There are so many places to take a holiday in France. Paris, the city of romance and art, Brittany with its rugged coast and galettes or perhaps the Loire Valley with magnificent castles and wine! How does one decide? Each region is replete with history, architecture, wine and traditional gourmet French fare. However, there is one place, while not really secret, which remains relatively unknown. It is a region of beautiful and varied landscapes, which offers many choices for foodies, for the thrill seekers in the great outdoors, and for those looking for to taste fabulous wine! Not to mention the plethora of local markets, gourmet regional restaurants and provincial festivals. Keep reading for a brief tour through this region we call the best kept secret in France!
Toulouse, France’s 4th largest city, is a bustling university town known as La Ville Rose (The Pink City) for the pale pink colour of the terra-cotta bricks used for many of the buildings built during the 15th and 16th centuries. In this century it has become the largest centre of the aerospace industry in Europe — home to Airbus and the French space agency.
The city has the most convenient International airports when travelling to the South of France. Once you touch down, the Mediterranean is an easy 1 hour and 45 minute drive to the east towards the coastal city of Narbonne.
On the way, one passes through Carcassonne, a popular European hub when travelling by train or plane. There is a small airport that makes direct connections to the UK and northern and southern Europe. A must-see is the medieval citadelle, La Cité de Carcassonne, situated on a hill overlooking the city centre.
As you head east you’ll view the rolling hills of vineyards with views reminiscent of Tuscany. The Languedoc-Roussillon region, France’s largest wine growing region, is known for its many famous grape varieties. The region is situated east of Toulouse towards the Mediterranean Sea, spanning to the north and south. In the Languedoc common red varieties include Syrah, Merlot, & Cabernet Sauvignon and whites include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier.
When not enjoying the wine with just about every meal in France, there is yet so much more to experience! With the Mediterranean Sea to the east, the Pyrenees Mountains to the south stretching west to the Atlantic Ocean along this natural border with Spain, one can find almost every outdoor activity imaginable. From skiing to camping, to canyoning to horse riding, from watching the Tour de France to mountain biking in the forest, this region has it all!
One can find all varieties of skiing — from a ski station for a day to a luxury ski resort for a weekend. A very popular ski destination is Andorra, the tiny mountain country is just 2 hours south of Toulouse. As a tax free haven, it offers duty free shopping as well as natural hot spring spas, stunning mountains and quaint villages. Continuing in any direction one can explore the mountainous areas of Spain and France. In the winter, enjoy the snow, the shopping and cosy restaurants with Andorran cuisine and hospitality.
In the summer, sturdy walking shoes, a picnic and a bottle of wine can make for a scenic and peaceful outing. Trekking, white-water rafting, and canyoning are popular summer adventures. From Andorra to the Mediterranean, you find the Aude river rushing by amongst stunning scenery that seems to change every hour on the D117 route from Foix to Perpignan. A favourite spot for the adventurous is the Gorge de Galamus, closer to Perpignan. Walking along this narrow road, one views the depths of the canyon with clear cold water flowing over rocks, forming pools to swim in, rocks to slide down and many places to lounge and soak it all in. One can take a guided canyoning adventure or just hike down to any swimming spot that looks inviting.
And finally we reach the medieval bastion of Chalabre, just in the department of Aude, boarding the Ariege. These two southern departments are a nature lover’s paradise. With lakes, mountains, and rushing rivers, one can find thrilling sports as paragliding as one of many ways to experience the beauty here. There are 3 rivers flowing through the village, two churches, a hilltop chapel and Lac de Montbel just 10 minutes away. There you can find sailing, canoeing, swimming, horse riding, camping and dining of course!
Here we find Chateau Terre Blanche as an oasis in the middle of this quaint French village. Situated on a hillside it offers the elegance of a French Chateau with the modern conveniences of the 21st century — a newly renovated kitchen, beautiful gardens, swimming pool and the recent addition of a petanque court. It is an enclave of luxury and privacy nestled in the charm of a French village.
We welcome you to Château Terre Blanche, to Chalabre, to the best kept secret in Southwest France!
To explore this region more, check out these links: