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Languedoc Roussillon – Pézenas, Narbonne and Nîmes

Posted on June 30, 2014 by Susie Hollands

Words: Susie Hollands
Images: Tony Tidswell, Susie Hollands

Villa Roquette Languedoc

PÉZENAS

Pézenas is a fascinating medieval town – from the 16th and 17th centuries it was the capital city of the Languedoc region, between Montpellier and Beziers.  Once a Roman city, the remarkably well-preserved streets in the old town take you back to Renaissance times with their many hôtels particuliers. The town played host to Molière and his troupe, who passed by in the 1780s, and the town makes good use of this association. The long-standing link with the performing arts is also evident during the festival Mirondela de l’Arte’s summer residence in Pézenas.

Languedoc was the biggest wine producing area in the world, and the town became revitalised in the mid-sixties when the government donated aid to regenerate the region. These days, Languedoc’s reputation as the ‘industrial’ end of French wine production is changing, and more and more vignerons are working with smaller-scale crops and low-intervention techniques and making some truly special wines. Naturally, you can find many places to taste wine here and Domaine de Bellevue is a good place to start.

For less drinkable experiences, the Musée de Vulliod-Saint-Germain, a grand, restored hôtel particulier, gives you an insight into regional life in the 18th and 19th centuries. Explore the opulent furnishings, artworks and pottery collection of the Countess of Saint Germain.

WHERE TO STAY:

Villa Roquette

A bed & breakfast run by Tony and Carole Tidswell in nearby Montblanc.  A 19th century maison de maître, it has individual suites and small apartments with private parking and a swimming pool. You can borrow bikes and golf clubs and exploring the region is possible with the trails that wind through the surrounding hills.

146 Rue de la République, Montblanc
Ph. 04 67 11 28 65

Villa Juliette

Lovingly maintained chambre d’hôte in Pézenas in a beautiful garden setting, with pool.

6 Chemin de la Faissine
Ph. 04 67 30 46 25

Hotel de Vigniamont

Charming bed and breakfast with well-appointed rooms and a leafy courtyard. They host an apéro hour each evening where you can sample hors-d’oeuvres made from regional products as well as local wines.

5 Rue Massillon
Ph. 04 67 35 14 88

RESTAURANTS

Pré St-Jean
A comfortable place to eat serving tasty traditional Southern French food, even if the décor leaves a little to be desired?

18 Avenue Maréchal Leclerc
Ph. 04 67 98 15 31

Les Palmiers

Great bistro in the centre of town with an ‘indoor’ open-air terrace.

10 Bis Rue Mercière
Ph. 04 67 09 42 56

L’Amphitryon

A modern and sophisticated take on the local cuisine, with some experimental dishes and outstanding presentation.

5 Rue Maréchal Plantavit
Ph. 04 67 90 11 84

Hours: Tues– Sat during low season, also Sundays during peak season

Mahi Mahi  

Dine in the fabulous setting of an old orchard, in neighbouring town Montblanc.

56 Place Édouard Barthe, Montblanc
Ph. 04 67 30 26 57
Hours: 12-2pm, 7-9pm except Sunday nights and Mondays

Côté Mas

Fantastic restaurant located at a winery (Château Paul Mas) about 15 minutes out of town where you can also try many of the local wines. Dine on the fabulous terrace with views of the surrounding hills.

Route de Villeveyrac, Montagnac
Ph. 04 67 24 36 10

Les Halles Balthard, Narbonne

Les Halles Baltard, Narbonne

NARBONNE
Some tips for pretty little Narbonne:

Have a coffee at Via Domitia, which is part of an excavated old Roman road smack-bang in front of the glorious Hotel de Ville, and explore the cloisters and gardens of the adjoining cathedral.

The Horreum is a subterranean space dating from Roman times. This former grain store, which was likely below a market, is now an excellent interactive museum recreating the sights and sounds of the age.

Take the bus to the nearby white, sandy beaches. Gruissan (of Betty Blue fame) has its own cute seaside village or choose Narbonne Plage, which is closer by and still large enough for everyone.

Gruissan Plage

Gruissan Plage

Find the best meats and cheeses at the Les Halles covered market (by Baltard) – unmissable for gourmands. Try local specialities including olives, honey, thyme, fresh seafood and all the other delicious delicacies of the Mediterranean region.

Singer Charles Trenet was born in Narbonne, and you can visit and explore the house where he lived for many years – La Maison de Charles Trenet.

To explore Narbonne’s culture head to the Archaelogical Museum, and the Museum of Art and History, conveniently located next door to each other. The former contains relics and artefacts from Narbonne’s Roman past, while the latter has Dutch, Flemish and Italian paintings.

TO VISIT:

The Horreum
7 rue Rouget le Lisle
Ph. 04 68 32 45 30

Hours: 7/7 from 10am to either 5 or 6pm depending on the season

Les Halles Narbonne
1 Boulevard Docteur Ferroul
Ph. 04 68 32 63 99
Hours: 7/7 7am-1pm

La Maison de Charles Trenet
31 Avenue Charles Trenet
Ph. 04 68 58 19 13

Hours: 7/7 from 10am to either 5 or 6pm depending on the season

Musée Archeologique
Ph. 04 68 90 30 65

Hours: 7/7 from 10am to either 5 or 6pm depending on the season

Musée d’art et d’histoire
Ph. 04 68 90 30 65

Hours: 7/7 from 10am to either 5 or 6pm depending on the season
NÎMES

Nîmes Cathedral. Photo: Cameron Booth

Former Roman colony Nîmes is a great place to discover the history of the Languedoc-Roussillon region.  Soak up the atmosphere in the old town, which has some great shops selling local and artisanal products. Twice each year over Pentecost weekend (usually around May and September) the town is taken over by the annual Ferias (bullfighting festivals). Over this time there are almost one million visitors to Nîmes, and many events and sights to see as part of the festival.

To see the locals let their hair down head to restaurant and bar Carré Jazz in the evening and sample the best dishes and wine from the area. Some of the specialities that the town is known for and that you may want to try at this restaurant are the Brandade de Nîmes, olive tapenade, pepper and of course the wines of the Languedoc. The Brandade is the pan-Mediterranean mélange of dried, salted cod with olive oil, and perhaps garlic.

You can also take home some brandade or other treats. Villaret, a shop founded in 1775, makes the best caladons – very hard but very sweet biscuits that come in lovely tins. For some more intoxicating souvenirs, wine from Pic St Loup, one of Languedoc’s cooler and more refined wine regions, or from Costières de Nîmes are great choices. We can highly recommend the Lascour 2011.

WHERE TO STAY:

Jardins Secretes
3 Rue Gaston Maruéjols

Ph. 04 66 84 82 64

Stunning hotel housed in a heritage property replete with hammam, spa and pool.

La Maison du Sophie
31 Avenue Carnot

Ph. 04 66 70 96 10

This old hôtel particulier, decorated from the Art Deco period, is now a chambre d’hôte in the centre of town.

RESTAURANTS:

Carré Jazz
25 Place de la Maison Carrée

Ph. 04 66 64 84 99

Hours: Mon-Sat 9am-1am, Sun 6pm-1am

SHOPPING:

Maison Villaret

13 rue de la Madeleine
Ph. 04 66 67 41 79