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The charms of Languedoc

I have travelled to a lot of cities in the world in my relatively short life (Paris, San Francisco, New York, Cologne, Geneva, Milan, Edinburgh, Barcelona, Vienna……) and there are quite a few more that I want to knock off the list before I step off this mortal coil. Well, this week, I did just that and spent a wonderful day ambling around the old southern French town of Montpellier. The city is a university town with a strong commercial base, oodles of history and some of the swankiest French urban architecture outside of Paris. Access to the city from Britain is easy: a one-and-a-half-hour flight from Gatwick.

I know that there is a lot to gripe about with France: the taxes, red tape and as we know, considerable problems with a large and angry underclass, made worse by a lack of assimilation of its Islamic population. However, from my point of view, if newly-elected Nicolas Sarkozy manages to cut taxes somewhat and reverse some of the daftest labour market restrictions, then any advantage to living in Britain rather than France will look increasingly slender. (I see no sign that Britain’s petty brand of health and safety puritanism has completely taken hold). I am not the first person to make that observation, of course.

Mind you, the beer is alarmingly expensive, but you can buy wine for a Euro a litre – and it tastes good. Emigration never felt so compelling.

14 comments to The charms of Languedoc

  • That is a region of France I am keen to visit some time. The history of the place is fascinating. Its steeped in mysticism, rebellion and heresy. And the site of one of less defensible and most barbaric Crusades by the Catholic Church.

  • Julian Taylor

    And Narbonne (‘Cathar Country’) is equally steeped in some awesome history, not least its proud memorials to Cathars murdered by the Vatican crusade. Something very refreshing about any country who puts its priorities right in that you can do some tourist bits, then retire to a local cafe for beer or Orangina, then carry on doing more touristy bits.

  • J

    I am lucky enough to be attached by marriage to a large and decaying property in that area. Lucky, I mean, that I am *only* attached by marriage. Attempting the simplest operation is a twisty maze of indolent lawyers, corrupt, obtuse, or plain nasty officials, and finally the charmingly hopeless labour force itself.

    Never have I been to a place where climate, landscape, law, culture, religion and diet conspire together so effectively to ensure that no work gets done. Very fine for a holiday, ideal for a sabbatical, perfect for the construction of paintings and novels.

    About as useful as a chocolate teapot for real life.

  • , San Francisco, New York, Cologne, Geneva, Milan, Edinburgh, Barcelona, Vienna….

    Add St. Petersburg to that list sometime. Make sure it’s in summer. I promise you’ll not regret it.

  • Tim: I was lucky enough to be born and spend 14 years there:-)

    I loved London, BTW.

  • RAB

    I went grape picking there in my youth.
    As Andrew says, a very spooky mystical landscape indeed.
    Yes what is it with the beers!! ? I paid 12 euros (£7.40 or $20) for two beers in Corsica last year. I know they are supposed to be bandits, but even so !
    I have recently returned from Ischia in the Bay of Naples and can thoroughly recommend it. Even went to a classical gig at Sir William Walton’s house, and for those of you who like gardens, Wow!!
    I am favouring Italy at the moment. I get a better vibe from Italians than I do the French.

  • I’ve been to the Cote d’Azur, Paris, Corsica, Amsterdam, Rotterdam; Haifa, Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem.
    Atlanta, Chicago, places I’ve just passed through.
    There is one place I keep going back to however.

    That is Toronto.
    Last year my Aunt kicked me out of the house on a hot Summer day, so I went out to Bremner Bvd and located the Steam Whistle Brewery, which follows the Germanic approach to brewing(4 ingredients including water).
    In the brewery I bought some bottle openers and the man offered me a beer.
    The beer was free, cold and gorgeous on a hot day, as much as you wanted as long as you behave.
    The Amazon showing us round the works was a Native American, who explained that we should use Steam Whistle bottles in a bar fight as they were 30% heavier.
    When I was good and drunk I said goodbye to my new drinking buddies and wandered up to the offices where my cousin worked; we went down for Thai Noodles and then I parked myself a couple of blocks away in the NFB offices; there I watched video on demand, free, for an hour, seeing the history of ‘nuclear engineering’(no, not that type.I mean digging canals with atom bombs),and ‘Neighbours’, a story of murderousness and passion in stop-frame live action. Both from the 50s.
    Then my cousin finished his shift and we took in(several) live bands and dinner at various places on Queen Street.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, Toronto is one place where I feel in the majority for a change.
    One of the humans.
    And yes, I would like to emigrate.

