It was a sunny French afternoon as our plane began its descent into Beziers, a historical French city first founded by the Romans some two millennia ago. The clouds parted and I peered out of my tiny plane window. Below me lay a sea of terracotta rooftops, sprawling vineyards, and even the unmistakeable turret of a French château. And just like that, my solo adventure in the South of France had begun…
Planning a Solo Adventure in the South of France
In the mood for some sun, soaking up a little history and always on the lookout for a good deal on flights, I used Skyscanner’s ‘everywhere’ function last Friday for the following Monday. I wanted somewhere affordable, a little off the beaten tourist tracks, and a location where the transport links were good… And so stumbled in: Béziers.
I must admit that prior to my plane search I’d heard little about the Languedoc (now incorporated into the wider French region of Occitanie) and even less about the cities within it. Apart from a little Cathar history, I knew little of what to expect. However, soon enough my flight had landed and I’d boarded a bus to Beziers, followed by a train to Montpellier.
In actual fact, the Languedoc region is well known for its rich Roman history, stunning vistas, pink flamingoes, and of course, wine production. Picpoul is probably the area’s most famous wine, and it’s well worth noting that Languedoc-Roussillon actually produces more wine than Chile, Bordeaux, and Australia put together!
I spent my first night in the capital of the Languedoc, Montpellier. Characterised by its Haussmannian style architecture, it’s often referred to as the ‘Little Paris of the South’. While I found it had more of a Southern French feel than I was expecting (everything was incredibly laid back- as were bus times!), I had a wonderful time exploring the maze of many streets which makes Montpellier so exciting.
On the way to Montpellier, I even managed to spy some of the pink flamingoes that are so synonymous with the region from the train window. Should you opt to visit the Languedoc-Roussillon capital for yourself, look out the window on the train between Beziers and Montpellier, and you’ll also see the fishing town of Sete.
Once in Montpellier itself, be sure not to miss Montpellier’s very own Arc de Triomphe (the Porte du Peyrou), as well as its extensive old town. Other highlights of the eighth largest city in France include a trip to the suburbs to visit the early 19th-century Château de Flageurgues, as well as wandering through the Montpellier’s many squares- which, more often than not, are filled with small eateries and open-air dining experiences!
Of all the places I visited during my solo adventure in the South of France, Narbonne was the place that perhaps surprised me the most. First constructed as a trading port during antiquity, silt and sand have since built up in the region to such an extent that Narbonne now sits at least 15 km from the sea.
I selected to stay in Narbonne rather than the nearby coastal city of Sete on a whim and was pleasantly surprised. Luckily, the town’s charming nature and oodles of French coffee shops meant that it was more than worth spending a night in. As it turns out, my favourite French wine (which can be bought for as little as €5 at any supermarket in France) is actually bottled in Narbonne! Elsewhere in the city, there’s plenty of Southern French architecture to be spotted: think warm stone and shuttered windows.
Although Narbonne was founded during antiquity, there is little of the Roman architecture left, with the exception of an underground grain house known as the ‘Horreum’. Highlights of Narbonne include climbing to the very top of the Donjon Gilles Aycelin, as well as entering the part of Narbonne Cathedral. Or rather, the choir of Narbonne Cathedral! After all, only a quarter of the cathedral was ever built due to financial and logistical reasons.
Best-known for its fortified cathedral and canal locks a little way out of the city centre, Béziers is likely where you’ll fly to should you choose to visit the Languedoc region for yourself. The city is the birthplace of Pierre Paul-Riquet, who was the mastermind behind the Canal du Midi, an impressive feat of engineering that’s now designated a UNESCO world heritage site. In the Middle Ages Beziers was also the place where Simon de Montfort first mounted his crusade against the Cathars.
Today, Beziers is a busy city with an international airport and easy transport links to the rest of the region. From there, it’s easy to reach Arles, Carcassonne, and even Paris within a matter of hours. The Southern French city is also widely regarded as the region’s capital of wine production and an annual grape and wine festival is held every October.