First Impressions - Exploring the Essence of Languedoc by Car from a Homebase in Montpellier

Ever since we moved to Europe five years ago, seeing the pink flamingos of the Camargue has been an item high on my travel bucket list.  We finally fulfilled our goal of seeing flamingos in the wild while at the same time exploring Languedoc, a fascinating part of southwest France with the baseline excellent food and wine you expect in France but also steeped in history and with a slightly wilder side. Both the places themselves and the experiences we had in those places (20 in all described below) made for an epic trip.

1. Montpellier

We based ourselves in an Airbnb (link to Airbnb with discount code) in Montpellier and used this as a home-base to explore the region.  Montpellier features narrow cobbled streets, expansive squares, and a large university which amps up the energy.  Unfortunately for us, it rained nearly the entire time we were in Montpellier.  When life give you lemons, make lemonade...When life gives you rain, make a rainbow.  That's what I did.  See below for a photo tour through Montpellier in all the colors of the rainbow.
Montpellier photo-collage in all the colors of the rainbow

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Did you know that Montpellier is relatively close to Costa Brava Spain (about 3 hours by car or 4-5 hours by train? Consider spending a day in Girona, a few days exploring alternative things to do in Lloret de Mar, or catch a festival in Palafrugell as an addition to your Languedoc trip. 

2. Ready, Sète, Go

Having a car is essential for exploring Languedoc as there are so many fascinating places to visit spiraling out in all directions from Montpellier.  The most efficient and flexible way to explore is by car.  Our first sojourn took us to Sète, a quiet port town situated on a series of canals connecting the Mediterranean to a network of étangs (salt water estuaries) nearby.  The town features a sprawling central market that looks like it's covered in chainmail and atmospheric streets to explore.   
Photocollage from Sète, France

3. Aigues Mortes - If these walls could talk!

As we approached Aigues Mortes by car and the intact medieval wall came into view, our jaws dropped.  This town looks like one bad ass fortress.  We enjoyed exploring the shops and cobbled streets nestled inside the walls but also dipping out into the more modern area outside the wall.
Walled fortress at Aigues Mortes, France

4. Camargue and Saintes Maries de la Mer

The Camargue!  That was our reason for planning this trip in the first place.  This wetland region is known for flocks of greater pink flamingos.  Parc Ornithologique de Pont de Gau is home to thousands of flamingos and other bird species including egrets, herons, and night herons.  We hung around for hours no more than 10-15 feet away from the flamingos in some cases watching them go about their day.  Simply awesome.

Pink Flamingos at Parc Ornithologique de Pont de Gau in the Camargue

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Don't miss more great pictures of the Camargue flamingos here.

We continued on to Saintes Maries de la Mer, the nearest town to Parc Ornithologique de Pont de Gau.  There is one way in and one way out of the town and it felt like we'd reached the end of the earth when we arrived at this seaside town.  It was quite blustery when we visited but we steeled ourselves for a quick walk through the town streets shopping for local specialties like Esprit de Camargue jam.  We ducked into a quiet bar for a glass of wine before retracing our route back to Montpellier.
Saintes Maries de la Mer, France

5. Pont du Gard

Pont du Gard is another awe inspiring day trip by car from Montepellier.  We marveled at this feat of ancient Roman engineering from several vantage points.  We climbed trails on both sides of the aqueduct to view Pont du Gard from above.  We got down low and viewed it from the riverbank while sampling a picnic lunch.  Finally, we sidled up close to have a look at the stones and arches.  
Pont du Gard, France

6. Nîmes 

Nîmes is just a short drive away from Pont du Gard and is an ideal spot to stop and explore on the return trip to Montpellier.  Nîmes dates back to the Roman Empire and features several prominent Roman era landmarks including Nîmes Arena and the Maison Carrée.  We also discovered that Nîmes is obsessed with crocodiles.  A chained crocodile features prominently in the modern town crest.  Four stuffed crocodiles hang from the ceiling of the town hall and were acquired between the 16th and 18th centuries.  This fascination with our scaly friends seems to have been a 'thing' for several hundred years. 

Photocollage of Nîmes, France

7. Dining al fresco

Throughout Languedoc, we took advantage of the spring sunshine to dine al fresco.  This included tielles (a seafood filled pie) and mussels in Sète.  The seagulls definitely wanted in on the action!

