Looking for a holiday in France that is gorgeous, quiet and unspoilt yet with plenty to do? We found the perfect South of France holiday area – the beautiful Languedoc-Roussillon.
When we arrived at Maison de la Roche – a collection of boutique gites in the south of France – we were tired after the drive from the United Kingdom. It is a long drive which we had to make because of the pandemic. But there was fresh bread and a great gobbet of delicious cheese waiting for us, along with a bottle of local rose wine, carefully selected by our host. The next morning I was still tired but a coffee and croissant in this delightful courtyard started to revive me…
A friend’s recommendation had led us to Maison de la Roche in the pretty but untouristy village of Ferrals les Corbieres, after five months stuck at home thanks to Covid-19. Honor Marks created these three beautiful gites with a pool in France’s Languedoc-Roussillon region from a half-ruined domain and promises a concierge service to help visitors make the most of their holiday in the South of France. So the fact we had come here on a last-minute holiday without my usual research and planning was not stressing me out in the slightest.
Maison de la Roche has three well-appointed gites within a walled enclave that is a peaceful retreat from the rest of the world. There is a lovely swimming pool garden area with sun loungers, a olive-tree-studded courtyard with outdoor sofas, and another shady seating area underneath the cluster of mature plane trees in the front precinct. Honor sat down with me for ten minutes and we had soon come up with a perfect plan for our family holiday in the South of France.
Ferrals les Corbieres may not be a tourist destination but nestled among rolling vine-covered hills, it is handily placed to enjoy the best of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, including the of the Aude, Hérault and Pyrénées-Orientales departments.
Les Plus Beaux Villages de France
A morning or an evening wandering through the village of Lagrasse is a must when visiting this part of France. Cobbled streets and shuttered houses cluster around the Romanesque Abbey of St. Mary of Lagrasse and the River Orbieu, which is crossed by a golden stone arched bridge. Add quirky art galleries, a fourteenth century covered market, and relaxed cafes, and it is deservedly part of the Most Beautiful Villages of France association. If it’s a hot day, I recommend spending some time dabbling your feet in the river.
Browsing the local market
You can’t visit France without enjoying a local market and the nearest town – Lezignan – has something for everyone on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. In the streets surrounding the main square there are loads of stalls selling all sorts – from flip flops and fashion to party hats and pants. Then in the central place, artfully stacked piles of jewel-like fruit and vegetables draw the camera, while stands offering wine tasting and pavement cafes for people watching offer respite from a hard morning’s shopping.
Canyoning in Roussillon
It takes around an hour-and-a-half to drive to the Gorge du Galamus but the hours spent enjoying this incredible river gorge in the Pyrenees-Orientales department were a highlight of our trip. Where the river Agly rises to Corbières it cuts through the limestone mountains and becomes a very deep gorge. As the river descends through this, a series of limpid green rock pools have formed and these are wonderfully cool in the summer. We joined a guided canyoning group, donning wetsuits and boots, jumping and floating through this spectacular natural playground.
Wandering through Carcasonne
Within forty minutes’ drive from the gite we were at the second most visited tourist attraction in France (after Paris). Yes, the incredible historic citadel of Carcassonne is an unmissable feature of the Occitanie region. The Cite de Carcassonne is a medieval fortress restored in an attractive, if not entirely authentic, manner in the 19th century and crossing the drawbridge and walking atop the walls is a thrill. It has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1997. After your tour of the citadel walk down into the town and enjoy views of the impressive walls with their 53 towers.
Wide, sandy beaches of the Languedoc
Being from New Zealand I tend to be a bit fussy about beaches and not easily impressed but the extensive coastline of the Languedoc is home to a long string of lovely beaches, with dunes and soft sand. We had some very fresh seafood at a casual eatery and there are a few relaxed beach bars and restaurants if that’s your thing. Again, it’s around forty minutes’ drive from the gite so an easy day our if beaches are an essential part of your South of France holiday. Ask Honor how to book a sunlounger/umbrella.
Kayaking to Roquebrun
This is the most beautiful place I have canoed or kayaked outside New Zealand and spending a few hours paddling down the Orb River in the Herault department of Languedoc-Roussillon is highly recommended. Canoe Roquebrun has a good set up – they bus you and your robust, sit-on kayaks up river and then it’s watery fun all the way back to the spectacular village of Roquebrun itself. Take drinks and snacks and stop en route to fling yourself into the clear river water.
Eating out and wine tasting in Languedoc
The Corbières wine region is one of the largest in France and renowned for the wine produced in the gently rolling hills. There are a couple of wine tasting caves in Ferrals Les Corbieres and you can even have an expert deliver a guided wine tasting at Maison de la Roche. We also had exquisite local wine at the local restaurants. The village is blessed with two completely contrasting eateries, each wonderful in its own way. Our host helpfully reserved tables for us.
Swimming in Ribaute
I perhaps should have called this post Beautiful Rivers of France because we seemed to spend a lot of our holiday on and in rivers. Did you know that France has over 400 rivers that are approved safe for swimming? Last but not least I must mention a local beauty spot that we returned to several times during our holiday. Like so many places, on summer days the tiny commune of Ribaute enjoys the cool beauty of the Orbieu river. Here the waterway drops 200+ metres in gentle stages over several kilometres and there are tree-lined lagoons to swim in, pools to splash through, rock slides to squeal down, and bridges to jump from.
The perfect South-of-France holiday area
To be honest we only scratched the surface of the many things to do in Languedoc-Roussillon. There are magnificent Cathar castles to explore, elegant cities like Narbonne to stroll through, more beautiful villages, more river fun and much more food and wine tasting experiences to enjoy. I love the mix of cultural and natural activities that are available. Or you could just spend your days moving from poolside lounger, to courtyard sofa, to swing seat under the plane trees, at Maison de la Roche.
P.S. If you don’t want to drive you can fly to the regional airport of Montpellier. You will need to hire a car to make the most of this wonderful South of France holiday area.
If all this sounds like the beginnings of an amazing holiday in France, why not pin it for future reference?