The Best of the Sud de France

Domaines Paul Mas, situated in Montagnac, is one of the largest private wine-making companies in France.

In the south of France, Provence often steals the spotlight. But just next door, the Languedoc-Roussillon region — merging with Midi-Pyrénées in 2016 as the number of French regions is reduced from 22 to 13 — is a sun-drenched destination of beaches, vineyards, national parks and impressive cultural sites, like the UNESCO-listed Pont du Gard. The geographic diversity is stunning here; you could be hiking the mountains in the morning, horseback riding through vineyards in the afternoon, then sipping an apéritif on the beach at sunset.

Near the Spanish border, the Mediterranean coast offers some of France’s most exquisite scenery. This corner of France is largely undeveloped, unlike the neighboring Côte d’Azur, and it’s redolent with Catalan flavor.

After a few inspiring days in Collioure, it’s hard to say au revoir to the colorful seaside town that was the muse for Fauvism painters Henri Matisse and André Derain.

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While Collioure is known for the world’s best anchovies, Sète is one of the largest fishing ports on the Med. Crisscrossed with canals, Sète is a dream destination for travelers seeking authenticity. Its slogan? “A maritime town of character.” Immerse yourself in local life at the bustling indoor market, packed with Setois slurping down oysters paired with vin blanc before the clock strikes noon. We highly recommend a guided walking tour with Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France, who has garnered rave reviews among clients, particularly luxury cruise ship passengers seeking unique shore excursions. (Nancy works as a local expert for many luxury travel agents arranging itineraries in the south of France.) Sète is a fascinating city meant to be savored, and Nancy peppers her culinary adventures with anecdotes about local culture. Don’t miss a meal at the Michelin-starred La Coquerie, where Chef Anne Majourel showcases the best of the Mediterranean in elegant cuisine prepared with finesse and artistic flair.

Launched in 2006, Sud de France (“South of France;”) has established itself not just as a tourism marketing office, but also as an effective brand. In promoting the region and its products, Sud de France has developed their own “Cercle Prestige” collection of luxury hotels which numbers over 60 establishments. In addition, Sud de France devotes a lot of resources to wine tourism. Stretching across more than 540,000 acres, Languedoc-Roussillon is the world’s oldest and biggest wine-producing region. Sud de France created the Club Oenotourisme to offer visitors insider access to wine cellars, estates and vineyard accommodations.

Historically, the region was known for quantity over quality, as the sunny terrain was ideal for producing high-yield wines (with a high alcohol content). Today a new generation of passionate wine-makers is helping to change the region’s global reputation. On a late autumn visit to the region, Luxury Travel Advisor found gorgeous vineyard lodgings that also represent a real luxury value.

Dating back to 1895, Maison Cazes is now the largest organic and biodynamic wine estate in France. Stop by the winery in Rivesaltes in the heart of Roussillon to taste the wines, including the vintages from Clos des Paulilles, a famous estate on the Vermilion coast which was purchased by Cazes in 2012. Be sure to reserve a table for lunch at La Table d’Aimé, a lively, popular eatery with a focus on organic produce.

Mas Latour Lavail is a B&B that opened in June 2015 after the transformation of a 16th-century Catalan farmhouse.

Mas Latour Lavail is a B&B that opened in June 2015 after the transformation of a 16th-century Catalan farmhouse.

The general manager of Cazes, Lionel Lavail, opened a gorgeous chambre d’hôte in June 2015 called le Mas Latour Lavail, located just 10 minutes from the center of Perpignan. A painstaking renovation project transformed the family’s 16th-century Catalan farmhouse into a chic B&B with five contemporary rooms each named for a vin doux naturel produced by Cazes. There’s a real attention to design and tasteful décor here; the soaring living room is distinguished by thick timber beams and brick archways, the kitchen boasts a bar made of wine bottles, and the spa and hammam are housed in the ancient wine tanks. With high season rates starting from 155 euros/night including breakfast, the Mas Latour Lavail is all about affordable luxury. The lovely Vanessa ([email protected]; 011-330-673-937-430) oversees reception.

Jean-Claude Mas, founder of Domaines Paul Mas, first achieved international acclaim with his “Arrogant Frog” wines and today the enterprise boasts 11 estates covering nearly 1,500 acres.

Jean-Claude Mas, founder of Domaines Paul Mas, first achieved international acclaim with his “Arrogant Frog” wines and today the enterprise boasts 11 estates covering nearly 1,500 acres.

