Today is the last day of the year 2021, the perfect day to reflect on the year gone by with a list of my personal favourites. To me, it has been a year with great highs and- unfortunately- profound lows. Although the pandemic isn’t over yet, I feel that I’m in a luxurious position. Living in such a beautiful region in the South of France with Chéri and the kids around me make me appreciate the little things in life even more.
At the beginning of 2021, I felt hopeful because of the COVID-19 vaccines. It was great to regain freedom after having my jabs and carefully going out again. Despite the ongoing health crisis, I have discovered many new spots. The family and I have spent most of our holidays in the South of France, which gave us the chance to explore the Aude and Gard departments further. However, at the end of the year, it’s becoming clear that the pandemic is more capricious than we thought. It doesn’t keep me from dreaming about beautiful places though, and luckily there are plenty around in the region where I live! In the meantime, my wish list of places to visit is growing. And I’m positive that in 2022 I will continue to share my new hidden gems with you.
I wish you all the best for the new year to come with plenty of love, health and happiness.
1. Favourite village: Roquebrun
Roquebrun, locally known as the Nice of Hérault, is one of my longtime favourites. As it benefits from a microclimate, it is also the perfect place for mimosa to grow. Even though it feels like the world is on fire, there still are some certainties in life. Like every year, at the end of January/beginning of February, spring is ushered in by the luscious blooming mimosa trees. Luckily, this year was no different. Therefore, I decided to fully enjoy these beautiful little silky clouds of golden flowers at one of the best places in Languedoc: Roquebrun.
2. Favourite festival: Carrières de Lumières
I was so happy that we could visit some festivals and events again in 2021! One of the first cultural trips I made this year was to the extraordinary audio-visual show ‘Carrières de Lumières’ in Les Baux-de-Provence. The area around Les Baux-de-Provence has many quarries. One of them, the ‘Carrières de Lumières’, has been brought to life by an amazing multimedia show. The theme of this immersive exhibition is always dedicated to a famous name in the history of art and changes yearly. This year the impressive performance combined Paul Cézanne and Wassily Kandinsky. Walking through the immense space and 14-metre-high walls, the giant images of the artists’ paintings floating under me, next to me and above me gave me goosebumps.
3. Favourite shopping town: Sète
There are many places that I like to return to, and Sète is one of them. Being one of the most important fishing ports on the French Mediterranean Sea, Sète has a down-to-earth vibe that I like a lot. In 2021, I finally took the time to explore this medium-sized city further to write a shopping guide. I added some new finds to my list of most treasured ones. One tip: don’t go on an empty stomach, as a good part of my finds are food-related shops. Or maybe you should go just before lunchtime and combine your shopping trip with a visit to the covered market Les Halles. Here you can have a bite at one of the many great restaurants.
4. Favourite town: Uzès
This year, Chéri and I preferred to spend our summer holiday not far from home. So, we organised a home exchange with a house in the Gard department. I was very pleased with this destination, as I could finally get to know charming Uzès better. The family and I took our time to wander around the small town nicknamed ‘French Tuscany’ and deliberately got lost in the labyrinth of narrow, medieval streets. My girl and I even got up early on a Saturday morning to visit the bustling open-air market on the Place aux Herbes. And we made some interesting discoveries by visiting the Duché d’Uzès and the Jardin Médiéval.
5. Favourite restaurant: Maya Club in Torreilles
Normally, I would pick a favourite restaurant from the places I have visited with Chéri. But this year, I went to such a paradisiacal spot with the twins that I simply have to nominate the Maya Club in Torreilles as my best find of the year. Arriving at Torreilles Plage, you’ll spot Maya Club from a distance. The view immediately transformed us and put us in a holiday mood. Think waving palms, fluttering parasols, attractive greens, and a tropical-inspired interior that brings the outdoors in. As the tables are set up in the front, the infinite deep blue of the Mediterranean Sea spreads before you. On top of this visual perfection, the homemade food is fabulous, and the staff are ultra-friendly as well.
6. Favourite family trip: the Parc Animalier des Angles
Although I’m not a big fan of zoos, this year my family and I visited the Parc Animalier des Angles in the Pyrénées-Orientales. It is a unique way to explore Pyrenean wildlife in a striking mountainous forest area. Instead of animals in small cages, the set-up is spacious making use of the slopes of the Carlit Massif. It gives you the opportunity to spot wild animals in their natural environment. You will need to walk quite a bit to see all the animals. But, as far as I am concerned, this is part of the fun. Especially since you will be walking in a beautiful setting surrounded by a stunning pine tree forest.
7. Favourite natural site: Cirque de Navacelles
On a beautiful day in September, Chéri and I drove off to one of France’s most remarkable natural sites. While the kids were back at school, we marvelled at the Cirque de Navacelles. This impressive canyon on the southern edge of the Massif Central was carved out by the Vis River some 5,000 years ago. Surrounded by the limestone plateau of the Causses and the Cevennes in the North, it’s officially classified as a ‘Grand Site de France ‘. We stopped at the two main lookouts: The Belvédère de Blandas and the Belvédère de la Baume Auriol. We didn’t have enough time to do the big 12 km hike, so I have put it on my wishlist. However, we went to the bottom of the canyon and walked around the hamlet of Navacelles. Also, we did a small hike to the 900-year-old (!) water mills called the Moulin de la Foux.
8. Favourite cultural spot: Scène de Bayssan in Béziers
At the start of the new school year, we also could go to theatres again. One of the things that I missed during the pandemic was going to cultural events. However, living in the French countryside also doesn’t help. Not only because my level of French is not good enough to follow a French spoken play. But also, because there are simply fewer theatres and festivals around than in downtown Amsterdam. That was until Chéri and I found the cultural site of Scène de Bayssan on the outskirts of Béziers. We’re especially excited now that the site has had a major make-over!
9. Favourite activity: wild mushroom hunt
Ever since I’ve been living in France, I have dreamt of going on a wild mushroom foray. But asking my French friends if I could join them on their mushroom hunt has never been successful. I think they would rather tell me how much they earn than reveal their secret ‘cèpes’ spot! Until I found out about Love la Forêt, a small firm run by a British family that creates wild mushroom and black truffle products. Contacting them eventually led to an invitation to go into the Montagne Noire and look for the real stuff.
10. Favourite hike: Pic de Bugarach
I like going on a holiday during the kid’s autumn break, called ‘Toussaint’ in France. Every year during this holiday, we try to discover something new in the region. This year, we decided to go to Bugarach in the Aude department. The Pic de Bugarach is the highest summit of the Corbières Massif in the Aude department, with a peak of 1230 metres. Besides being an out-of-this-world natural site, it has played- and still does!- part in many legends. As the family and I stayed in Bugarach, the village named after the mountain, we simply had to climb the summit of the Pic (Pech in Occitan). When we finally arrived at the summit after a stirring hike, it was a magical experience. During the rest of our stay, we proudly looked at the Pic de Bugarach with our mission accomplished!