In just one short week of touring the Languedoc-Roussillon Region in the South of France, I met a count, two famous artists, three black labs, two corgis, and one of the top sommeliers in Europe.
The Old Walled City
Hôtel le Guilhem lies in the heart of the old town on a narrow little street called rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau that is just steps from the Arc, the Botanical Gardens, and the shopping district.
The large suites feature period furniture, lots of French windows opening onto stunning city views, both a sitting and dining area, and pristine modern bathrooms. Equipped with coffee and tea supplies and an electric kettle, it’s easy to settle in and make yourself at home.
Included in the incredibly reasonable room rates (beginning around 85 Euros) is a huge continental breakfast of flaky croissants and pastries, fresh baguettes with jam and butter, cereals, yogurt, juices, and coffee or tea.
The breakfast room on the second floor opens onto a lovely terrace overlooking the hotel’s charming garden courtyard. It’s a wonderfully peaceful way to begin your day.
The town’s main square, Place de Comédie, has a double-decker carousel that rivals the one in Paris near the Eiffel Tower (2.5 euros for a ticket), a daily outdoor market, a Monoprix department/grocery store, and dozens of café terraces for people watching.
Dogs Are Our Companions
Animal lovers and architecture buffs should make a point of visiting the cathedral of St. Roch. Born in Montpellier in the 14th century, St. Roch is known for protecting the people from plague. Legend has it that during hard times, a dog saved Roch’s life by foraging for food and delivering bread to him every day in his forest hideout.
All of the local statues, including the one inside the cathedral, show his canine friend by his side. I heartily agree with the French attitude that dogs are our companions: they’re allowed in stores and restaurants, as well as on the trams. I even saw one gentleman pushing a baby stroller with his weeks-old lab puppy inside.
Don’t be alarmed to see a dog running loose on the streets of the city: their owner is sure to be following along behind. Do, however, keep an eye out for doggie droppings as pooper-scooping has not yet caught on in France.
Other “must-sees” in this eminently walkable city include the newly renovated Musée Fabre, one of the foremost museums in Europe. The museum’s collections include both old masters and a new wing that houses the contemporary work of Pierre Soulages, Hantai, Viallat, Bioulès and Dezeuze.
The Montpellier Tourist Office offers a City Card good for one, two, or three days which includes a guided historical tour, transportation pass, and free admission to many cultural attractions. (from 13 Euros to 26 Euros) The colorful city trams, designed by Christian Lacroix, are a perfect way to see the city from end to end.
Heading south from Montpellier brings you into the heart of the Languedoc-Rousillon wine and farming region, filled with brilliant fields of yellow mustard punctuated by flaming red poppies, nestled companionably beside vineyards and olive groves. The old and new exist side-by-side here with crumbling ruins of fortified towers and modern wind farms crowning the hilltops.
Minervois is known not only for its wines, but also for its olives. Visit the complimentary olive oil tasting bar at L’Oulibo, a cooperative retail outlet for local growers which carries all manner of products made from olives and olive wood, from oils, olives, and soap to wooden kitchen utensils and Provencal pottery.
Live like a local and visit the gas station-cum-café located directly in front of L’Oulibo. We joined the happy hour patrons for some freshly shucked oysters and a cold brew, a real moment of everyday French joie de vivre in the countryside.
Swish and Spit
First, holding the glass by the bottom, swirl your wine around to release its aroma and take a deep sniff of the wine’s bouquet. Then, slant your glass and hold it up to the light to check the color and see if it has “legs” (how fast it runs down the side of the glass). Next take a sip and swish the wine around in your mouth. Finally, spit it out into the waste bowl. Surget says one should never swallow wine during a tasting and never eat food with the wine.
Portions of the chateau date back to the 12th century, including a secret tunnel for escaping during sieges, but current owner Martine Ecal-Besse has ingeniously updated the property with modern amenities including modern ensuite bathrooms and Wi-Fi, while keeping her family’s period furniture and personal mementos for guests to enjoy.
You can peruse family diaries and photos in the library, or curl up with a good book on the sunny terrace overlooking the chateau’s vineyards.
The French take their food seriously, and on this trip, I sampled the cuisine of the hottest new restaurant in Montpellier, Duo, whose owner worked for culinary legend Alain Ducasse in Paris.
The French are, hands down, the absolute masters of bread and pastry, so breakfast is my favorite meal of the day: flaky croissants, fresh baguettes with butter and jam, tiny pinwheel pastries with golden raisins, fresh fruit, and even fresher yogurt.
Steaming crocks of homemade soup, perfect omelettes with ham and cheese (jambon et fromage), fresh salads with tasty vinaigrettes, and cheese straight from the cow, goat or sheep… gooey ham and cheese sandwiches called Croque Monsieurs… these are the foods that I love to eat in France.
My brief sojourn in the south of France was a mere “amuse bouche” of the delights this region has to offer, but if you would like to learn more about the fabulous finds and rich history of Languedoc-Roussillon, look for GoNomad’s upcoming video feature by filmmaker Sony.
10 TRAVEL TIPS: KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
1. You can no longer exchange U.S. currency at French banks without a 48-hour advance notice. Bring your debit card to get the best exchange rate or order Euros before leaving home. Visa, Mastercard, and American Express are accepted at most major retail outlets, but bring Euros for smaller shops and outdoor markets.
2. Keep a firm grip on your bag or purse in crowded markets, metro stations, and queues. Pickpockets abound in these situations.
7. Going through tunnels on the high speed TGV will make your ears pop, so bring along some chewing gum.
8. If you need extra batteries, postage stamps, etc. visit a local Tabac.
9. While many of the French are bilingual today, learn a few phrases before you go, especially please and thank you.
10. Slow down, especially in mid-day. Most shops close for two to three hours to allow their employees to have a relaxing lunch. When in France….
Like this on Facebook: