Going south: France is not just Paris
When people think of France, they immediately think Paris. They only know Paris. I told all my family and friends I was moving to Montpellier in the south of France, and still today, I have people ask me how life in Paris is going.
Don’t get me wrong, Paris is gorgeous. I too have fallen under the magical spell of fine art, top fashion and divine gastronomy in the City of Love. However, France is not just Paris. Paris is just not France.
Discover a hidden treasure in the south of France…
Let me take you to Saint-Jean-de-Buèges, a medieval village in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the south of France (45 minutes by car from Montpellier). This village is a hidden treasure with its architectural and aesthetic beauty: high-stacked traditional stone houses against the backdrop of breathtaking rusty grey cliffs.
Nestled in the lush green Buège valley, Saint-Jean-de-Buèges offers a panoramic experience of nature for the avid outdoor traveller with its rich vegetation and biodiversity. It was formerly a centre for breeding silkworms, and active in the European silk industry. Today, there are about 200 inhabitants in the village.
Popular among the French locals as a destination for the weekend, come here with your bike or your hiking boots and ascend to the magical 12th century castle, le Château de Baulx. At the top of the castle are superb views overlooking the village, including the surrounding vineyards. Saint-Jean-de-Buèges also produces some of the best wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon region (les vins des Coteaux de Buèges, Languedoc, Terrasse du Larzac).
Simple French lifestyle off the beaten track
With vast shady spots, it is a charming location for a romantic picnic or even a quick refreshing dip in the river that flows through the Buège valley. Then, allow yourself to be seduced by the little narrow laneways as you make yourself down to the village to enjoy a glass of wine, some olives and cheese and soak in the glowing afternoon sun that is the south of France.
Auberge de la Vallée has an awesome open terrace if you are looking to enjoy a gourmet French meal with your wine. Or, if you want to bring some bottles of wine home, pop into the winery, Domaine de Coulet, where this family has been producing wines for the last four generations.
Life does not get much better than that.
On the first Sunday in July every year, the Festival de Gastronomie Languedocienne also takes place in the heart of the village. The French locals buy a book of tickets that can be exchanged for a range of traditional meals cooked by local chefs and any of the matching wines from the local winery.
So take yourself away from the line-up at the Louvre, and allow yourself to be transported back in time to this tranquil village where nature surrounds. And welcome to the south of France.
What is your best spot in the south of France? Share your tips and experiences in the comments box below!All photographs © Christina Phung