How the Languedoc Beach Report came to be
Languedoc resident Greg Taylor, camera and clipboard in hand, visits all 42 of the beaches of Languedoc-Roussillon, southern France, in search of the ultimate sandy paradise.
With Languedoc-Roussillon finally ‘discovered’, hoards of middle-class British holiday-makers have started pouring into the region. They come to buy property. They come to scale castles. They come to sip wine from the world’s largest wine region. And, of course, they come to sit on the beach.
The problem is that Languedoc takes up half of France’s Mediterranean coast. That’s over 200 kilometres of beach to choose from - 42 in all. Quite a choice.
Like Marco Polo and Ernest Shackleton before him, Greg Taylor, resident explorer of all things Languedoc, set out into the wild and sandy abyss to photograph and capture on paper the good, the bad and the ugly of the region’s beaches. All in an effort to stop visitors to Languedoc ending up on the ‘wrong’ beach.
Beaches are, of course, in the eye of the beholder. A family of 6 on a budget is going to have quite different beach-needs to a retired couple from Hampstead. Ice cream stalls, bouncy castles and loos are probably going to be more important to those with kiddies than having access to a swish wine bar. With that in mind, Greg’s ‘report’ does score each beach from ‘bad’ to ‘excellent’ - but it also lists all the amenities to be found at each beach, along with ‘sand quality’, ‘distance from parking’ and whether or not you may take all your clothes off. Enough, in short, for you to make a fully informed choice.
The project took 6 days in all - 6 sweaty days of driving, photographing, investigating, trudging up and down beaches looking for everything from showers to bars. And the result is quite unique. Even glitzy Provence’s beaches (smaller, pebblier affairs) haven't come under so close a microscope. And because the site (www.creme-de-languedoc.com) on which the report is published is completely independent (unlike, say, a government-funded official tourism site), Greg has had free rein to bash those beaches that were ugly or uncomfortable, and laud those that truly deliver an unforgettable beach experience.
The results are interesting indeed. The ‘Town’ beaches, such as Carnon, Valras and ‘St Pierre’ (of Montpellier, Beziers and Narbonne cities respectively) get slated - their “row upon row of bright pink holiday flats” looming behind you as you slap on your sun tan cream. Not what you had in mind when you think ‘France’, ‘Mediterranean’ or ‘Chic’. But beyond the noisy Blackpoolesque crowds of the city beaches, Languedoc offers a surprisingly wide variety of beautiful beaches, like the enormous sea of sand dunes that is Espiguette (near the Camargue). Just below the medieval walled town of Aigues Mortes, Espiguette is one of the longest beaches in France, just mile after mile of fine sand, blissfully free of build-up, and a haven for those who just want to get away from it all - (and those who just want to take it all off.)
Travel down the coast, past Montpellier and Béziers, and you arrive at the charming seaside town of Leucate. It looks and feels much like an Australian beach town, with its pretty fir-covered hills and relaxed red-rooved villas, fine sand and clear blue waters. A large town beach is perfect for families, but clamber over the rocks, and you find small, intimate coves of fine sand and turquoise waters, eventually turning nudist, and then gay.
Further down the coast, the beaches of Perpignan, France’s most southerly city, offer dramatic views of the Pyrénées Mountains, snow-covered even in early June. There’s nothing quite like sitting beneath the blazing sun with snow-capped mountains towering behind you. Argelès, one of France’s most famous beaches, deserves its reputation only if you make the walk north, away from the games arcades and pizza parlours, to the more remote and wild end. Here, soft sands rise gently from the water’s edge to meet a long strip of grass and pine trees, the perfect place to retreat from the mid-day sun.
Ultimately, like all good guides, this one ensures that precious holiday time isn’t wasted on beaches that just don’t meet your needs. Whether it’s mini-golf and jet skis you’re after, or nude bathing in a sandy wilderness, you’ll be able to find the best bet for you, and not come home with deflated children or a fine for indecent exposure.