(CNN) — Think of the south of France and postcard photographs of the lavender fields of Provence and tony spots with yachts — Nice, Cannes and St. Tropez — seemingly spring to thoughts.
But have a look at a map of France and hint a finger down from Paris to the Mediterranean Sea and you may land within the area of Occitanie, the place the division of Aude and the coastal metropolis of Narbonne and surrounds provide up a really totally different, extra relaxed view of the nation’s south.
Here, alongside a coastal plain that’s half of France’s largest wine-producing and winery area in the case of floor space (Languedoc-Roussillon, which grew to become half of the just lately created Occitanie area in 2016), the varied landscapes vary from seashores and shallow lagoons to wooded limestone plateaus pocketed with lakes.
Crumbling castles and majestic citadels crown hilltops in what was as soon as Cathar nation. This dissident and ascetic spiritual group, then thought-about heretics, gathered on this half of Europe through the twelfth century.
Visitors come to the area at this time for an ambiance steeped in lore and full of surprises, the place you may dine on hyperlocal seafood proper from the lagoons the place it is harvested and sip Languedoc’s diverse wines with a backdrop of the Pyrenees mountains stretching towards Spain. The laid-back seaside villages you may go to right here really feel worlds away — attitude-wise and geographically, too — from the extra pretentious and crowded Côte d’Azur, roughly 225 miles east.
Narbonne is a city with Roman roots within the Aude division of France’s Occitanie area.
A metropolis with a Roman coronary heart — and one of France’s best markets
Less than an hour inland from Narbonne on the River Aude, the spectacular hilltop fortress city of Carcassonne is what initially brings most vacationers to the area. An excellent instance of a medieval fortified city, this UNESCO World Heritage has pre-Roman roots.
But historical past additionally runs deep in and across the usually neglected city of Narbonne, an historical port metropolis which dates again to 118 BCE and was the primary Roman colony established in Gaul.
The spectacular museum designed by Foster+Partners (of Norman Foster fame) has an industrial-style stacker crane that makes use of a robotic mechanism to constantly change a towering show of extra than 700 historical carved stone blocks inside its centerpiece “Lapidary Wall.”
The Canal du Midi — a Seventeenth-century canal linking the Mediterranean and the Atlantic — flows by means of the center of Narbonne, transporting hundreds of barge cruise passengers every year on journeys between Sète and Toulouse.
But few disembark to discover past the canal’s boundaries and Carcassonne. They’re lacking out.
At the canal’s edge in Narbonne is town’s well-known lined market, Les Halles, the place the morning bustle fades away at lunchtime when distributors promoting native seafood, produce and Languedoc’s well-known goat cheeses start to shutter their stalls and eating places replenish with diners sipping wine with their noon meal.
“The market is a place where the people of Narbonne like to develop their social lives over a glass of wine,” winemaker Gerard Bertrand, whose white, crimson and rose wines are a benchmark of Languedoc’s sustainable biodynamic and natural winemaking heritage, tells CNN Travel.
Languedoc-Roussillon grew to become half of Occitanie in 2016. Vineyards cowl half of the panorama.
An evolving historical past of winemaking
While vines have been rooted within the Languedoc area for hundreds of years, Narbonne was the primary port by means of which wine was routed all through the Roman Empire. Bertrand says the area ultimately “lost its nobility, often favoring volume rather than quality.”
Regions like Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux emerged into the highlight.
But for the reason that Seventies, says Bordeaux-based oenologist Sera Goto, nice care has been taken to replant varietals tailored to the actual microclimates and soils of Languedoc-Roussillon’s vineyards that “maintain a great respect for the natural lieu and environment.”
The area is a “multi-colored, textured, dynamic area with a dizzying diversity of soils, varietals and wine styles,” she says, and one of France’s most vital natural wine-producing areas.
“Once solely a source for mass-produced wines for the tables of the ancient Greeks, Romans and then later the Gauls, the Languedoc Roussillon of today is in many ways a firebrand for organic, artisanal wine,” Goto says.
That’s thanks largely to the practices of visionary winemakers like Bertrand, a former skilled rugby participant who took over his father’s enterprise in 1987 and incorporates totally biodynamic farming practices into his 16 vineyards throughout the area.
Château l’Hospitalet is a coastal vineyard and boutique resort located throughout the vines of the La Clape appellation.
