Gorges de l'Hérault
The heartland today is the Bas Languedoc the coastal plain and dry, stony, vine-growing hills between Carcassonne and Nîmes. It's here that the Occitan movement has its power base, demanding recognition of its linguistic and cultural distinctiveness. A good part of its appeal derives from resentment of political domination by remote and alien Paris, aggravated by the area's traditional poverty. In recent times this has been focused on Parisian determination to drag the province into the modern world, with massive tourist development on the coast and the drastic transformation of the cheap wine industry. But it is also mixed up in a vague collective folk memory with the brutal repression of the Protestant Huguenots around 1700, the thirteenth-century massacres of the Cathars and the subsequent obliteration of the brilliant langue d'oc troubadour tradition. It is a hostility that has made an essentially rural and conservative population vote traditionally for the Left at least until the elections of 2002, which saw wide support for Le Pen's resurgent Front National. Although a sense of Occitan identity remains strong in the region, it has very little currency as a spoken or literary language, despite the popularity of university-level language courses and the foundation of Occitan-speaking elementary schools.
Toulouse, the cultural capital, lies outside the modern région but is a deserved high spot among numerous and various other attractions. There are great stretches of dramatic landscape and river gorges, from the Cévennes foothills in the east to the Montagne Noire and Corbières hills in the west. There's superb ecclesiastical architecture in Albi and St-Guilhem-le-Désert, medieval towns at Cordes and Carcassonne, and the unforgettably romantic Cathar castles to the south. Nîmes has extensive Roman remains, and there are great swathes of beach where away from the major resorts you can still find a kilometre or two to yourself.
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