  • tranio

    If you liked Toronto, you will love Vancouver even more. I’m very fortunate to have chosen Vancouver as my abode in 1968. Ski in the morning, golf in the afternoon, well in Spring.
    Winter Olympics here in 2010, 1000 days to go.

  • Johnathan

    J writes:

    Never have I been to a place where climate, landscape, law, culture, religion and diet conspire together so effectively to ensure that no work gets done. Very fine for a holiday, ideal for a sabbatical, perfect for the construction of paintings and novels.

    About as useful as a chocolate teapot for real life.

    Well, up to a point, Lord Copper (to quote E. Waugh). If France really was the bureaucratic morass that we Brits understand it to be, then presumably some of the flood of Brits into France would have abated by the problems of having a “real life” in France, but that does not appear to be the case. In any event, as my article stated, there clearly are problems in doing business in France, but the implication that enjoying “real life” is much better in Britain is decreasingly persuasive; Britain gets worse by the minute in that regard, and yet if France begins to tackle some of its more cussed labour market and other regulations, the gap between France and Britain in this regard will be pretty narrow, if not disappear entirely. Yes, doing business in France may be a hassle, but at least the weather is better, the food tastier, properties cheaper, etc.

    I have already started to think about buying a place down there.

  • Sunfish

    Yes, doing business in France may be a hassle, but at least the weather is better, the food tastier, properties cheaper, etc.

    Nobody has ever accused the French of making good beer. Belgians, maybe, as long as it’s not me you’re asking, but not the French. On the other hand, nobody has ever accused the English of being better lovers.

    Speaking as a habitual drunkard, I’d have to keep it in the Anglophone world.

    BTW, Pietr: the four-ingredient thing has been German law for a few centuries. However, the English, Irish, and Scots understood (and usually followed) the same approach without laws. (The only exceptions I can name offhand being the incorporation of oats into stout ales, and honey or molasses into porters.) Interestingly (to me, anyway) the large American brewers can’t follow the four-ingredient rule either. However, their fifth ingredient is rice, which serves mainly to raise the alcohol content from very low to low without adding body, flavor, or anything else desireable.

    And I must be a freak. Neither San Francisco nor Geneva hold any interest for me. Melbourne, Sydney, Vancouver, and Guayaquil, on the other hand…

  • Sunfish, I love my beers.
    During the workaday week I quaff cheap, tasty, settling and locally made Tetleys tinnies(not the nasty ‘smooth’ with all that nitrogen), but at the weekend I drive out to Pool-In-Wharfedale and treat myself to a couple of treats, such as Moorehouses ‘Black Cat’, a 3.4% Porter which doesn’t make one too drunk but tastes like smoked chocolate, or any of the Abbeydales or Durhams.
    Interestingly, there is a bar on Front and Church in Toronto called “C’Est What” which sells many different beers, but especially locally brewed facsimiles of English beers.
    So, they have a ‘Durham’, and an ‘Arkells’ and so on.
    Canadian Beer is around 5%, which is strong, but not as strong as Theakston’s Olde Peculier which is a porter of around 5.7%, or Abbeydale Absolution at around 8%
    Considering the quality of life package that Toronto might represent, the beer is about acceptable.
    But I won’t touch Bud.
    (Earth to beer, where is the flavour?)

  • RAB

    Ok you asked for it!
    Just over the hill from Newport (Pembrokeshire)
    Past standing stones and ancient Druid rings,
    It’s a fabulous view back down to Newport by the way , You can just see the golfers on the 17th, as you descend into Welsh H P Lovecraft land.
    The Cwm that lies behind the mountain has a micro climate all of its own, and a population to match.
    If you have navigated correctly you will come to Bessies Place. It swirls out of the mist from the river,and taps its toe at you.
    Are you sure you want to come in here?
    This is a local pub for local people.
    Bessie is in her 80s and makes the beer herself.
    Treads the hops in her slippers and cardie whilst watching Pobol Y Cwm on S4C, smoking a fag and cooking kippers and cockles and mash.
    You think I’m Joking? There is only the one beer in this pub with or without the imprint of Pirelli upon it.
    But somehow, after 4 pints, you can speak fluent Welsh and it doesn’t matter anymore!!
    Come visit the Twighlight Zone down Fishguard way you amateur tipplers!

  • It does sound tempting, RAB. What are the temperatures in Jul-Aug?

  • RAB

    If you’re English
    Hotter than hell my love!