The Occitanie is a “new” region standing from the union of the former departments of Languedoc-Rousillon and Midi-Pyrénées. We emphasize in the quotation marks around “new” since this part of the country has a long and old history, as the many vestiges, ruins and medieval walled cities that are there located prove it.
Even though Côte d’Azur and Provence almost always take all the attention from international tourists, Occitanie has many things to offer for lower budgets, though you can perfectly go splurge as well. Also, for gay couples is becoming a quite hot destination specially due to worldwide famous beaches such as L’Espiguette.
We start with our trip from east to west, moving from the sandy beaches and grass wetlands of La Camargue to the aerospace hub of Toulouse.
Montpellier and around
Montpellier is one of the best cities to visit in France after Paris. It is close to the sea and has a very lively atmosphere. It is a university city (since the Middle Ages) so therefore always full of young people. A typical stroll would start in the Aqueduct of Saint-Clément and then pass by the Porte du Peyrou, resembling the famous Arc de Triomphe from Paris. Turn slightly to the right and get into the small streets leading to the Church of St. Anne, where normally contemporary art exhibitions are displayed. Continue through the Rue St. Anne until you reach the Rue St. Guilhem. Here you can look at the different shops before you head straight to the next church, the Church of St. Roch, devoted to the patron of the city. In the square around this church you will find plenty of terraces and cafés.
After that you can head to the City Market, where you can delight yourself with regional products, and continue walking through the Rue de la Loge until you reach the Place de la Comédie. Here is the Opera House and a long esplanade. Relax in the green areas before you go towards Musée Fabre and enter again the labyrinth of little streets until you reach Notre-Dame des Tables. The oldest part of the church dates to 817 and during the Middle Ages it was a mandatory stop in the way to Santiago de Compostela. Go back to the Market and enjoy a glass of wine.
How gay is Montpellier?
Montpellier is as gay as it comes. The city hosted the first gay wedding in France back in 2013. There is a pride event every year. There are plenty of gay bars and the proximity of beautiful beaches, together with the sunny and mild weather of the region makes it a top destination. Did we mention they produce wine as well?
How to get to L’Espiguette Beach from Montpellier?
Head towards the Montpellier airport, then continue ahead to La Grande-Motte and continue to Le Grau-du-Roi. From there the signs with L’Espiguette should appear. You most probably need a rental car, since the way is not connected via bus.
In L’Espiguette, the gay and nudist area is rather far away from the parking lots so be prepared to walk on the sand until you recognize a change on the crowd. The beach itself is kilometers long of sand.
Our tips for visiting around Montpellier are:
- Maguelone Beach: another gay beach that is actually closer to Montpellier than L’Espiguette. Head to Palavas-les-Flots and continue until you reach the Kitesurf School. After that, the gay beach begins.
- Aigues Mortes: a beautiful walled city that was supposed to be France most important port, but climate and sedimentation had another word. Now is a fantastic old city where you can walk on top of the walls and see the horizon. Easily combined with a trip to L’Espiguette.
- Cirque de Mourèze: 55 km away from Montpellier, it is a spectacular rocky formations that resemble more touristic locations in Cappadocia. If you are a gay couple that likes hiking this is perfect for you: the grand tour walks you through the most interesting landscapes until you reach the summit of Mont Liausson from which you can contemplate the blue Lac de Salagou. All the walking paths are perfectly signalized.
- Pézenas: here is the place where the 17th century dramaturge Molière wrote most of his plays. Get lost in its small streets and enjoy dinner at a restaurant in one of the wonderful squares while street artists serenade the evening.
Nîmes and around
The city of Nîmes comprises many buildings of the Roman era. Close to Nîmes you can find also the Pont du Gard, one of the most wonderfully preserved aqueducts of the Roman Empire, that is quite impressive even today. Besides, the nearby town of Uzès, with its market, arcades and wonderful places to eat, is a perfect choice for a day trip.
Carcassonne and Cathar country
Heading towards west, we enter into Cathar country. Here you find the wonderful medieval cities of Carcassonne and Albi, as well as picturesque towns such as Cordes-sur-Ciel and Rabastens.
Who were the Cathars?
The Cathars were a medieval heresy in South France that believed in the duality of good and evil. They thought the material world was an illusion and that all flesh was impure. Therefore most of them were celibate and vegetarians. Even so, they regarded homosexuality as less impure than heterosexual sex as the latter could engender children, whose souls would be also trapped in their impure bodies. Their extermination, lead mostly by political reasons, was carried on by the Catholic Church and its allies from Northern France.
What to see in the Cathar Country?
- Carcassonne: the UNESCO World Heritage city of Carcassonne is, although too touristic already, worth visiting. Do not be fooled by the amazing state of the city walls: most of them were reconstructed during the 19th century, including some additions that are quite anachronistic.
- Albi: I find myself Albi more beautiful than Carcassone, even though is not so famous. Here you can find the Albi Cathedral, with its blue-painted ceiling and fortress-like architecture. The bridges upon the Tarn are quite spectacular and photogenic. Do not miss the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum: the Moulin Rouge painter and illustrator was an Albi native.
- Cordes-sur-Ciel: one of the most beautiful villages in France, located on top of a hill, is perfect for a sunset walk and feel transported to other centuries.
- Rabastens: check the 700 years old church, with its peculiar swastika crosses: at the time it was a symbol of the victory of Christ over death.
Toulouse is the fourth largest city in France, capital of the Occitanie region and quite a friendly city for gay couples traveling. Here are the top things you can do in Toulouse:
- Check the quais along the Garonne, especially at night, where all the young people gather there to chat, listen to music and drink.
- Visit the Couvent des Jacobins, have a stop from worldly life by walking in the cloister, marvel at the palm-like columns in the church and see Thomas Aquinas’s tomb.
- Feel like an astronaut at the Cité de l’espace and check the Ariane rockets, treasures from space and many activities.
- Try the guided tours in Airbus, as the company has its headquarters in Toulouse.
- Have a drink and dinner at the Capitol Square, while watching the crowds.
Where can I go from Toulouse?
After your trip in the Occitanie, head North towards the Dordogne region, or South to the Pyrenees. Further on you find Andorra and Spain. Barcelona is not far away. East you have Marseille, Nice and Monaco. West: Biarritz and the Atlantic coast of France.