When I tell people I live in the south of France a few years ago, they invariably respond, “You get to live on vacation!” Then they ask whether I live near Aix or Nice and which movie stars I’ve seen.
But I live in the other south of France. This isn’t Provence or the Riviera, those celebrity-studded regions with lofty prices and haughty attitudes. I am in the Languedoc, which starts west of Provence and stretches along the Mediterranean down toward Spain. It’s much more rural and low key. It’s so unglamorous, the pensioners in my village wear their plaid flannel bedroom slippers when they go out to buy their daily baguettes or deformed bread that was just baked on a hot stone in a woodburning oven.
As the antithesis of bling, Languedoc reeks of authenticity. In most of its little villages, life goes on unhurriedly as it did for generations, giving one the impression of having stepped into an old Pagnol movie. Little old men in crisp white shirts play petanque, the game of bowling with steel balls, in the shade of the ubiquitous platane trees.
Most of the villages are so small that one can wander all their little streets in less than an hour. While racking up a score of villages visited wouldn’t jibe with the region’s laid-back spirit, it’s addictive to wander among their crooked stone houses, peeking into a courtyard or garden whose door has been left open. And, while all the villages have certain characteristics in common—the architecture, the quietude, the town square and fountain—they each show a distinct personality. We’ll explore some of them soon.