I have read a good number of the guidebooks to the Languedoc Roussillon region and this is my favourite. While relatively compact and light, it packs in plenty of information and the recommendations on places to go and see are both helpful and reliable. Best of all, it's written with enthusiasm and an eye for the small details that make for holiday highlights.
The book opens with photographic highlights of the region accompanied by quotes from travellers about their experience in those destinations. It gives you an immediate taste for what the region has to offer and a hankering to visit. There are then a number of suggested routes and highlights, which are very helpful when planning your trip (including recommendations for families and recommended drives). Each section also contains suggested highlights for that smaller region.
While descriptions are often brief, they are accurate and convey a very good flavour of each destination. For example, on a recent trip we were tossing up between staying in Perpignan or nearby Narbonne. Many books I read made them sound very similar which wasn't very helpful in guiding our choice, but the Lonely Planet differentiates them clearly. Based on places where I have stayed or eaten, the accommodation and dining guides are accurate. We thought the food at L'Epicurian in Albi was fantastic and I was pleased to see it included here.
If you are tossing up between this book and the Rough Guide to the region, I recommend the Lonely Planet. The Rough Guide is more detailed and may be better if you are planning an extended stay in the region, but the Lonely Planet guide covers all the region's highlights and is a much more enticing read.
Hot on the heels, kind of, of Simon de Montfort's 13th century Christians against Christians Pays Cathare gore-fest Crusade, La Rubia and I fly in to Carcassonne en route to a wedding. Already tipped off by LP's authors regarding the magnificence of the town's medieval fortress, La Cité, we detour immediately to immerse ourselves in some history, taking care not to be sucked into the private museums within, as they advise. We've been here an hour, and LP has done its job well, informing us of the inauthenticity of the witch-hat turrets, a 19th century pre-Disney Disneyfication (you'll find similar information regarding the almost contemporaneous and more or less identical "improvements" to the Alcazar in Segovia in LP Madrid); the (probably) apocryphal origin of the town's name; and how heroic Simon eventually met his fate.
A few days later we find ourselves, together with a large proportion of the bride's side of the wedding party (LP should be taking a cut, here) on an excellent two-hour boat trip out of Homps along the Canal du Midi, analogous to a 17th century version of the Suez, ambitiously linking Mediterranean to Atlantic and disastrously linking its developer to penury. There the on-board guide informs us that some of the 42,000 plane trees (LP says 34,000) planted along the banks are dying of an as-yet incurable infection of tiny mushrooms, though it's not stated anywhere if these are the same mushrooms that LP informs us provide the spores that give Roquefort cheese its blue streaking. There are several other places from which boat trips along the Canal depart, and LP helpfully advises avoidance of bustling Carcassonne in favour of more sedate Trèbes, although it might also be useful to list all such points in one place rather than distribute the information around the book.
Less successful than our trip along the Canal is an attempt to locate the trips around the salt pans at Gruissan, the authors being rather coy with respect to where these may depart, unfortunately. Nevertheless, these etangs, reached by by-passing Gruissan itself and continuing out to the south of Gruissan-plage, are a reasonable substitute for anyone wishing to see flamingos, stilts or terns but lacking the time to get to La Petite Camargue. Be warned, however, that the flamingos in particular move around, and are in two completely different places on two consecutive days, one of which requires a longish walk along a path amongst the (frankly, stinking) etangs.
As it turns out, we're staying in the Hotel D'Alibert in Caunes-Minervois, a tiny place, but one just happening to get a write-up in LP (although it spells the hotel "Dalibert"). The hotel proprietor, Fréderic, is a bit wacky, but during the first few days he fails either to play the classical music LP reports or to do any of the humming that irritates them so. Then, on day four, voila! Music (though sort of jazzy at first, then deteriorating into opera), and a little hum. But quite endearing.
Perhaps as a result of there being two authors, sometimes the text seems self-contradictory, as in the region being "undiscovered", but La Cité being high on a league table of most-visited places in France with four million visitors per year; and on one hand property is affordable, on another it is stratospherically priced. Sometimes one set of information crowds out another, as with all the parentheses interrupting the sentence regarding the boat from Homps. And there is, regrettably, no help with where one may acquire a hot cup of coffee: we saw no Starbucks (though the occasional McDonald's), and at least half the cafés we visited served only luke-warm joe. Ah! The joys of travel! Always something built in to mitigate the thought of going home.
Nevertheless, yet again LP have done their job well overall, and helped two rosbifs and on occasion some of their family group get the most out of a very short seven days.
on 7 May 2011
Hard to distinguish between the book and my memories, but as a veteran of Briattany, Normandy, Pas de Calais and the Vendee, a trip to this part of France is a must.
Relatively isolated, rural, rustic etc. There's great beaches of you look. Great castles. Great countryside. You'll need a car in my opinion...
The book covered pretty much everything important, especially for day trips in Nimes and Montpellier. However, in terms of wine and cute villages, definately the best approach is to follow your nose / instinct they are so plentiful and the book would need to be too long to do it justice.
on 31 May 2011
I bought this guide in order to plan a trip in the region, a region i had visited with my parents when i was young; now i want to take my kids.
I find that the easiest way to plan a trip is to judge whether a spot is worth visiting by looking at pictures of it : "Hey, that looks nice, lets go there!" .
This guide has very few pictures, and so is not what i hoped for.