Pack a picnic and rent a canoe from St-Bauzille-de-Putois near Ganges on the banks of the Hérault then spend the day travelling down the river at a leisurely pace (although not without excitement – you’ll meet rapids from time to time!). Swim, snorkel, jump off rocks, hunt for ècrevisses (crayfish) and explore the river banks. Six to eight hours later, a mini-bus will meet you downriver to take you back to your car.
Allow two or three days for three very different attractions all within a stone’s throw of one another. First visit the medieval village of St-Guilhem-le-Désert and walk the goat tracks to the ‘Giant’s Castle’ above, then, when you’re nice and hot, cool down in the world-famous Grotte de Clamouse, a series of spectacular underground caves a few minutes away by car. Then treat your kids to the dramatic Pont du Diable or ‘Devil’s Bridge’ at St-Jean-de-Fos, an historic site where the river gorge opens out into a great turquoise pool.
Follow the arrows (or just follow your children as they follow the arrows) around the wonderful, unusual Cirque de Mourèze, a huge spread of dolomite rock formations close to the Lac du Salagou.
See the nine locks on the Canal du Midi at Béziers and hire a boat or bikes to explore this fantastic canal, the largest UNESCO World Heritage site on Earth.
Take your snorkel and mask to Banyuls sur Mer, a marine reserve area with an amazing variety of sea-life.
Hire a bike at Villeneuve-lès-Maguelone, to visit the island-cathedral and the beach. Then cycle along the sand spit across lagoons where the water ripples with fish, to the lively fishing port and beach resort of Palavas-les-Flots, where you can climb to the 11th floor of ‘La Phare’ , an enormous ‘lighthouse’ dominating the landscape. Have a game of volleyball at one of the many free nets on the beach before cycling back past flamingoes in the nature reserve.
Catch the Train Jaune to the Gorges de Caranca at Thuès, with a complex of narrow walkways and ledges above breathtaking drops, including suspension bridges worthy of a Tarzan film and death-defying ropewalks that should thrill the kids.
Cross the Plateau de Larzac to see the Cirque de Navacelles, where the river Vis has carved a great horseshoe-shaped canyon out of the rock. One of the grands sites de France, it offers amazing views from above. Go right down into the canyon afterwards, to picnic by the waterfall next to the little village of St-Maurice-Navacelles.
Explore the peaceful Orb valley to find secret river beaches and ancient ruins. Hire a bike and explore the countryside, make the most of the markets, visit the bell foundry at Hérépian, and relax while the kids splash in the outdoor play pool at Lunas.
Spend time in the Parc Naturel du Haut Languedoc, a feel-good wilderness of woods, lakes, rivers and trails. With tiny hamlets, great rocks for climbing, medieval villages and occasional fortifications, it’s perfect for family holidays involving camping, hiking and biking.
Wait for low season to see Carcassonne’s famous fairytale citadel – it can get uncomfortably busy in the summer months.
Wonder at Cordes-sur-Ciel, the ‘fortress in the sky’. Although this village of artists and artisans is easily accessible by car and bus, it’s more fun to approach by bike from Monestiès along the Cèrou river (an easy ride suitable for all the family), or catch a train to Cordes-Vindrac and walk for an hour (or take the shuttle). The main thing here is the unusual sight of the town itself, but be prepared for some serious and unusual shopping!
Seek out one of the many excellent accrobranche treetop adventure courses in the region, such asLes Rochers de Maguelone or La Forêt d’Acrobates at Montagnac and at Peyrelade on the Tarn. Tourist offices will point you in the direction of others.