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Monday 16 September 2013

Le Vrai Sud de France

Words by Simeen Kadi

Mention the South of France and our minds turn to mega-yachts, the Cannes Festival and the excesses of the holidaying super-rich. Or to the endless lavender fields of Provence where many of us have spent a week making idle plans of packing up our dreary UK lives and moving to a dilapidated Provencal farmhouse to make wine and lavender-based skincare products.

But there is another South of France that relatively few of us Brits venture to. Curving from Perpignan near the Spanish coast to Montpellier, the region's capital, is an awe-inspiring stretch of history, diverse landscapes and culture that is well loved by French holidaymakers. Languedoc-Roussillon gets 300 days of sunshine a year and has a sweeping coastline of sheltered coves and bays. It is France's largest wine region with the country's oldest vines and some of its best produce.

Why am I waxing lyrical about the region? Well, last Saturday the Sud de France tourism board hosted a festival on London's South Bank to bring us Brits closer to the region. Purveyors of fine wine, cheese, delicate little cakes that only the French can make and other delights lined the southern bank of the Thames while Gallic DJ Gilles Peterson spun tunes and the sun shone in a convincingly Mediterranean fashion.

There were wine masterclasses from Robersons Wines of Kensington where we learnt how the innovative Languedoc-Rousillon region is leading the way in producing biodynamic and natural wines. They tasted good, too.

Sud de France is a well known French wine growing region. In fact it is the world's largest. But these days things have moved further towards quality, rather than quantity, as many producers have upped their game to achieve AOC status. The region still produces more wine than either Australia or South Africa. Some of the wines us Brits love most come from Languedoc-Rousillon, whose 25 appellations stretch from the Rhone to the Pyrenees. Minervois, Corbieres and Fitou produce some great reds while Costieres de Nimes has vineyards dating back to Roman times. Banyuls is another well-known area, producing deep and rich dessert wines on the slopes of the Catalan Pyrenees.

The region is rich in other produce too. There is rice from the Camargue, black truffles from the Gard region and charcuterie from acorn and chestnut fed pigs in the Herault area. At the festival we enjoyed a taste of the local produce. I loved the pulled duck confit from The Frenchie and Cassoulet by Market Quarter of Borough Market.

And with some great looking hotels and gites in the region, I found myself checking flights on Ryanair on the bus home. When this endless summer does come to an end, as it must, I am going to need the promise of some sun and fun to get through those cold, drizzly and short Autumn days.

For more information about the Sud de France region visit http://www.sud-de-france.com

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