The third in the series of shore excursions for travelers on Mediterranean cruises, Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France shares ideas we can all use. Let’s see what she suggests for those who want to experience Occitanie.
Occitanie is coming to be known by many as the “other French Riviera.”
The best Mediterranean beaches and 300 days of sunshine to match? The best seafood, world-class wines and historic fortress towns? Must be the French Riviera. Wrong! It’s “Occitanie.” Understated and authentic it is often overlooked in favour of its glitzy neighbour, the Cote d’Azur. But word’s getting around. Curious visitors are discovering ancient fortress towns built by the Knights Templar, Cathar Castles and the ancient windy streets of Montpellier. And believe it or not – unlike the Riviera – there is actually space to park a car or spread out a towel along vast stretches of sandy beaches!
Nancy McGee, Absolutely Southern France
Visit Occitanie: Sete
“The Venice of the South of France”
So-called because of its network of canals, Sète is a small town with a big personality – and many cruise passengers’ first glimpse of the region. Sete is packed with things to do (and eat and drink), so let’s begin with the popular 3-hour gourmet walking tour and sample local produce in the indoor market and specialty stores. Ever heard of a tielle? Well, now’s the chance to discover this spicy octopus pie. Did anyone know President Thomas Jefferson was a frequent visitor who loved Viognier wine – or the wine named after him? He found it to pair perfectly with the locally produced Roquefort cheese.
Oysters, Wine, and the Art of French Cooking
Afterward, while some visitors relax and explore the town, others head further afield, often to nearby Bouziques – a pretty photogenic town on the lagoon and southern France’s oyster capital. A fascinating visit to an authentic oyster farm to learn about the TLC required to raise a single oyster and the “art of eating an oyster” will be a truly memorable experience.
Since Occitanie is the largest wine-producing region in the world, responsible for more than a third of France’s total wine production, tasting opportunities abound in prestigious domains within easy reach of most towns. For instance, many people don’t know that the local sparkling Blanquette de Limoux inspired the monks who first produced Dom Perignon Champagne!
Inspired by food and wine tastings, many visitors want to learn to cook it! No problem, cooking workshops are easily arranged, with a stop being made to shop for the seasonal local ingredients, including seafood, at the Sète market.
Visit Occitanie: Montpellier
A Modern and Medieval Marvel
From the narrow Medieval streets of the old town to the neo-classique Antigone quarter, Montpellier is where ancient and modern coexist in perfect harmony. It’s a buzzy, trendy university town, the fastest-growing in France, full of culture, history, and life. Foodies love it for its variety of restaurants, and our gourmet walking tours are top-rated. Step back in history, visit Europe’s oldest surviving medical school, the Triumphal Arch, and historic gardens, and enjoy wine and music festivals. – and infinitely more.
Visit Occitanue: Carcassonne
Cathars and Castles
A day in ‘La Cité’ – the medieval walled city of Carcassonne– is well spent. A fairy tale city from afar, Carcassonne is a town within a castle built to deter the most determined invader. It has earned designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Cathars were Medieval ‘Kings of the Castles,’ impressive examples scattered around the region.
Visit occitanie: The Camargue
White Horses, Pink Flamingoes – Must be France!
Situated close to the Mediterranean, the Camargue is an outdoor lover’s dream for bird-watching, horse riding, hiking, cycling, and riverboat trips, to name a few activities. Parts of the Camargue National Park are designated a UNESCO biosphere where the pink flamingos and white horses thrive, particularly near the vast salt marshes.