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There’s more to Sète than salty sea dogs and fish suppers, mind you. Further down from The Marcel, at 26 quai Aspirant Herbert, there’s the CRAC (Centre Régional d’Art Contemporain), a regionally-funded centre that showcases contemporary art in all its forms. You’ll be able to spot it easily – the modern building pops out from its early 20th century surroundings - and it’s always good for a headful of thought-provoking stuff. Then there’s the MIAM (Musée International des Arts Modestes), at 23, quai Maréchal de Lattre de Tassigny, where some very left-field exhibitions celebrate the weird and wonderful world of knick-knacks, souvenirs and everyday objects (see the website at www.miam.org for a better idea of what it’s all about) that is a real kid-pleaser.
If you like your art a little less edgy and don’t mind a steep walk, then head for the chapel of Notre Dame de la Salette, perched high above the port on the Mont Saint Clair. It’s a bit of a hike up the hill (400 steps, rising 183 metres, to be precise) but the views from the top across the town and the bassin de Thau are stunning. Take a pew, get your breath back and admire the funky Bringuier frescos: painted by a local man in 1952, they make one think of Magritte and feature lots of… fish. They’re modern & moving. Outside, visitors are encouraged to light up a huge electric cross (la croix de Saint-Clair) by making a donation (the phone box and satellite dishes alongside are a little incongruous). Inside, the chapel is on the corner of cosy and charming; a side chapel dedicated to Saint Rita houses plaques, paintings and a display of statuettes and ex-votos bordering on the kitsch. It’s lovely on an overcast Tuesday afternoon in November & absolutely spellbinding at Christmas time.
La Grande Motte : On the shores of the Med, between the fishing ports of Sète and Le Grau-du-Roi you will find La Grande Motte. Unique isn’t really the word for it. Formerly a desert of sand dunes and lagoons, La Grande Motte is now an inimitable holiday resort with architecture that consists of giant mole hills (mottes in French), based on Inca pyramids in Mexico and the nearby 638m Pic St-Loup, which dominates the skyline in the Coteaux du Languedoc. It’s rather distinctive, in a “love it or hate it” kind of way.
Innovatively styled, the town was developed by architect Jean Balladur in the late Sixties following plans to transform the quiet, sun-drenched beaches of the Languedoc coastline into unique tourist destinations.
The buildings with their system of terraces with triangular, round and rectangular features are designed to provide wind and sun shields as well as spectacular sea views from each and every floor. Lovely!
There are some rather smart hotel-restaurants in the centre of the resort (La Méditerrannée comes highly recommenced), plus some swanky cocktails bars with private beaches on the seafront. It's a completely different holiday experience to, being amongst the vineyards around Canaules, but if you're looking for a little bit of 'bling' and excitement, La Grande Motte is probably Languedoc's most “ jumpin‘ ” spot on the coast.
The marina here is large, although supposedly not as large as the huge Grau du Roi marina just along the coast. And the beaches just by the town are OK. You're better off heading 20 minutes east to Espiguette - with its huge expanses of sand or just south of La Grande Motte, you'll find Le Grand Travers - a long, more 'urban' beach that stretches between La Grande Motte and (ugly) Carnon. It's a favourite with families and joggers and won't leave you feeling quite as cramped as the Le Grande Motte beaches.
Suggested Restaurants :
Côté Plage : A smart, modern place with a real buzz. We went for lunch but I imagine it would be great fun for supper. The food was tasty but beware, the portions are more summer tapas type affair, so you might want to order a few dishes - we had spicy wrapped prawns and crab salad. Both were fine but the burger our neighbour ordered looked great - I knew I should have ordered that! It is not cheap either - our lunch with puds and coffee came to €90. The real plus is the location. You are eating right on the beach. To the front of the open restaurant is the private beach lined with comfy beds and parasols and an army of waiters rushing to keep the sun lizards supplied with cool drinks. A great place to chill and people watch - I would suggest you book in advance. Please note: this is one of those beach restaurants that open for the summer season only. Plenty of parking nearby.
Carcassonne is the next city on the canal boating route, dominated by its famous medieval fortress. From there, the plane-tree-lined canal meanders slowly under pretty stone bridges, past traditional villages until you reach Beziers, another small city with a pretty town centre. From here, your canal boat gets closer to the sea, where at Agde it enters Languedoc's 'Etang de Thau', an enormous salt-water lake. This is where the Canal du Midi becomes the 'Canal Rhone Sete', heading past the seaside towns of Sete, Palavas and Carnon and up in to The Camargue, a huge marshland populated by flamingoes, wind bulls and white horses. Eventually, you reach the walled town of Aigues Mortes, and continue on to the border with Provence at Beaucaire - from which you can visit Nimes and the Pont du Gard.
There are a number of classic rides in the Languedoc that are easy to follow and right at the top of the list is the magnificent Canal du Midi. This is the 240km trail that links Toulouse to the charming little port of Marseillan on the Mediterranean coast. You don’t have to cycle all of it, just choose the parts that you think you’d like to see. It’s a delightful way of seeing life in the slow lane; even on the bike you’ll be speedy compared to the gently chugging canal boats.
LANGUEDOC FISHING INFORMATION:
Best rivers: Bès, Coagne, Allier, Gardons, Tarn, Truyère, Chapeauroux, Altier, Jonte, Lot Best lakes: Saint-Andéol, Ganivet, Charpal, Naussac, Bayard-Villefort, Rachas, Roujanel Fédération de Pêche, Tel: 04 66 65 36 11
Best spots: The Rhone river, La Dourbie, l'Hérault, l'Arre, la Vis, le haut Vidourle, les Gardons cévenols, la basse Cèze, le moyen and bas Gardon Fédération du Gard pour la Pêche, Te: 04 66 02 91 61
Best spots: Lake Salagou, le barrage des Olivettes, Lake Avène, La Raviège, l'Hérault river, Orb river (at Cessenon), L'Agoût, Le Vidourle.
