The Languedoc-Roussillon is perfectly positioned within France to combine the best of countryside, city, and beach tourism. The region has now introduced the ' 'Qualité Sud de France' mark, which recognises good customer services, English-speaking venues and that unique Languedoc welcome. Sareda Dirir tests the water.....
FROM Manchester, fly into Perpignan – a wonderful 10th Century town, modernised in the early 20th century by the famous engineer Edmund Bartissol.
Bartissol, also known as the 'Father of the Modern City' is now immortalised by an explosively strong, liquorice aperitif – not necessarily one to try on a hot afternoon!
If you're not too squiffy to handle some culture, head into the city's old quarter to view the many statues and public art. There's always an appreciative crowd around the famous bronze, 'Venus with Necklace'. She's spectacular – plump, joyful and naked as a jaybird.
Traditional medieval streets meander down to the harbour and this is a good a place as any to stock up on that French style. Big high-street names rub shoulders with quirky, independent boutiques. Teaming streets lead to discreet, fascinating courtyards, eerie in their sudden silence.
Lunch at Le Restaurant Cayrou is a typically French gastro-affaire. Red and white chequered tablecloths and almost everything dripping in aromatic garlic. This place is famous for it’s escargot cooked with girolles, basil and garlic. (If you can’t face a whole plate of the little fellows, the tolerant chef will patiently prepare a taster portion for 'Les Touristes' ) Try the mussels au gratin with garlic or the Moroccan-inspired pastilla, which is chicken and sweet onion flambéed in a crispy pastry shell.
So you've done the city and you fancy some green space. Why not take a drive out to the hills and stay at Auberge du Roua. It's a sympathetically-restored farm house set in acres of French countryside- practically every room has a sweeping view of the Pyrenees.
To the beach now, but no sandy hot-dogs or candy floss here. Argeles Beach is the stylish host venue for the Enfants de la Mer project-a partnership between well-known photographer Yann Arthus Bertrand and the local government.
Sun-bathers can engage in a number of interactive eco-friendly activities and enjoy the outdoor photography exhibitions and innovative art installations.
Art and bikinis....it shouldn't really work but it does..
For stylish lunchtime cuisine try Le Bouchon and enjoy lunch under vine-draped whitewashed archways and fragrant orange blossom trees. Try the millefeuile de noix de Saint Jacques – fresh scallops with coriander, gently sautéed in L’Huile D’Argon.
If fish is your thing, then try to fit in a visit to Collioures. This small harbour town is known as an artisan centre. The unique light in the area gave rise to the Fauvism movement and continues to intrigue and inspire artists today. The markets here are great places to pick up original art and local pottery.
After a stroll round the harbour, visit the Grande Banyuls vineyard – the third biggest tourist attraction in the region. Entrance is free, the tour is free and sommelier Bart’s infectious enthusiasm as he explains the complicated wine-making process, is priceless. Try the Cuvee des Peintres – a crisp, honeyed rosé, dedicated to the region's artistic traditions.
Just a short drive down the coast is Sete, a charming and colourful fishing port,famed for its historic jousting tournaments. Competitions still take place today and in high-season, thousands line the harbour walls, waving flags and munching on the town's delicious speciality, octopus and tomato pie.
Stay at the elegant and imposing Grand Hotel and enjoy a panoramic view of the bustling harbour. Just minutes away is the tiny oyster farming settlement of Thau Lagoon, where oyster farmers have lived and worked in the same way for hundreds of years.
The cluster of brightly coloured houses are thronged with flowers, fishermen's wives sing as they sit in their open doorways and mend their nets....
One of the fisherman there tells me with a twinkle in his eye, of the time that an English couple (mistaking his house for a pavement cafe) took their places at his garden table and ordered ice-cream. His wife duly obliged, and the four of them sat chatting and laughing for an hour before he pointed out their mistake and declined all payment.
They're still friends now apparently...
Qualite Sud De France www.sunfrance.com
Le Cayrou www.le-cayrou.com
Auberge du Roua www.aubergeduroua.com
Argeles sur-mer www.argelesurmer.com
Olivier Bajard www.olivier-bajard.com
Le Bouchon 66700 Argeles-Sur-Mer
Vins de Cellier des Templier www.banyuls.com
Grand Hotel Sete www.legrandhotelsete.com
Tourist Information Languedoc Rousillon- www.sunfrance.com
Regular Spring/Summer flights from Manchester to Perpignan with bmi baby (www.bmibaby.com)
This is the real mark of Languedoc Roussillon...and not surprisingly the French want us to know all about it.
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