Every Brit, it seems, is buying into the Languedoc - or wants to. So desirable is this hot rocky corner of southwest France, bordered by long beaches and the Spanish Pyrenees, that it's been called the new Provence. Languedoc-Roussillon (though we're concentrating on Languedoc here) has also been described as one of the "most exciting and spectacular places to make wine on earth"; indeed, it produces twice as much wine as Australia.
The area has a distinct identity defined by its own language, Occitan, and a cultural heritage steeped in Catharism, a heretical strand of Christianity. So the landscape is thrillingly rich in hilltop bastides, from the wild ruin of Queribus to the still 'active' Abbeye de Saint Martin-de-Canigou.
Photo credits: Jondu11, ByB
The Gorges d'Heric slice through the Black Mountains, near Couvent D'Herepian and St Pierre de Serjac. In winter the waterfalls roar; in summer they leave crystal-clear natural pools, deep enough for swimming. If you walk far enough up, you'll find your very own. There's a car park at the bottom, and a tiny café with ravishing views at the top, where mugs of delicious hot chocolate await.
Bookworms will love Montolieu, the so-called 'Village of Books’. It honours bookbinders and has a monthly book market. Nearby is the last working paper mill in the region: Brousses et Villaret (established in 1698).
Carcassonne's fairytale castle is unmissable, but it's packed to the brim with tourists and tat. If you prefer to be alone, hike the Cathar Trail and admire its magnificent crumbling old castles and endless views; Montsegur and Puilaurens (pictured) are particularly atmospheric.
Photo by Guillaume Paumier
1. Two of our favourite beaches can be found at La Franqui. One is in front of a pretty village, the other is further up the coast, bordered by sea on one side and an inland lake on the other. Breezes blow so windsurfers love it, and the sands are bucket-friendly.
2. Further up the coast is the vast Plage de l'Espiguette (pictured; take the road round the back of Le Grau du Roi, past the lagoons). This is one of France's last untamed stretches of wild coast; rolling dunes and not a commercial building in sight.
This pretty village is French to the core, flanked by vineyards to the north, with fishing boats bobbing in the harbour and bistros lining the quayside. Its history is linked to the local wine trade and it is the home of Noilly Prat vermouth, whose makers offer guided tours and tastings. The tiny port opens onto the Etang de Thau, a vast lagoon cut off from the sea by miles and miles of pristine sand. Be sure to sample delicious oysters plucked straight from the lagoon.