The Canal du midi, Camargue, Lake Salagou: the natural wonders of Languedoc Roussillon
Rivers, gorges, cirques, mountains, camargue, canals... you'll find them all in Languedoc Roussillon, south France. That's because the region's geography, like its weather and history, is so intense.
The most interesting natural wonders include the magnificent Canal du Midi, the flamingoes and wild horses of the Camargue, the Cirque de Navacelles, the gorges of the Heric and Tarn, the caves of Demoiselles, 'Les Orgues de Roussillon', and the bizarre Lake Salagou and nearby Cirque de Moureze.
Canal du Midi
240km long, running from Toulouse through Languedoc to the Med at Narbonne, the Canal du Midi leisurely weaves its way through the vines and garrigue of the region. It's lined with Plane trees, and dotted with beautiful stone bridges. Many of the villages that line its banks are very beautiful, and floating from one to the next on a rented canal boat is a superb way to spend a day or week.
Flat marshlands on Languedoc's border with Provence, the Camargue is famous for its pink flamingoes (and many other rare birds), wild horses and bulls. There are many horse riding centres in the area, and nearby Aigues Mortes and the enormous beach of Espiguette are worth a visit too.
The view is spectacular - a 'Grand Canyon' formed by the river Vis with a
small 'island' at the bottom. But the real fun comes when you drive down to the oasis of green at the bottom. The hamlet is charming, with a couple of simple but pleasant restaurants. Then swim or paddle in the cool waters of the river, with its waterfall, or throw yourself off the rocks into crystal-clear rock pools.
Slicing its way through the Black Mountains, the Gorges d'Héric is beautiful and hugely striking. In summer, water trickles from rock pool to rock pool, some of which are the size and depth of swimming pools. In winter, the rains turn the trickle into roaring waterfalls. A road allows you to walk all the way up the gorge - to a café at the top that serves Languedoc's best hot chocolate.
An enormous cave system discovered in 1770 full of spectacular limestone stalactites, stalagmites and columns. You visit the cave on a small train, which makes it all a bit Disneyesque. But the cave is probably the most impressive of the many in Languedoc. Summer crowds can be huge, so come early in the morning in August. Open March - October.
The Tarn Gorges, like those of the Hérault and Ardèche, are not to be missed. The narrowest, and thus more impressive, place to experience them is near the town of La Malêne, where boatmen take you on a guided tour of the gorge, pointing out all the interesting fauna and explaining how the gorges were formed. Combine your trip with a visit to nearby St Enemie - a tradtional village of stone houses by an old bridge.
Spectacular clay cliffs near the town of Ile-sur-Tet in the Roussillon area of southern Languedoc, that have been sculpted by wind and rain - forming strange organ-like shapes. A footpath has been created to allow you to walk through and around them. The views of the Pyrenees from here are spectacular, and there are lots of other interesting things to see and do nearby. Entrance is €3.
Languedoc's largest lake resembles a Martian landscape, with its red soil and oddly-shaped hills, and wierd and wonderful cactai and succulents. Lac de Salagou is the perfect place for a summer swim - and also a haven for sailors - with both sailing dinghys and windsurfers being rented - on the north and east ends of the lake. The lake is also popular with campers, walkers, fishermen and mountain bikers.
Giant rock 'dolomites' carved by rainfall that form a forest of strange and wonderful phalices. There are a number of marked walks through the park for different levels of difficulty. The best is the 2.5 hour 'difficile' walk, which is actually more of a climb - through the park and up the hillside. At the very top you're rewarded with amazing views of Lake Salagou on one side, and Cirque de Moureze on the other. There is a snack-restaurant in the village of Mourèze itself. No entrance fee.
A jaw-droppingly beautiful park just outside the town of Anduze in the Gard department - of towering bamboo forests, a Laotian village, gorgeous Japanese river valley (shown above), bamboo maze and more species of bamboo and other rare Asian plants than you can shake a stick at.
A great way to escape the summer heat, and fun and educational for the kids too. Highly recommended.