THE LANGUAGE OF LANGUEDOC
WITH THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE AND FASHIONS OF FRANCE’S SECOND GAYEST CITY MONTPELLIER ONE OF THE MOST BURGEONING QUEER DESTINATIONS IN FRANCE, MARK O’CONNELL FINDS THAT THE SURROUNDING LANGUEDOCROUSSILLON REGION IS QUIETLY BECOMING ONE OF THE LGBT HOLIDAY MA
Languedoc is becoming one of the LGBT holiday hotspots in Europe
As France’s most southerly region with a guaranteed summer Mediterranean climate and beaches flanked by a vineyard culture that somewhat leaves that of Bordeaux in the grape silhouetted dust, the Languedoc-Roussillon region is often described as where those French people in the know go on vacation. And you know those French rugby players we all Google as the anthem-cam tracks past their bearded jaws before a match? Yes, Languedoc-Roussillon is also allegedly the home of French rugby.
Although the libertine notoriety and (mostly) gay acceptances of Cap d’Agde are world famous, it is slightly further inland where the real French gems are to be found (and I don’t mean the curiously positioned diamanté studs of the ladies at d’Agde). As rural European retreats gain momentum as a contrast to the familiar queerskewed city breaks of Barcelona, Berlin and Stockholm, a burgeoning network of guesthouses are offering a stepping stone map
“A burgeoning network of guesthouses are offering a stepping stone map for LGBT travellers in southern France”
for LGBT travellers in Southern France. The Gard territory and the town of Montclus have the rural The Lotus Tree (thelotustree.com) and La Villa Littoral in Le Grau d’Agde (villalittoral. com) offers a busier stay for those in a car.
However, nestled almost stealthily in the old small southern French town of Roujan is the astutely designed Cinq & Sept (5 & 7 Avenue Henri Mas, cinqetsept.com). A skilfully converted three-hundred-year-old guesthouse risen from the spoils of at least one Napoleonic war, Cinq & Sept is marked by the conversations, humour and airtight attentiveness of its creators Alex Charles, Greg Taylor and their new comanager Andy. From someone who is often fearful of letting go of the thrust of a city vacation, Cinq & Sept is a wholly divine guesthouse experience where visitors are more than a guest in a strikingly realised setting that is more than a house. Six (soon to be more) spacious studio rooms all with self-catering comforts, original retro floor tiles aplenty, vintage Dior poster art by René Gruau, a tiered garden flanked by lavender, a summer house offering carefully curated wines and crushed ice on tap, Friday night dinners exquisitely steered by the buoyant and savvy chef Gilles Chirat and a pool straight from a Hockney painting, Cinq & Sept’s greatest advantage may well actually be the ever changing mix of global visitors and their baton of holiday (and often life) advice you will pass on to other guests.
With the neighbouring villages of Neffiès, Caux and Alignan all within a wine bottle’s length away (almost), the terracotta-tiled Roujan is perfectly poised to explore the region’s true rural environs and its cacophony of vineyards, boutique eateries and gay-steered beaches. Take some wine, watermelon cubes and cold cuts and bike up to the River Peyne and the dragonflies of its cooling, swimmable waters, or drive through the dolomite formations leading towards the abandoned lakeside hamlet of Celles and the haunting, yet vivid red rock landscape of Lake Salagou. Indulge in a private skinny dip before returning via Neffiès and Le Very‘table (6 Rue Saint Alban) for Sebastien and Valerie’s proudly touted fish dishes, amuse-bouche charms and cotton candy and pineapple fondant desserts. Likewise Roujan’s Le Petit Péché (8 Bis Avenue de Caux, restaurantpetitpeche.com) and its magret de canard was a repeat trip for this duck fan when we phoned ahead (advisable for many of the restaurants).
And should this dining and wining lay siege to the vacation waistline, then kayaking down the River Orb is one way to justify the next glass of the region’s Chardonnay or Cinq & Sept’s own Boston Banger cocktail. Drive to the hillside village of Roquebrun and over its majestic stone bridge veering right to Canoe Roquebrun (canoeroquebrun.com). Flecked by a few deceptive rapids (okay, I capsized in about four minutes and ruined that vision of myself as Streep in The River Wild – but everyone does to refreshing effect), the Orb is a green banked tunnel of an oasis with scope to pause and have a rosé pit-stop lunch on the banks and escape the high temperatures of summer.
Or take a bike past the ornate old workers’ huts on the vineyards to the ancient, but deceptively artsy town of Pézenas. Follow in the footsteps of comedic prodigy Molière and amble the diverse Saturday market (Cours Jean Jaurès)
for fresh paella, couscous, chorizo, mackerel, apricots and any manner of olive bread, chanterelles and goat’s cheese. As the market winds down in the early afternoon the cobbled dining, gelaterias and plat du jour colours of Place Gambetta come alive. Find a table at L’Arcen-Ciel (6 Place Gambetta) alongside the parked Vespas and people-watch the world and his dog heading straight for the fountain for a dip of hands and feet. After a sizeable slice of salmon quiche goodness and another local rosé follow the sounds of Air and Moon Safari to Fai Virar (17, Rue des Chevaliers Saint Jean) - a vintage shop of vinyl and retro joy with a sideline in melted vinyl salad bowls. You too can maybe have that Barbara Streisand Guilty fruit bowl the kitchen table has been crying out for.
With the Mediterranean as perhaps the most prized asset Languedoc-Roussillon has in its geographical cellar, the gay beaches are amongst the best in France. The beach at L’Espiguette (Le Grau-du-Roi) is marked by a beautiful, expansive shoreline with some of the best sand in Europe. Turn left at the car park and continue until the families thin out and the local French boys and their Orlebar Brown swim-pants (or lack of them) stand chatting around the chatty beach vendors and their espresso shots. The beach at Serignan is also known to the LGBT-minded of the area with an equally clean and sandy utopia shelving down towards the water’s edge.
Finally, if you cannot resist a burst of city life then Montpellier is indeed one of France’s gayest cities. With the guys and gals able to roam the cobbled backstreets hand-in-hand through the bohemian student quarters, oil painting vendors and fashionista pop-up shops, Montpellier is not quite the French San Francisco it purports to be but is worth the park and tram ride in. The blueeyed coffee boys at Café De La Mer (5 Place du Marché aux Fleurs) are savvy to the men and lady watching at play and it is just around the corner from Chez Boris et Leticia (20 Rue De L’Auguillerie, chezborisetleticia.com) - which has not only the best tuna tartare citrus and duck confit around, the lone toilet in its restroom is blessed with its own light display, sound system and glitter-ball.
THE BOUTIQUE BACK ALLEYS OF MONTPELLIER
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: CINQ & SEPT GUESTHOUSE; THE QUIET STREETS OF ROUJAN; PIT STOP KAYAKING DOWN THE RIVER ORB, ROQUEBRUN; L’ARC DE TRIOMPHE IN MONTPELLIER; CINQ& SEPT GUESTHOUSE, ROUJAN; POST-KAYAKING AT ROQUEBRUN
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: PEZENAS SATURDAY MARKET; CINQ & SEPT GUESTHOUSE, ROUJAN; SUPPER AT THE CINQ & SEPT GUESTHOUSE; THE BACKSTREETS OF BOHEMIAN MONTPELLIER; CINQ & SEPT GUESTHOUSE; THE ABANDONED VILLAGE OF CELLES, LAKE SALAGOU