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Languedoc-Roussillon Family Holidays & Breaks

St-Guilhem-le-DésertSt-Guilhem-le-Désert© ATOUT FRANCE/Catherine Bibollet
CarcassonneCarcassonne© ATOUT FRANCE/Catherine Bibollet
At the beachAt the beach© ATOUT FRANCE/Laurent Marois
Flying Time 2.5hrs
Timezone GMT +1
Currency Euro

Today

Overview

The incredible diversity of landscapes in this region of southern France, coupled with 300 days of sunshine a year in some parts of it, means there’s a fantastic choice of things to see and do during family holidays. Savagely beautiful in places – the terrain seeming to reflect the area’s dramatic history – the Languedoc-Roussillon region boasts Mediterranean beaches, glorious clean rivers, and canals and lakes that make all kinds of watersports popular. Hiking (with donkeys for younger kids), horse-riding, skiing, kayaking and mountain-biking are just some of the other activities available.

You can have any kind of family holiday here, but the region is particularly well-suited to those on a tighter budget – its natural attractions are so stupendous, you won’t need to spend much to have a great time.

Things to do with kids in Languedoc-Roussillon

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.

Eat

Moules frites (mussels with various sauces plus chips) and seafood paella are popular up and down the coast, but the real speciality of the seaside towns and one of the great exports of the Languedoc-Roussillon is oysters. Bouzigues is a favourite place among French to buy and eat seafood, and it’s worth a trip there just to see the enormous variety of weird and wonderful shellfish on sale. Tielles is a kind of individual fish pie eaten in Sète and surrounds.

Inland, saucisson (dried sausage) is the speciality of a region where wild boar still abound. Buy it from the market, where you will find the best variety of flavours and usually be able to taste several before buying. See also Fiona Joyce’s feature on visiting a French market with kids.

Cassoulet, a casserole of various meats including pork, lamb, duck and sausage popular in the Toulouse area and a must on family holidays in the region, originated in Castelnaudry in Languedoc-Roussillon.

Olives are also one of the major local industries – the Hérault produces the uniquely shaped and flavoured St Jacques olive. Market traders present olives deliciously stuffed with garlic, peppers, anchovies or almonds, as well as tasty olive tapenades. Don’t miss the similar caviar d’aubergines – cooked aubergines pulped and mixed with herbs, garlic and onions.

If you fancy something sweet after all that, try grès de la cité in Carcassonne – a wonderful concoction of almonds and vanilla in puff pastry.

When to go to Languedoc-Roussillon

June and September are the best months for heat without the crowds, especially if you intend to spend time on the coast. Close to the Mediterranean, May frequently offers sun and high temperatures, but you need to bear in mind when planning family holidays that some attractions don’t open until June.

July is HOT, with beach roads a lot busier. But this is a wonderful time to stay in the Haut Languedoc and swim, canoe, boat and bike-ride around the beautiful rivers, canals and lakes.

In July and August, look out for posters on trees. Almost every village in Languedoc-Roussillon is en fête at some stage during this period, with celebrations including local arts and crafts, street performance and free evening concerts in the main squares. Just reserve a table at a centrally positioned restaurant and wait for the fun to start! However, do stay away from the Mediterranean beaches and more popular inland tourist attractions in August unless you enjoy crowds and queues.

For winter holidaymakers, the Pyrénnées ski season starts in December.

How to get to Languedoc-Roussillon

The region is divided into the départements (counties) of Aude, Gard, Hérault, Lozère, and Pyrénées-Orientales. You can fly to the regional capital Montpellier (Hérault) by low-cost airline, or to Carcassonne (Aude) and Perpignan (Pyrénées-Orientales). The flight time is roughly 2hrs from London.

A more environmentally friendly option for family holidays in Languedoc-Roussillon is the train: take a Eurostar to Lille and change to a TGV to Montpellier, Bézier, Narbonne or Perpignan. London–Montpellier is about 8hrs 30mins travelling time, meaning you can arrive in plenty of time for dinner if you take an early-morning Eurostar. Alternatively, take a late-afternoon Eurostar to Paris then transfer onto an overnight sleeper (to Narbonne or Perpignan). Prices start at £109 return, £94 children 4–12, £99 ages 12–25. The Man in Seat 61 (seat61.com) has all the info you could possibly need; you can book via Rail Europe.

Montpellier is a long old drive from ferry ports (1040km/646 miles from Calais; 987km/613 miles from St-Malo in Brittany), although of course there are countless lovely places to stop over en route should you have the time and inclination. One quite expensive time-saver is to put your car (and yourselves!) onto the Motorail train from Paris to Narbonne (or from Dusseldorf in Germany). You could also shave off some driving time by sailing from the UK to northern Spain – the ferry ports of Bilbao and Santander are 677km (420 miles) and 774km (480 miles) from Montpellier respectively.

Cost

Largely off the tourist trail, the Languedoc-Roussillon is perfect for those who want family holidays that make the warmth of the Mediterranean without the prices (or crowds) of the South of France.

By Fiona Joyce

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Poll

What do you remember most clearly about your childhood holidays?

Long days on the beach
38%
Long journeys by car or plane
25%
Making new friends
15%
Spending more time with parents
23%

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