Heading south from Paris via Lyon and the Rhône valley, you can go one of two ways: east to Provence and the Côte d’Azur – which is what most people do – or west to Nîmes, Montpellier and the comparatively untouched Languedoc coast. Nîmes makes a good introduction to the area, a hectic modern town impressive for its Roman past and some scattered attractions, including the Pont du Gard nearby. Montpellier is also worth a day or two, not so much for historical attractions as for a heady vibrancy and easy access to the ancient villages, churches and fine scenery of the upper Hérault valley.
This is the heartland of Languedoc, a rural region that has resolutely resisted the power of Northern France since the Middle Ages. This resistance came in the form of medieval Catharism; early-modern Protestantism; its support of the revolutions of 1789 and 1848; the nineteenth-century revival of Occitan culture; war-time resistance against the Nazis, and finally a democratic populism that has found its voice both in the extreme Left and the extreme Right. Such resistance often provoked reprisals on the part of Paris and the north; this only helped cement a distinct Languedocian identity expressed as opposition to the status quo.