This was our third May in France and once again we packed all the long weekends with trips. Taking the opportunity to explore, discover new places and get out of the city. After an epic and exhausting one week trip to Iceland, we were ready to relax in the south of France. We headed to the region of Languedoc-Roussillon, nestled between vineyards, coastline and mountains in the south-west corner of France.
Going in May was lovely as it wasn’t overcrowded and the weather was sunny and warm (for the most part). Our weekend started with an overnight train from Paris to Montpellier. Our 6 berth cabin was tight but cozy complete with a pillow, bottle of water and sheet for each bed. It certainly wasn’t the Orient Express, but it was more comfortable than I had expected. The only downside was the constant swaying back and forth… as trains usually do. And although I know we weren’t going very fast, traveling while lying down felt like barreling through space on a jet. That and the preoccupation of potentially missing our stop limited the amount of sleep we got.
Once we arrived in Montpellier, bright and early, we rented a car and headed to our Bed and Breakfast Chambres d’hôtes Saint-Sauveur in the small town of Saint-Thibery. If you ever find yourself in this part of France and need a place to stay, I highly recommend it. It’s a typical French country home. Spacious and homey, lovely hosts, filling breakfast, comfortable rooms and the perfect place to disconnect and relax. There isn’t much to do in town, but it’s a short drive away to the neighbouring town of Pezenas where we enjoyed two amazing dinners and the outdoor market.
Some of the best meals we’ve had in France were in this unassuming town. The price was right. The food was fresh, well presented and tasty. The service was stellar. And of course, the wine was amazing. The two restaurants are just down the street from each other on the edge of the old town. And if you’re in the area, don’t miss Le Pre St Jean and L’ Entre Pots.
One of the attractions of the region is the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cite de Carcassone. We spent a relaxing afternoon wandering the cobbled streets within the medieval walls. Perched up on a hill, it offers beautiful views of the surrounding landscape. This was the most touristy place we visited, tour groups clogged up the main street. Despite all the overpriced restaurants and tacky souvenir stores, it is still worth a visit. It’s beautifully preserved and intact.
If you have a car and aren’t scared of hairpins turns, cliff drops and heights, I recommend going on an epic drive taking the high road along Cote Vermeille on D86 between Coulliere and Banyuls-sur-Mer. Negotiating the narrow lane, limited safety guards and hair-raising twists and turns are what await you if you want to savour breathtaking views of the vineyards, Mediterranean sea and hilltop watch towers. I generally hate these kinds of drive. David loves them. White knuckled, I tried to enjoy myself as he had fun driving the car up and over the hillside.
Another great stop in the area is Domaine Saint Hilaire. The owner himself walked us through a very generous tasting. After retiring, he moved from the UK to the south of France to buy the enterprise without knowing anything about wine growing. He shared with us the history of the estate and the region and talked about the land and climate, the grapes and how he develops the different vintages. He graciously allowed us to enjoy our own picnic in his backyard forest with a bottle of one of his crisp white wines.
For our last night, we headed to Montpellier to enjoy a bit of the city before heading back to our own. Whenever I visit other ‘major’ cities in France I realize how alike they are all to each other yet so very different from Paris. We didn’t do a lot except walk around, sit in the park and wander through the antique market near Chateau d’Eau on Sunday. We had an amazing lunch before catching our train at Le Pre Vert. We each had a mega salad that was inventive, well-presented and full of beautiful fresh flavours and textures.
Not a bad little weekend exploring another part of this vast country. Now I know why everyone loves the South of France: sun, sea, good food and gorgeous countryside.