The largest and most impressive medieval citadel in Europe, parts of this World Heritage Site are over 1,400 years old. A fairytale ‘must see’ city with drawbridges and towers said to have inspired Walt Disney’s film of ‘Sleeping Beauty’.
Carcassonne is actually 2 towns - the double-walled ‘cite’ above, once defending the old French border with Spain, and the medieval ‘ville basse’ by the River Aude, where the town’s rebellious inhabitants were banished in the thirteenth century.
Wander the narrow streets of the ‘cite’ with their cafes and craft shops and visit beautiful St-Nazaire church. If the weather’s fine, take a picnic on the riverbank beside the fourteenth century Pont Aude.
Herault’s capital, founded in the tenth century and built on trade, has evolved to become one of the liveliest cities in Southern France.
The youthful population is attracted by the good reputations of its ancient medical school and France’s largest university - founded in the thirteenth century. Students of architecture seek out the postmodern Antigone district designed by Spaniard Ricardo Bonfill, along with seventeenth and eighteenth century mansions of the old town.
Stroll in the formal gardens to ‘Jardins des Plantes’, France’s oldest botanical gardens, which have plants reputedly offshoots of sixteenth century originals.
Visit the Cathedral and Musee Fabre, shop in rue de la Loge and enjoy Montpellier’s regular festivals, pedestrianised streets and city squares buzzing with market and café life. There’s even a beach nearby.
Built around 19 BC, this masterpiece of Roman engineering was constructed as an aqueduct to bring fresh water from the River Eure to Nimes. The 50km route across hills, through a tunnel and over rivers includes Pont du Gard’s amazing 3 tiers of arches rising 48m above the river with a span of 275m. The rocky riverbanks are a favourite picnic spot and swimming beneath the arches popular.
Balanced between sea and shellfish beds of Bassin de Thau, the old wine port of Sete is reminiscent of Venice with its network of canals and bridges, pretty pink and blue painted buildings and wrought iron balconies.
This birthplace of novelist and poet Paul Valery is acclaimed for its seafood, and waterside restaurants will spoil you with choice. Take away a ‘Tiele’ seafood pie to enjoy while watching the traditional fishermen’s sport of water jousting on the Canal Royal from April to September.
The whole town comes alive for the most important August competitions during the ‘Fetes de la Saint-Louis’. Sete even has a jousting school for children.
Spanish combines with Romany, Moorish and North African influences in this French Catalan city with strong historical links to each.
Artist Salvador Dali once claimed Perpignan station to be the ‘centre of the universe’, but for most tourists the buildings that excite are the Cathedral, art and folk museums of Le Castillet and Casa Pairal, and especially the lofty splendour of the thirteenth century Palace of the Kings of Majorca dominating the city centre. Its courtyard is a venue for theatrical productions in summer.
Shop for Catalan ceramics and textiles or just enjoy the old quarter with its narrow streets full of spicy aromas, bustling markets and palm-lined squares. During the hot summer, life in Perpignan is lived outdoors; watch locals hold hands in the streets to dance the ‘sardana’ - a traditional Catalan circle dance performed in towns and villages everywhere.
With a name translating as ‘dead waters’ - referring to the surrounding reed-fringed marshes - it’s perhaps no surprise Aigues-Mortes has a sombre history. A sixth century abbey built on Roman remains, it was fortified as a departure port for Crusaders by Louis IX in the thirteenth century.
Climb the Constance Tower, once used as a state prison, for atmospheric views across the Petite Camargue and perhaps see pink flamingos. Today, this impressive medieval walled town is land-locked, 5km from the sea, rising hauntingly from the lonely landscape of marshy salt lagoons. It remains a genuine example of medieval military architecture.