Aude

 

The Aude department is a rather unknown gem of sand, salted waters and stone. Far less famous than Provence it offers yet similar landscapes of limestone hills, planted with the same Mediterranean vegetation such as pines trees, vineyards and olive trees, rosemary, thyme and lavender. Its cultural heritage dates back to the Roman times and also has its share of mediaeval castles, fortresses, towns and abbeys. The coastline as a difference with the French Riviera still shelters untouched areas and boasts miles of soft golden sand. To top it access to the region is easy from the UK thanks to Carcassonne Airport and Béziers Airport operating low costs flights.

Far less overcrowded and cheaper than Provence it is a rough but still endearing country because of its authenticity.

Given the growing attraction towards southern regions, this part of Languedoc has all the potential to become a serious alternative to Provence, Côte d’Azur, Lubéron and the likes.

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An almost endless coastline of fine sand

 Not many French departments can boast 50 km of fine golden sand and warm sea but such is the case in Aude. Invintingly long stretches of clean soft sand, family friendly beaches where swimming is safe yet supervised are shared by 8 resorts:
Les Cabanes de Fleury
Saint-Pierre-sur-mer
Narbonne-plage
Gruissan a nice old village with its ancient tower overlooking the lagoon and its funny beach with wooden chalets planted on stilts.
La Franqui and Leucate-plage, 2 deliciously old-fashioned resorts with their charmingly outdated 50’s villas seafront and embedded in Mediterranean vegetation.
Port-Leucate a modern resort offering many amenities including an important leisure habour, sailing and windsurf schools.
Being so long the coast offers plenty of parking, an easy access to the sea and beaches are not overcrowded as on the French Riviera. If you are brave enough to walk a bit further away from the central supervised area of the beach, you can lay your bath towel in an almost empty part of the beach and enjoy the fine golden sand with only a very few people.
 

Unspoilt nature, lagoons and Mediterranean vegetation

 But paradoxically the most interesting part of Aude is its hinterland which is rather undiscovered, wild and untouched. The Massif des Corbières offers a typical Mediterranean landscape of rough and wild limestone hills planted with vineyards, olive and pine trees, cypresses, rosemary and thyme. The gem is the Massif de la Clape, a limestone plateau overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, still unspoilt by urbanisation and which will remain so because it a protected area as part of the Natural Regional Park of the Narbonnaise. This park is a natural territory recognised for its high value in terms of heritage and landscape and organised according to a project of maintaining and protecting this heritage. The Natural Regional Park of the Narbonnaise is a territory consisting in natural territories (lagoons, coastline, dunes, forests) and inhabited rural territories (vineyards, scrubland, villages). Extending over 80 000 hectares, it is one of the last major preserved sites of this size on the French Mediterranean coast, and probably of the Northern Mediterranean coastline. Another important part of the Park are the 4 lagoons stretching along the coastline. Two of them are almost small interior seas and are a reknowned paradise for wind surf and kyte surf. Their shores are not inhabited apart from 6 old adorable villages. Cycling or walking on the country lanes crisscrossing the vineyards and scrubland or running along the lagoons shores is a very peaceful experience.

Culture and heritage

Aude has been attractive to mankind since the Romans’ times. Narbonne which was at that time on the seashore was one of the biggest ports of the Roman Empire. Unfortunately there are but a few remnants of that period except for parts of the Via Domitia, a cobblestoned road stretching from Italy to Spain. Then the oldest history testimonies date back to the Mediaeval era and are those inherited from the Cathars, religious dissenters of the XIIth century and from the Roman Church partisans who were fighting against them. During the Crusade against them, the Cathars found shelter in ten Cathar castles or fortresses, ten “Citadelles du Vertige” (‘Vertigo Citadels’) usually set on impressive crags while nine abbeys where sheltering the opposite side. The impressive fortified town of Carcassonne, listed on the Unesco World Heritage was built between the XIth and XIIIth on the ruins of the former Roman city walls. The region’s fortune waned when the port of Narbonne silted up in the 1300s. It is only in the end of the XVIIIth that the region revived thanks to the Canal du Midi, a waterway connecting the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean, which is also listed on the Unesco World Heritage. This wealth of historical heritage offers plenty of opportunities for shows and summer festivals.