We also dined inside the walls of Aigues Mortes but outside in the open air at Chez Coco.  Steak and frites tastes better in the fresh air.
Lunch at Chez Coco in Aigues Mortes, France

8. Kite surfing

Languedoc is a windswept place.  Driving back from Sète to Montpellier, we encountered kite surfers taking advantage of the breeze and associated waves going to new heights with their surfing moves.  Every few minutes, the wind would catch the kite and lift the surfer out of the water where they'd twist and turn in the air as if it was the most effortless thing in the world.
Kite surfers in Languedoc, France

9. Étangs and coastal drive

The road between Sète and Montpellier threaded the needle in places along narrow strips of land between salt water lakes making for a scenic coastal drive.
Étangs in Languedoc, France

10. Birdwatching

Given the preponderance of wetlands, it's no surprise that Languedoc is a great place for birding.  Even beyond the Parc Ornithologique de Pont de Gau described above, we spotted plenty of birds in the various étangs dotting the landscape.  Shelducks, egrets, herons, night herons, black-necked stilts, and, our favorite, the pink flamingo made an appearance.
Birds of Languedoc including shelducks, egrets, herons, black-necked stilts

11. Wild horses

Languedoc also features plenty of happy looking horses.  The most common are the white stallions of the Camargue with their flowing manes.  We also saw horses in other colors too grazing near the vineyards outside of Sète.  They are such amazing and graceful creatures!
Horses of the Camargue, France

12. Wine tasting

We found that Languedoc offered so much more than just nature.  We stopped to taste fine regional wines at Chateau de la Peyrade just outside of Sète including the specialty dry Muscat.
Wine shop at Chateau de la Peyrade in Languedoc, France

13. Sating a Sweet Tooth

My regular readers know that I have a voracious sweet tooth.  Throughout Languedoc, we found all sorts of tempting treats at local patisseries and candy shops.  
Candy, cookies, and pastries in Languedoc, France

14. Sculpture and Street Art

I loved the street art and sculpture in Languedoc, particularly in Sète.  My absolute favorite was this giant manacing octopus that was situated in a random parking lot in the center of the town.  I could imagine him saying:  Let your parking meter expire and face my fury!
Street art and sculpture in Sete, France including a giant octopus

15. Pinwheels

The quaint details are really what made Languedoc special for me. Colorful pinwheels spun in the breeze along many a balcony.
Pinwheels in Languedoc, France

16. Distressed Doors

The distressed doors in the various towns also added to the shabby chic atmosphere.
Distressed doors in Languedoc, France

17. Picturesque squares

As in many other parts of France, Languedoc also features it's share of picturesque squares ranging from Place de la Comédie in Montepllier to the tiny tree lined squares of Aigues Mortes.
Town and city squares/plazas in Languedoc, France

18. Farmers Market

Farmers markets abound in France.  In Languedoc, the market just outside the imposing walls of Aigues Mortes captured our imagination.  It was asparagus season when we visited and white and green varieties were everywhere!  We even saw a potbellied pig happily chilling at the market.  Adorable!
Farmers market at Aigues Mortes, France

19. Shopping for salt

This part of the world is know for sea salt.  In addition to being served routinely in restaurants, we also picked up a pot of Camargue salt to take home.  Buying souvenirs like this don't take up a lot of space and help the trip live on in our memory for weeks and months to come.
Salt from the Camargue

20. African inspired cuisine in Montpellier

Staying in Montpellier, we had the opportunity to sample the restaurants in this university city.  We were particularly impressed with the African influenced cuisine. L'Instant Gourmand offers a value priced lunch menu (mostly local cuisine) but it was so good that we went back for dinner to try the Moroccan side of their menu.  A huge bowl of couscous with a mixed plate of meats left us stuffed.  We delved deeper into the continent at La Palmeraie with a meal of fiery Congolese dishes. 
African cuisine in Montpellier, France
Languedoc has something for everyone:  food, wine, nature, and wildlife.  Montpellier is the ideal homebase from which to explore the region.
Lou Messugo

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: First Impressions - Exploring the Essence of Languedoc by Car from a Homebase in Montpellier
First Impressions - Exploring the Essence of Languedoc by Car from a Homebase in Montpellier
Travelogue exploring Languedoc while staying in Montpellier including Sète, the Camargue, Aigues Mortes, Nîmes, and Pont du Gard.
Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog
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