The southernmost part of France is an ancient land bathed in sunshine for more than 300 days per year. A land of sweeping landscapes, vineyards, olives and ancient ruins, from classical to medieval. Our tour manager, Gavin Bade, recounts the highlights of his time leading the ‘Carcassonne, Avignon and Provence’ tour.
A short flight from the UK, the walled citadel of Carcassonne - La Cité - crowns an ancient hilltop, astride the great trade route of the Via Aquitania. Life here is more relaxed perhaps than any other part of France, even though the area wasn’t truly French until the 13th century.
A highlight of this tour is the spectacle of the walled citadel of Carcassonne illuminated at night, viewed from the other side of the River Aude, flowing from the Pyrenees. It is simply breathtaking.
Dining is always one of the great pleasures of any trip to France and the bustling citadel provides plenty of opportunities to dine out at prices much more reasonable than the more commercialised part of the south of France beyond the Rhône river.
In the land of ruins
The cultural traditions of old Occitania, the language and a simpler approach to life are still very much in evidence.
Throughout the lands of Occitania, there is a powerful prevailing atmosphere of history, the unique tragedy of the Albigensian Crusade has left an indelible imprint, with ruined castles and fortifications scattering the landscape.
Drink and be merry
Having borrowed from so many different cultures - the Greeks to the Visigoths - good living started early here. Perhaps that’s why Languedoc is the world’s most prolific wine-producing region.
I recommend the unique wines of the Languedoc, produced from historic varieties of grape that are not found commercially elsewhere. The Carignan is a good example, possessing a fragrance of violets and a very dry finish.
A striking supply of water
Our tour includes a brief encounter with Provence, which is a little taster for those that have always wondered what all the fuss is about. Nothing can prepare you for the spectacle of the Pont du Gard, Roman state-sponsored largesse at its most ostentatious.
The structure includes water conduits in the surrounding hills at a gradient of one in 20,000, built to supply the great city of Nemausus - modern Nîmes - and its veterans of the Nile Campaign with fresh water.
Coast of Azure
We continue to the fabled Papal enclave of Avignon, approaching its medieval citadel from the other side of the mighty river Rhône. Then you will truly be in the region of Provence and the Côte d’Azur, rubbing shoulders with Bardot and the spirit of Princess Grace.
Our tour is designed to cherry-pick some of the best sights the region has to offer, therefore we complete the picture with a visit to French Catalonia – Roussillon – and the delightful former artists' colony of Collioure, a summer residence of the Kingdom of Majorca.
Finally, we visit the Tarn region and the great cathedral city of Albi, with its "homogenous architectural ensemble" as the folk from UNESCO once said.
Within this surprising gem of a town, there is the greatest world museum to one of their most famous sons – Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – something not to be missed.
Over the years, we have had several repeat guests. In one case, five visits!See why people keep coming back. Travel with us on our Carcassonne, Avignon and Provence tour. Book your next wish-list worthy escape with us.