Wednesday, April 24, 2013

All About France, The Hidden Gems: Languedoc, Poitou and Aquitaine

In all my years of travel, I’ve been to and seen a lot of wonderful places.  But nothing beats the experience of discovering a place that is unknown, spots that have yet been discovered, what travelers referred to as a  “hidden gem”.  Especially for me, the essence of travel is to explore new places and experience new things, and visiting popular tourist attractions or destinations often lack the thrill of finding something new … not to mention, nothing ruins the charm of a picturesque place like bus-loads of tourists.  

Of course, hidden gems come in all different forms and they’re different for everybody, and one person’s hidden gem discovery could be another’s typical errand to the market.  However, discovering hidden gems are what I love most about traveling, and they’re always the places I remember most.  

France being one of the most popular tourist destinations on earth, it’s rare to find a place that is unknown and has not been discovered by millions of tourists.  However, in the Southwest corner of the country lies one of the most charming unspoiled regions, Languedoc, Poitou and Aquitaine.
Set high up on a hill, Carcassonne’s ancient walled city (Cité), which is on the UNESCO World Heritage list is picture perfect.  This fairytale-like collection of drawbridges, towers and atmospheric cobbled streets is a must-see on any trip through Southern France. 

Carcassonne is actually two cities in one.  Besides the Cité, there is a lower town that dates back to the Middle Ages, ironically referred to as the newer part.  Although there are few hotels inside the Cité, my husband and I opted to stay in the lower town known as the Bastide Saint Louis, as there are better options and a greater variety of hotels, shops, cafés and restaurants. 

Recommended Hotels:

Recommended Restaurants:
  • Clos Occitan (68 boulevard Barbes)  
  • L’Endroit (18 rue de L'Aigle d'Or)  
  • L’Ecurie (43, boulevard Barbes) 
When I was planning my first trip to Europe, a friend of mine had told me about Montpellier.  She said that it was a wonderful town known to few tourists, and that I should stop by if I was ever in Southern France.  She was absolutely right.

Although very few people outside France knows about it, Montpellier is a idyllic medieval city with a picturesque old town, well-preserved ancient monuments, and beautiful winding streets that lead to small squares filled with numerous cafes.  Even more appealing, being that Montpellier is a university town, everywhere we went, the atmosphere was vibrant and lively, and we loved passing time just sitting in the park or at one of the many outdoor cafes soaking up the local culture.  If you're in the market for one-of-a-kind boutiques, great wine bars, and art house films, Montpellier is the place to be.
Roman temple from the 4th Century BC, a perfectly preserved Roman amphitheatre right in the centre of the city, and a town that oozes charm at every turn … what more can I ask for?
First time my husband and I visited Bordeaux, I felt the same sense of enchantement I’d felt when I was in Paris for the first time.  What an absolutely stunning city! 

Be sure to check out all the wonderful outdoor markets and be weary of andouilletteas these sausages being sold in France are quite different (not in a good way) than an andouille back home.
About 60km (40miles) from Bordeaux lies the Dune de Pyla, the highest dune in Europe and one of the most magnificent beaches in the world.  At the summit, you get a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the large pine forest on the other. 

One of my favorite travel experience was sitting on top of the dune, having a picnic consisting of a great bottle of Bordeaux with my husband while soaking up that glorious view, which seemed surreal at times.  We also loved our charming little hotel La Corniche which had a breathtaking view of the Ocean.
St. Emilion
Every wine connoisseur is familiar with the name St. Emilion as being a producer of some of the finest wines in the world, but I'll always remember it as being one of the loveliest towns in France where I had the pleasure of spending the day just strolling and having some of the best meals of my life.  Also, as the town itself is not well-known, my husband and I were one of the few tourists in the city, and there’s something wonderfully enchanting about being in a medieval city that is nearly deserted.  
an affluent summer town that made a great stopover when we travelled to Spain


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