His Château l’Hospitalet Grand Vin Rouge 2017 was named the perfect crimson wine on the earth in a blind tasting of 6,000 wines through the International Wine Challenge in 2019.
“The future of our region looks bright,” Bertrand says. “The shift has been made towards new generations of winemakers who are fully dedicated to valuing the wonderful nature that we have here.”
It’s usually standing room solely as locals, toting purchasing luggage laden with contemporary produce, chin-chin glasses and order specialties like steak tartare and duck breast to debrief over the newest rugby match and different vital city goings-on.
Vineyards and lagoons the place you may keep, sip and slurp
In addition to rooms within the chateau, Villa Soleilla has 11 suites and a brand new spa in its assortment of modern styled buildings refurbished from the unique partitions of an historical vineyard. Rooms with personal patios and terraces open to views of the encircling vineyards and dazzling Mediterranean Sea past.
During the hotter months, the resort’s seasonal seaside membership and seaside restaurant, a couple of minutes drive away in close by Gruissan, conjure one thing of the Côte d’Azur’s belle vie sun-and-sea vibe — with none of its ostentatious bling.
A seaside membership and seaside restaurant in close by Gruissan are half of Château l’Hospitalet’s summer season providing.
EO CREATIVE @FlorianVidot
Year spherical within the area, you may stroll alongside the uncrowded sands of Gruissan, stroll by means of vines to vistas overlooking a shoreline billowing with extra sails than tremendous yachts and hike to sudden views on the Gouffre de l’Oeil Doux, an emerald-colored pool within the karst massif that appears remarkably like a Mexican cenote.
At Salin de Gruissan close to the fishing village of Gruissan, lagoons the place sea salt is cultivated tackle a pinkish hue because of the presence of an algae that reacts to the daylight. Flamingos stalk the shallow swimming pools closest to the ocean and fleur de sel is gathered by hand and bought in a small boutique on-site.
At the lagoon’s edge, massages and salt soak therapies are supplied inside a humble roulotte — a small wood stagecoach-like cart that appears like a conveyable sauna and overlooks the salt manufacturing basins. A set-up with a no-frills, what-more-do-you-really-need wellness vibe.
Also bordering the lagoon, at La Cambuse du Saunier, platters of oysters, whelks, shrimp and couteaux — razor clams spooned with a thick garlic and parsley sauce — are dished up at rustic driftwood tables at a restaurant with zero pretension and what’s absolutely some of France’s freshest seafood.
La Cambuse du Saunier, close to Gruissan, dishes up contemporary seafood at rustic driftwood tables subsequent to the water.
Fans of oysters make the pilgrimage northeast of Narbonne alongside the coast to the neighboring division of Hérault and the seaside village of Marseillan.
Special Tarbouriech (or “pink oysters”) are cultivated there on ropes lifted out and in of the water of France’s largest lagoon, the Étang de Thau. The course of permits growers to regulate the oysters’ salinity degree in an space with salty waters and virtually no tidal variation.
And the perfect half? That “no pretension” factor.
You can come as you’re to any of these spots, wearing no matter you placed on that morning for a day of sightseeing.
The city of Gruissan is positioned alongside the Mediterranean coast about 9 miles southeast of Narbonne.
Boris Stroujko/Adobe Stock
A area of discovery — that’s being found
“You just have to push open one door in this region, and after that there’s another one,” says Gilles Sansa, whose personal chauffeur firm, Quadriges, guides vacationers, Hollywood crews (scenes from “The Last Duel” have been just lately filmed on the Eleventh-century Abbaye de Fontfroid) and anybody else eager to get to know the world’s again roads and secrets and techniques.
“When Americans come here, they have a purpose, a target,” Sansa says. “They know there’s good wine and food, firstly. But after that they really discover the essence of the place and something different.”
For many Europeans, the area’s attract is much less of a secret — and each international and French curiosity in actual property has boomed through the pandemic, says Nathalie Van Veenendaal, regional supervisor for French actual property company, Selection Habitat-Hamilton.
She described the housing market as having a “return-to-the-countryside vibe” that’s drawing extra curiosity from the French and residents of different elements of Europe to an space that’s historically attracted quite a bit of Brits.
“It’s this combination of sea, mountains and countryside together with the quality of life that draws people here,” Van Veenendaal says.
“It’s less about showing off your big property here than in the Côte d’Azur and more about these other things.”