Tuesday 21 August 2012
Travel west along the French rivieria, going past Antibes, St Tropez and Marseilles, and you will find another side to France's Mediterranean coast. Far from the glitz of Monte Carlo, brimming with its tax exiles and Russian billionaires' yachts, here is the less fashionable but "salt of the earth" France. No Brad Pitt, Brigitte Bardot or even Graham Greene here.
Instead this is the land of family holidays, camping, sausage barbecues and – whisper it quietly – Europe's largest nudist colony. If you tire of Cannes, its film stars and manicured lawns, come to Languedoc, stretching from Montpellier to Perpignan, where "real" France takes its vacation. Where there were once mosquito-ridden swamps and scrubby vineyards, the coastline is now awash with glorious seaside towns and kitsch 1970s resorts, scattered in between the more historic parts of this cheerful landscape.
Among the memories of provençal poets and singers, the Languedoc region's history is played out in every town and village fête during the summer, from medieval canal jousting in Sète to the bull fighting of the feria at Béziers.
The plane trees, canals and lagoons are a welcome respite from the searing sun of the Midi (what the north of France calls the south).
The roads may be blocked with embouteillages – traffic jams, to you and me – from the August throngs of holidaying French but with glorious seafood, cheap wine and endless sunshine, who could complain? Make it another round of pastis, chéri.
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