An Unspoiled Medieval Wonder in the South of France

Whenever anyone asks me to name my favorite part of France, my immediate response is always the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the South of France. Whenever people ask me why, my answer always comes a bit slower.

Images of vast blue sky, scrubby foothills with strange flat plateaus, deep red earth, and tidy rows of vineyard flash through my head. But in the end, I tell them about Sommières.

For me, Sommières is the very best of France, encapsulating all the romance, history, and beauty that I love about this region. The town’s roots stretch back all the way to the 1st century AD, when the Romans built a stone arch bridge to span the Vidourle River as they built a trade road from Nimes to Toulouse. Over the centuries, Sommières sprang up around this old bridge—which is still in use today—and by the 13th century, the town had become a bustling town, known for its markets and fairs.

Today, Sommières is still well known for its Saturday morning market at Place du Marche. And whenever I go, I feel the presence of those medieval market-goers as I poke among the bright linens, examine baskets of strawberries or a jar of fresh honey, or sniff at a sack full of lavender flowers. Because Sommières is just that sort of place: the past feels ever present.

Sommières’s old town starts on the east bank of the Roman Bridge (as it is still called), spreads inland, then sharply mounts a steep hill, where the imposing remnants of a 10th-century stone castle and its well-maintained tower remain, overlooking town. From here, the views of Sommières—a pleasing jumble of faded red-tiled rooftops, the smooth olive-green Vidourle river, the distant verdant foothills—will make you want to stay forever.

 

Cobblestone Streets and Inexpensive Treats

 

Back down in the old town, it will be your greatest pleasure to lose yourself among the maze of pale cobblestone streets, lined with aged sand-colored buildings, some of which date back to the 15th century. Dozens of narrow stone passageways, often with vaulted ceilings, lead up the hill. Some are closed to the public, but many are open and worth exploring simply for their graceful structure and beauty.

When it comes time to eat, you’ll have no trouble finding a delicious, inexpensive restaurant to enjoy a good meal. For example, you can get huge excellent crepes, both sweet and savory, at Les Korrigan du Virdoule, just across from the Roman Bridge for $9 and change.

But my favorite Sommières dining experience—one not to be missed—is eating fresh oysters from the nearby Thau Lagoon at the Saturday morning market. Every Saturday morning, a series of picnic tables is set in the Place du Marche near the oyster vendor. And it’s every man for himself—but in a good-natured way—as you try to grab a place to slurp down these fresh treats with a glass of local white wine. And the best part—the oysters only cost about $6 for a dozen…with no shucking fee!

My husband and I loved Sommières so much, and used to visit so often, that we’ve seriously considered buying a home there.

If you’re thinking of buying too, look at houses on Sommières’ hill—they’re safe from the floodwater that occasionally bursts the banks of the river, as are properties in nearby towns such as the lovely Villevielle. There, you can find properties like a four-bedroom old stone house, full of character and charm, with panoramic views of the countryside from the roof for $188,900.

Oh yes…one day…

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