Bordered by such diverse countries as Spain, Germany, Italy and Switzerland, France is a country of many faces. However, as one travels from one of its region to another, this may not seem apparent (at least not for tourists who can’t see through the subtleties).
No such problem with the Languedoc region (formally, the Languedoc- Roussillon region), which lies in southern France.
When I arrived at Toulose, its capital city, I was immediately struck by streets and streets of its famed red-brick goodness. Heavily tinged with Spanish/ Moorish influence, the architecture of Toulose paints the city into a consistent sea of red, exuding a decidedly ‘un-France’ feeling to the stray travellers who transverse.
Most people do not give Languedoc much chance when travelling to France, and justifiably so. Toulose, its biggest city, failed to re-ignite my interests after my initial fascination with the city’s distinct architecture wore thin.
A more interesting place to visit is Albi, a small town that is reachable within an hour (by train) from Toulose. It excudes the same Moorish charm, but never the big city factor of its bigger cousin. While geographically tiny, Albi is never boring as a day trip destination- being blessed with an impressive cathedral, a renowned art museum (which sadly, wasn’t opened when I visited), and some very nice town people (one of whom I shared some broken English- French conversation with).
Carcassonne, the last city in this region I visited, traded much of Languedoc’s red-brick fame for its immense stature as a medieval fortress. The old town, the crown jewel of the city, was inscribed as a UNESCO heritage site recently, opening the flood gates to relentless tourism. It is a thrill to explore along the walls of this medieval site, a sobering thought knowing that just some thousands of years ago, knights in shinning armour could have had walked down the same paths. The inner city, now tainted with ubiquitous plastic armours and swords screaming for tourists’ dollar, is nowhere as exciting. It is rather ironic that the walls of Carcassonne have become more precious than the city they were meant to protect.
It is regrettable that the initial enthusiasm I had with each of these cities could not be sustained. Languedoc probably rewards only the most patient of travellers, and even so, only just.