this choice may be important for reasons of employment or schooling.
The foothills of the mountains offer houses, often stone built, at a lower cost than elsewhere. The climate is wetter and colder in winter. It is possible to buy isolated houses with a lot of land for reasonable prices.
Source : www.the-languedoc-page
|| Return to French region map