The famous Languedoc region of southern France is one that is defined by water: by its proximity to the Mediterranean and the important trade link of the Canal du Midi which runs through its heart. For this reason, there is no better way to explore its stunning landscape than on a barge cruise.France may be known for its cuisine, but it is the distinctive flavours of its various regions which make exploring the country so fascinating for foodies; nowhere is this more true than in the Languedoc. Thanks to its unique geography (a shoreline protected by sandbanks and lagoons) it is seafood, and particularly oyster fishing, which have become central to the local cuisine here.
Take a stroll down the sandy shores of the Etang du Thau, the largest lagoon in the Languedoc, and you won’t fail to notice the wooden boxes which protrude out of the water for miles. These are the Etang du Thau’s famous oyster farms in which the young shellfish are reared in special beds, tended to by fishermen who have been breeding the shellfish in the same way for generations. In fact, local history suggests that mussels and oyster farming dates back to the Ancient Greeks in the region.
If possible it’s well worth visiting one of the farms to see the process in action while on your Canal du Midi barge cruise. France has a proud tradition of oyster farming and the fishermen here work within a rigid cycle of production. Initially the fishermen cement baby shellfish into the beds, then return regularly in order to space them out as they grow to give them room to develop.The local produce is then shipped all over France, where oysters are enjoyed as a delicacy all year around – although the optimal season is between September and April.
The Best Way to Eat Them
For me, there is only one way to eat these local oysters: in one of the excellent seafood restaurants which line the shores in many of the local fishing villages such as Bouzigues and Sète, looking out over the lagoon in which they were reared. The slight saltiness of the shellfish perfectly complement the salty tinge to the air here and you truly feel as though you are eating a product of this wonderful region.
For those who haven’t tried oysters before, eating them couldn’t be simpler. Just loosen the shellfish from its shell with the fork provided, sprinkle a little lemon juice, Tabasco, or the traditional shallot vinegar as the locals do, and knock it back in one gulp.
There is nothing better than enjoying a local delicacy in the heart of the area in which it was produced when on a barge cruise. Francehas so many distinct local dishes and traditions to discover that winding your way along the waterways which meander through each region presents the perfect opportunity to uncover them all.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury river cruises and barge holidays throughout Europe. If you're looking for an exciting and relaxing barge cruise, France is an ideal choice. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.