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; it’s a beautifully modernized town, blending crisp architecture and wide, leafy boulevards with impressive Roman monuments, including the spectacular 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, which forms the heartland of the Languedoc. It’s a lovely rural region that has resolutely resisted the power of Northern France since the Middle Ages.

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