DEEP down in southern France is a village that, in many respects, provides the best of both worlds for the holidaymaker who enjoys a mix of rest and action.

Autignac is the place where there’s not been a great deal of change over the years, not that it has stood completely still. But it’s where the population has hovered fairly constantly just below the 1,000 mark for the past 50 years, and its helped to ensure it remains a delightful rural, tranquil, idyllic backwater.

Here the hustle and bustle of the nine-till-five routine can be confined to the workplace bin and forgotten for the length of your stay - be it a week, fortnight or longer.

The village offers a fair number of holiday rental homes and our self-catering base was an old winemaker’s house on the main road leading up to the village square where there’s a bakery, supermarket, pharmacy, greengrocer’s and a once-a-week street market.

On top of this it also boasts its own friendly and popular cafe serving good quality French food, and there’s a chance here to meet more of the locals and practice your French - no matter how limited your linguistic skills are.

There are more facilities just a short trip down the road in Malagas, including a garage. This village has other restaurants and more can be found in nearby Laurens.

Both these villages, are attractive but not quite as rustic and charming as Autignac. All are easily accessible on foot too. So what better way to work up an appetite?

And it’s no wonder our holiday spot - Maison Lavande - was once a winemaker’s residence as we were deep into the famed Languedoc wine making area, which has a substantial reputation for the quality product it provides from its grape harvest.

If you want a livelier time and greater choice away from the locality, then such attractions are within a short distance in this part of the Languedoc-Rousillon region - as within half-an-hour’s drive or a pleasant bus ride, is the bustling town of Beziers which has plenty to offer the tourist.

The town is in the Hérault department and is famous for hosting the Feria de Béziers every August which is centred on bullfighting. Incredibly around a million visitors are attracted to the five-day event which features young bullfighters. There’s also some serious partying in the streets with festivals, music, and great food along the streets.

A member of the Most Ancient European Towns Network, Beziers is nevertheless modern, and thriving with quality hotels, restaurants, and other attractions such as night clubs - and for those of a sporting inclination there are several golf courses in the area and also Rugby Union in season.

Among things to do there’s a visit to the 13th century Cathedrale St Nazaire, the splendid Canal du Midi - which provides excellent boat trips of varying durations, and where you can find the nine locks of Fonseranne. There’s also the picturesque Pont Vieux, the bridge over the River Orb.

Bicycles can also be hired to ride the wide and well-maintained Midi canal towpath which boasts a number of enjoyable cafes and restaurants along its route. And there are quite a few, especially when you consider the Midi stretches from near Toulouse in the centre of southern France down to the Mediterranean port of Sete. At Toulouse it links with the Canal de Garonne, which heads north to the Atlantic.

Work on the Midi canal first began in 1667 and took one and a half centuries to be completed. At the time it was considered one of the greatest construction works of the 17th century with at one stage around 20,000 labourers on the workforce.

In 1996 the canal was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site - a truly deserved accolade.

Béziers is also in the ideal spot for excursions into the Haut Languedoc, a rugged and virtually untamed mountainous region where the traveller can enjoy walks around picturesque stone villages, wonder through remote woodlands and view cascading mountain streams.

These, of course, can also be easily reached from Autignac.

Getting to and from the city is fairly easy with a good quality road system.

Meanwhile getting there in the first place is also relatively easy with Ryanair operating services from Bristol and London airports, and also Edinburgh and Manchester seasonally. Car hire is available through most of the recognised rental services.

Many of the outlying villages are also on well served bus routes from Beziers’ centrally situated bus station and there’s also a railway station allowing you to leave the car at home and travel on the rail link through the Euro Tunnel. Then either stick with the bus or hire a car to see what the region has to offer.

Good walks abound in almost any direction and there are plenty of interesting towns within easy reach for tourists to enjoy by bus, car or train, such as Narbonne, Montpellier, Nimes and the incredible walled city at Carcassonne - which should be on most people’s bucket list.

Steeped in history, it’s a fantastic day out and has plenty of attractions, shops and excellent restaurants waiting to greet you behind its impressively huge stone walls on which you can take guided walks.

But if it’s the sea and beach you want then Cap d’Agde is one of the places to head for. A host of facilities here, as would be expected of a seaside resort, and it also has its own naturist village!

Meanwhile a further drive north into the interior takes the traveller to one of the world’s most astounding and outstanding engineering feats - the iconic Millau Bridge, where it feels you are high enough to walk on the clouds.

The tallest bridge in the world, soaring as it does to 1,125ft above ground level, there’s also plenty to see and do here with film of the construction, good facilities and a well stocked cafe.

Also well worth a day out is a trip to Pezenas, with all its heritage and art. This is best on a Saturday when the town stages its huge street market which becomes thronged with shoppers who can purchase just about anything.

The numerous food stalls give off wonderful aromas and if you haven’t begun to drool by the time you return down the other side of the street and its stalls then there must be something wrong.

That much to see and do? It must surely be time to head back to our holiday home for a quieter time, a spot of reflection and drop of that delicious dark red…

The walks around Autignac itself take you slowly and steadily along quiet country roads and dusty old farm tracks, many of which meander delightfully through a maze of vast vineyards and past local wineries, some of which offer the opportunity of a visit to see some of the production process, and usually offer a small sample - as well as the opportunity to return back to your base with a purchase or two to enjoy on the balcony in the warm night air.

The Languedoc region might be a peaceful haven now but its hasn’t always been that way.

There are plenty of signs throughout the local area of former civilisations - those who came peacefully or through invasion!

From the 6th century BC seafaring peoples from across the Mediterranean began arriving and settling. The Greeks of Phoecea founded the port of Marseille, around an hour’s drive away, whilst the Phoenicians created Agde, which by now could well have you humming that little tune - ‘Oh I do like to be beside the seaside’…

Those early settlers brought with them their traditions of olive and grape cultivation, still a key part of the local economy today, and this region soon developed into a major market for trade with northern Europe.

Then came the Romans in 118 BC. They founded Narbonne and eventually the whole region fell under Roman rule.

They left quite an architectural legacy as their empire collapsed and then in the following centuries, invading tribes came and went.

From the fifth century onwards there were various power struggles and there were certainly horrors in the Middle Ages after large swathes of the population became disillusioned with the Catholic Church and turned to Catharism.

Regarding them as wayward heretics the Catholic hierarchy began a crusade in the early 1200s which was merciless and saw the indiscriminate slaughter of 20,000 people in Beziers alone.

The population of Carcassonne suffered too.

Yet in the 1600s Protestantism had become the local religion as the peasant classes chose to express their resentment against the ruling elite. While more recently the region’s population earned a considerable reputation for its Resistance movement which bravely created numerous problems for the invading German Army in the Second World War and prevented the Nazis from increasing their stranglehold in France.

So it’s clear and well documented that the region is fully versed in the art of recovering from adversity and fighting back.

This was proved when its embryonic wine industry, developed during the 1800s - a few years after the French Revolution, was almost wiped out by disease as phylloxera struck the vineyards in 1875. But it survived, bounced back and now the Languedoc has a considerable reputation world-wide for its fine wines.

And what better place than Autignac - in particular, and its surrounding villages, to enjoy the fruits of those labours… So - pass the corkscrew, please!

** Maison Lavande, Autignac, can be viewed on the Pure France website on or for further details please e-mail Richard and Denise Codrington at