Federation de l'Herault pour pa peche. Tel: 04 67 96 98 55
Best spots: Le lac de la Cavayère, Laprade, Le Lampy, Cennes-Monestiers, Arques, Jouarres, Saint-Ferréol, Montbel, Régembert, La Ganguise Fédération de l'Aude pour la Pêche, Tel: 04 68 25 16 03
The French take their walking pretty seriously, and have marked out literally thousands of walks across the Languedoc, most between 1 and 3 hours in length. Painted markings on trees and rocks help to make sure you don't get lost. All of these walks are listed in the 'Topo Guides' ('Topoguide des Sentiers de Randonee) available at most tourist offices in villages. We'd recommend you stay inside the 'foothills' areas as they offer really beautiful rolling hills and vineyards - rather than the flat coastal areas or steep mountain areas.
In fact, it's in the Gard region that the move away from the Mediterranean into a more continental, mountainous landscape begins. The weather cools the higher you climb, and the coarse river-stone villages so typical of Languedoc's Mediterranean departments (Herault, Aude and Pyrenees-Orientales) give way to tidy villages of cut-stone houses (limestone and granite).
The vines peter out as you climg higher and the undulating hills of Herault become jagged and rocky in the Gard, sliced through by Languedoc's dramatic river gorges.
Sailing and windsurfing :
Bird Watching :
Languedoc is one of Europe's most diverse bird-watching areas Bird-watching enthusiasts who come to Languedoc Roussillon have 4 exciting areas to choose from - two mountainous (the Cévennes and the Pyrénées) and two wetlands (the Camargue and the Etangs of Narbonne).
Les Cévennes Bird-watching in Languedoc's Cevennes is excellent. Technically part of the Massif Central these mountains are excellent for the traveling birder. Les Causses are large limestone plateaux excellent for open habitat species. Dividing deep gorges provide habitat for a wide range of cliff birds. Successful reintroduction of Griffon and Black Vulture has taken place in the Gorges de la Jontes. Large forests on the Massif de l`Aigoual have most of the common woodland birds as well as Black Woodpecker.
Languedoc's Camargue, a huge salt-water swamp, is a brilliant bird watching area & not to be missed. It's famous for flamingoes, but also receives huge numbers of wildfowl over winter as well as Spotted Eagle. Migration time is the best with Sandpipers and Plovers in the saltpans (South of Salin de Giraud, Phare de la Gachole);
freshwater waders (including good numbers of Marsh Sandpiper); Marsh Terns and Herons in the north (Basse Méjane, Mas d`Agon, Salin de Badon and La Capellière) and good passerine falls in bushes by the sea (Phare de la Gachole and Beauduc). Good bird watching information can be obtained at La Capellière in Languedoc, which has a decent set of hides as well as quite good exhibit on the local Ecology.
Open all year round (except Christmas and New Year) with several tour departure times per day, admission charges are €7,50 for adults, €3,50 for children (10 to 14 years) and children under 10 go free.
Terra Vinea Portel des Corbieres +33 (0)4 68 48 28 05 www.terra-vinea.com The top 20 most fun things to do for kids in Languedoc!
The Languedoc Roussillon has a terrific diversity of places to see, explore and experience for children en famille. From water parks to shady bamboo, from castles to vultures, from Art to tree climbing… whatever your budget and your children’s desires there should be something to suit you and your kids. Here’s the Top 20 of favourite activities for children in the Languedoc Roussillon, chosen by families who actually live in the area. They know better than anyone what’s hot and what’s not in this part of the world. No doubt you and your kids will find your own favourites in Languedoc Roussillon, but this list should help you get started. If these aren’t enough suggestions then arm yourself with a copy of 150 idées pour les enfants, published by La Gazette (local weekly paper) from a newsagent for €5. It’s full of many more activities for kids in Languedoc, South France
- such as military museums, theatres and parks… and much, much more. Have fun!
For other Languedoc tourist trains please visit: www.trainstouristiques-ter.com at www.canaules.com 10 things to do for free… Explore a garden. Try the Jardin Des Plantes in Montpellier which was one of the earliest botanic gardens in France and a lovely place to unwind after a tour around the town. www.jardindesplantes.univmontp1.fr. Check out www.jardinslanguedoc.com for more venues.
Zoo du Lunaret – it’s in the top 20 but it’s worth repeating that this great zoo really is free www.zoo-montpellier.fr Visit a Museum - The first Sunday of every month many museums have free entry. Check locally for details.
Curious walks around curious sites : check out the Cirque de Mourèze or Les Orgues d’Ille Explore the old city of Carcassonne - www.carcassonne.org (paying parking and prime tourist rates for everything else) Visit the geological wonder of Le Cirque de Navacelles - www.navacelles.com and explore the gorge, or just paddle in the stream.
Swim in a lake or picnic by a river…. Why not try Lac de la Riviège at La Salvetat-sur-Agout, the Lac du Salagou (paying parking) or Lac de St-Ferréol www.ville-soreze.fr/html/TL/lacs.html for starters.
Hunt for Bambi & Co in the small but delightful Parc de Coulondres in St Gely-du Fesc (just north of Montpellier) Domaine de Méjean, Lattes, (south of Montpellier) – signposted walks around a bird sanctuary. There is La Maison de la Nature to help you find your way around the fauna and flora.
04.67.22.12.44 Go back to the beach!