Between Béziers and Montpellier, the Domaines Paul Mas is one of the largest private wine-making companies in France. Pioneering wine entrepreneur Jean-Claude Mas first achieved international acclaim with his “Arrogant Frog” wines and today the enterprise boasts 11 estates covering nearly 1,500 acres. Championing a “luxe rural” philosophy, Domaines Paul Mas is situated in Montagnac, high in the hills overlooking the oyster-producing Étang de Thau. Here you’ll find a popular tasting room, stables from where you can go horseback riding through the vineyards and an excellent restaurant called Côté Mas. Don’t miss the “seven dishes/seven wines” menu, in which refined plates — like charcuterie-wrapped quail served with pears poached in red wine — are paired with estate wines. This is a decadent dining experience that’s excellent value for money. You can actually sleep off your food coma on the property; Domaines Paul Mas recently opened two luxury suites in an independent stone building facing a swimming pool. Guests also have access to a spacious professional kitchen stocked with a Nespresso machine and a fridge full of wine. For reservations, contact Cathy Nguyen ([email protected]).

The Cité de Carcassonne is a medieval fortress located in the city of Carcassonne.

The Cité de Carcassonne is a medieval fortress located in the city of Carcassonne.

On a sojourn in the south, you can’t miss the medieval city of Carcassonne, a perfectly preserved hilltop citadel. More than three million annual visitors flock to this UNESCO World Heritage site. With gargoyles and turrets at every turn, Carcassonne is straight out of a fairytale. It’s particularly magical in the evenings when the crowds empty out. Stay within the ramparts at the five-star Hôtel de la Cité, which joined Accor’s MGallery Collection four years ago. (Previously it was an Orient-Express property.) A recent renovation has spiffed up the public spaces — adding a small spa by Cinq Mondes — while retaining the chateau character of this well-loved hotel. The most popular room is Suite No. 108 with superb wall frescos and ornate Neo-Gothic wood paneling. Also highly requested are the rooms with terraces where you can sip champagne and watch the sun set over the city. For VIP requests, contact Sales Manager Valerie Bertolotti ([email protected]; 011-330-468-719-871).

Le Domaine d’Auriac has a golf course, which is laid out in the vineyards and is open all year round.

Le Domaine d’Auriac has a golf course, which is laid out in the vineyards and is open all year round.

The five-star property’s bistro overlooks the course and serves cuisine based on local products.Just a few minutes outside Carcassonne, the Le Domaine d’Auriac is a serene family-owned establishment that’s been a member of Relais & Chateaux since 1973. Owner Marie-Hélène Rigaudis-Calvet ([email protected]; 011-330-468-257-222) takes great pride in her family’s tradition of hospitality and savoir-faire. Centered around the 19th-century maison, the five-star property has morphed into a resort-like hamlet with a golf course in place of the vineyards, a swimming pool and a jogging circuit in the luxuriant gardens. The 24 guest rooms are located in the main house and outlying buildings; we particularly like the apartment-like suites with exposed beams and Jacuzzi tubs in the newer “Boulanger Home,” “Meunier Home” and “Ecuyer Home.” Since it obtained a Michelin star in 1983, the restaurant has been a destination in the region for traditional regional cuisine honoring the seasons. In the fall, Chef Philippe Deschamps celebrates game, chestnuts, and truffles on the menu. Don’t miss the Grand Marnier soufflé! Tip: Request a table by the fireplace in the cooler months.

Pictured: The five-star property’s bistro overlooks the course and serves cuisine based on local products.

Carcassonne has a high concentration of gourmet establishments and another one of our favorites is L’Atelier de la Truffe, a convivial gastropub where truffle specialist Philippe Barrière serves generous truffle-themed dishes with a wide selection of wines. Santé!

Access: Private Drivers

Whether you arrive by plane or high-speed train (the TGV connects Paris to Montpellier in three and a half hours), you’ll want comfortable and convenient transportation to traverse the south of France. We recommend a luxury car service called Sud VTC, which operates in Provence and the Languedoc-Roussillon region: from Avignon and Nîmes east to the border with Spain. Owner Fabrice Battioni ([email protected]; 011-330-616-793-216) has recruited a team of five drivers who are prompt, courteous and professional.

Sud VTC can provide a Mercedes (Class E or S) equipped with Wi-Fi, reading material, chilled bottled water and a charging station for smart phones. Options include single transfers (from the airport or train station) or full-day, half-day reservations.