For six years now, I have travelled with my family to the South of France, exploring the area immediately around the once Roman city of Nimes. This week, I explain my top-three reasons why a holiday in the South of France can be an unforgettable experience.
1. Take advantage of the French love of cycling
During the summer months of June to August, the mercury regularly hits 40 degrees in this part of the world, and any exercise between the times of ten and seven can seem an outrageous affront to the typical notion of a trip to ‘the South of France’ with its lazy days of reading in a cloister of your own making on a sun-dappled terrace eating fresh bread, pungent cheese, and (dare-I-say-it), drinking the wine which abounds in these parts. Yet, despite the punishing heat, you will regularly enjoy the sight of a plethora of racing cycles whizzing past the foot of your holiday home. And why, you ask?
In Sommiers, in the region of Languedoc-Roussillon, perhaps only half an hour’s drive from the coast, the locals take advantage of the wonderful ‘Voie Verte’ (translated as the ‘green-lane) – a path that winds its way through the French countryside from Sommiers to Caveriac, a route of roughly twenty kilometres. It’s open to walkers, cyclists, and roller skaters, following the course of an old train line. It affords you the safety of a route well away from traffic, where you can embrace wide expanses of French vineyard, the grapes soaking up the sun as you pedal furiously, emulating, perhaps, Chris Froome or one of the numerous French cyclists who glide past you effortlessly, singing ‘Bonjour’ to you as they go. Having grown up in Cambridge, perhaps the UK’s home of pedal-power, I couldn’t resist. Trust me, you will enjoy the bread, cheese, and wine a whole lot more after a forty kilometre round trip shortly after dawn.
2. You can take in the sumptuous sea
When I travel anywhere, my first instinct is to abandon my watch and phone and enjoy the more gentle rhythm of days away from the piercing siren of the school bell which dictates most of my weeks back home. Secondly, I like to ‘hit’ the beach. Or, more accurately, enjoy the sight of the sea whilst perusing the local town, its history and other offerings. The marvellous coastline of Southern France is world-renowned. Nice, Cannes, St Tropez roll off of the tongue, but fewer tourists venture further West to the coastal towns of Aigues-Mortes, Sete, or Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Aigues-Mortes is my particular favourite: a Medieval walled city, it boasts tremendous sea food (notice the gravitational pull towards food once more), from a knot of restaurants who vie for your euros with refreshing salads and char-grilled shrimp and fish skewers. Jaunts along nearby canals on slow boats and the local flamingos (yes, indeed), beaks in the local shallows, complete a superb day trip. But, don’t take my word for it – explore any number of historical towns on this coastline, and you will unlock hidden surprises.
3. You can get lost in a sea of markets…
Uzes market, just north of the large Roman city of Nimes, takes some beating. It sells tropical plants, bars of Marseille soap, flavoured olive oils and vinegar, olives, fresh fruit and vegetables, textiles, and clothes. However, deeper in the countryside, Languedoc Rousillon boasts small villages such as Calvisson, where on Sundays, rather than the sprawling affair of Uzes, offers a more intimate experience. Sitting in the café opposite the olive stall and underneath a rugged palm tree, I feel like I’m in Tangiers, or on the set of the thirties classic film Casablanca. The more relaxed atmosphere draws us back here every year, and on my last visit, having travelled down in the car, our dog accompanied us through the market. One of the biggest dog-draws of any market is the infamous French rotisserie – a large open oven cooking chickens that revolve on a spit. The juices from the cooking chickens fall onto roast potatoes below gathering flavour over several hours. Molly, my dog, is enthralled. I am too.
So, if you’re considering a summer holiday for 2019, you might want to opt for Languedoc Rousillon in France. Whether you’re an epicure or simply enjoy a short blast of heat, this area of France definitely has something for everyone.
By Mr Thurlbourn
Photographs courtesy of Graham Acred