Château Ventenac lies in the Aude département of the Languedoc. The region has a varied landscape and caters for every taste with mountains; broad beaches; the sea and water-sports; attractive rivers; scenic vineyards and good wines.
With its long, sandy beaches, rugged mountain peaks and medieval hilltop villages, the Languedoc boasts one of France’s most diverse landscapes. Officially the sunniest region in the country, it is also France’s wine growing capital and the largest wine-growing area in the world.
In south-west France, Languedoc-Roussillon curves around a corner of the Mediterranean, from Provence in the east down to the borders with Spain and Andorra in the south. The Languedoc takes its name from ‘Langue d’Oc’, the language of Occitan, closely linked to Catalan. Roussillon in the far south was known as France’s Catalonia, but today Catalonia is confined to an autonomous region in north-eastern Spain.
The landscape flattens around the tranquil Canal Du Midi, which cuts across the region’s middle with the medieval citadel of Carcassonne, a world heritage site, at its centre. South of the canal, gentle rolling foothills start to ascend, climbing to the dramatic peaks of the Pyrenees.
Influenced by the Mediterranean, Languedoc-Roussillon shares a border with Spain as far as the Rhône delta. Its long beaches alternate with wild lagoons – a paradise for flamingos.
Holidaymakers are drawn by its 300 days of sunshine a year, and they take away unforgettable memories of the beautiful natural surroundings, monuments, villages and towns such as Montpellier, Nîmes, Carcassonne, Uzès and the Pont du Gard (four sites included on the Unesco World Heritage list) – to say nothing of the cultural circuits with prehistoric, Roman or Cathar themes.
In the hinterland, charm and authenticity have been extensively preserved. The Haut Languedoc and Cévennes nature reserves and the wooded slopes of Cerdagne are always popular with hikers. This fabulous country also produces fine wines which each year earn the respect of a greater number of wine lovers.
Few French regions are more steeped in history than the Languedoc, home of the heretical Cathars. The walled city of Carcassonne, the largest fortress in Europe, and the towering ramparts of Aigues Mortes, recall the area’s crusading past. The city of Nîmes, with its perfectly preserved Roman arena, is the finest example of a Roman town outside Italy. A few kilometres away, the spectacular Roman aqueduct, Pont du Gard spans the river Gardon and is popular with bathers and canoeists.
Further west, the university town of Montpellier is one of France’s most thriving and dynamic cities. Its huge pedestrian centre is filled with cafes and is an ideal place to sit and watch the world go by. A labyrinth of winding back streets, filled with boutiques and restaurants, form the city’s historic centre.
To the East is the peculiar beauty of the Camargue – a vast, low-lying area of 37 salt-water lakes. On these marshy lagoons, flocks of pink flamingos are a common sight, as are the white horses and black bulls which used to roam wild on this flat, watery landscape.
The highlight of village life here is the August ‘fête vôtive’ a five-day festival dominated by the black bull of the Camargue. The striking site white horses their riders wearing the traditional brightly-coloured shirts and flat black hats chasing a charging bull through the streets, remains in the memory along with the hypnotic song of the ever-present cicadas.
Just north of the Camargue is the town of Arles, famous for its association with the artist Van Gogh, who is reputed to have cut off his ear during a row with fellow painter Gaugin while living here.
Beach lovers can enjoy some of the best bathing in the country on the stretch of coastline between the Camargue and the Spanish border. Over 175km of virtually uninterrupted sandy beaches and secluded coves hug the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean, a mecca for water sports enthusiasts. Several purpose-built resorts buzz with summer visitors, including the futuristic-looking La Grande Motte and Cap d’Agde, Europe’s largest naturist area.
For nature lovers, the dense, green peaks of the Cévennes national park is a hill-walker’s dream. Its pine and chestnut covered slopes, dry stone terraces, isolated hamlets and wealth of animal and bird life, can all be discovered from its 300 looped footpaths. The local goats’ cheese, ‘pélardons’, is second to none.
Key characteristics of each département of the Languedoc:
Aude is known for its wine, castles and abbeys and is often referred to as ‘the land of the Cathars’. The coast provides a sharp contrast with miles of sandy beaches for family holidays and isolated inlets for those looking to escape the crowds.
Gard is named after the River Gard and is also home to the Rhone delta with bulls quietly grazing on the marshy banks alongside pink flamingos searching for food.
Herault is a good alternative to the expensive Provence & Cote d’Azur. It offers everything including impressive gorges, limestone cirques, forests, endless beaches and acres and acres of vineyards, in fact is the most prolific wine producing area in France!
The Lozere department covers the southern part of the Massif Central. It is divided into four diverse regions sculpted by geological forces, these are The Aubrac, Margeride, Cevennes, Tarn and Jonte gorges, Grands Causses, Lot Valley.
There is a distinctly Catalan feel to France’s southernmost tip most noticeably in the language of the people and the names of towns and villages such as Poltig and Eus. Pyrenees-Orientals was once part of Spain and this area has also been occupied by the Romans, Visigoths and Saracens.