I know I know. You’ve thought about summer holidaying in France but you’re not convinced and you’ve ended up on a plane to Majorca.
You want rustic but convenient. Authentic but facilities. Nice weather but not blistering.
How about the Midi-Pyrenees? It stretches from coast to coast, from Bordeaux in the west to Narbonne and Perpignan in the east, along the line of the stunning Pyrenees.
We discovered the beautiful Midi Pyrenees a few years back on our way to Spanish Catalonia. We try to spend 2 weeks on the Costa Brava coast late summer and usually pick up a hire car and spend a few nights in France on our way down. We’ve flown to Nice, Toulouse, and Carcassonne. They’re all pretty convenient if you have time. Carcassonne is the closest but Toulouse is the best airport and the one we’ve used most often.
The area we love is in southern Languedoc. If you draw a triangle from Toulouse to Carcassonne to Andorra and then stick a pin in the middle – that’s Leran, the beautiful village where we’ve stayed 5 times now.
We’ve visited Nice and Cannes in August and we’d never do it again. Beautiful coastline but if it’s peace and quiet you’re after and a taste of the real country, then Languedoc is the place for you. Once you get off the toll motorway from Toulouse down to Carcassonne, onto the A roads, you’ll find some quite special places. And you won’t have to fight the crowds to get there. You’re far enough south to get the Mediterranean climate and the great weather without the sizzling heat along the Cote d’Azur.
We’ve staying in Leran, a sleepy Languedoc village, always at L’Impasse du Temple and always warmly welcomed by John and Lee-Ann our charming Aussie hosts. It’s a picture postcard village surrounded by corn fields and bordered by a pretty river. There’s a historic chateau, a old tannery and the beautiful Lac de Montbel a short walk down the road.
A WORD ABOUT SAWDAY TRAVEL
If you’ve never discovered Sawdays Travel, let me recommend it. We discovered Alistair Sawday’s “Special Places” hotel and B&B directory back in 2003 when planning our honeymoon. We bought the book (as everyone did back then) and soon found 3 places to stay in France that we just loved. We’ve stayed with Sawday Travel in the UK, France, Italy and Portugal and never been disappointed. If you fancy staying somewhere a bit special, or off the beaten track, with some great features – then Sawday will serve you well. We would never have found the village of Leran, or the lovely L’Impasse du Temple, without a little help from Mr Sawday.
Everywhere. Sunflowers. Some dipping their heavy heads ready for harvest, others smiling beautifully at the sky in all their glory. The ones we spotted at Lac de Montbel were everything. Right next to the roadside with the blue lake in the background. Instagram perfection.
I’d love to know their secret. We tried to grow a handful of sunflowers a few years back in our south facing garden and it was a bit of a damp squib. Mind you, sunshine levels in North Wales are perhaps not on the scale of Languedoc.
If you visit Leran in July or August you’ll be treated to the “Marche Gourmande”. Every Friday evening the community gathers in one small street to celebrate french culture. It’s as much for the locals as it is for passing tourists. Everyone bundles in together on trestle tables and long benches.
If you’re “in the know”, you’ll bring your own picnic basket complete with table cloth, plates and cutlery. The street is lined with food vendors of all kinds. Mountains of moules and l’escargots, seafood paella, tasty tartiflette. The region brings together coastal and mountain influences as well as a strong spanish vibe, even on the french side of Catalonia. Churros with rich chocolate sauce is the sweet of choice, or there’s always crepes. Always. And wine, plenty of wine. Except to our dismay the little french bar we sat outside all evening ran out of red wine by 10pm. We had to transition to the rose. I know, definitely a #firstworldproblem
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good walk. But in 30 degrees – no, no, no. Thankfully, just a 45 minute drive south is Ax les Thermes, a pretty spa town / ski resort with cable car up the mountain. It has a real alpine feel about it with a fast flowing river cascading down from the Andorran tops. Plenty of scope for canoeing and white water rafting if that floats your boat.
The hot water “les thermes” bubble up everywhere. Even in the market square you can pop your socks off and relax in the really quite warm water for a few minutes. It’s quite a therapy. The locals were there with their newspapers and books, getting their daily spa treatment.
Lordat is a great place to call. It’s a tiny village just a few miles out of Ax Les Thermes. We first visited on our honeymoon for “Les Aigles de Lordat”. The Eagles, and other amazing birds of prey, are long gone but the castle ruins remain and it’s a stunning view of the mountains if you can stomach the hairy near vertical drive up the hill.
On a clear day, you’re pretty much guaranteed a mountain view from any part of the southern Languedoc and if hiking in summer is your thing, go for it. There’s countless trails to explore.
If you’re a planner-header, then put the Midi Pyrenees on your list of adventure destinations. There’s plenty to do for a fortnight, or you could stop for a few days on your way somewhere else. And if you want to stay somewhere special, remember to book through Sawdays Travel. See you in Leran perhaps?
That’s all for now,
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