The two distinct provinces of Languedoc and Roussillon stretch from the foothills of the Pyrenees on the Spanish border to the mouth of the Rhône. The flat beaches and lagoons of the coast form a purpose-built sunbelt accommodating millions of holiday-makers every year.
In between is a dry, sunburned land producing half of France's table wine and the season's first peaches and cherries.
Beyond such sensuous pleasures are many layers of history, not least the unification of the two provinces.
The formerly independant Languedoc once spoke Occitan, the tongue of troubadours, and still cherishes its separate identity.
Roussillon was a Spanish possession until the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659.
Its Catalan heritage is displayed everywhere from the road signs to the Sardana dance, and the flavour of Spain is evident in the popularity of bullfights, paella, and gaudily painted façades.
This stretch of coastline was the first place in Gaul to be settled by the Romans, their enduring legacy evident in the great amphitheatre at Nîmes and the magnificent engineering of the Pont du Gard.
The abbeys of Saint-Martin-du-Canigou, Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa and Saint Guilhem-le-Désert are superb examples of early Romanesque architecture, unaffected by Northern Gothic influences.
The great craggy Cathar castles and the perfectly restored medieval Cité of Carcassonne bear witness to the bloody battles of the Middle Ages.
In parts, the region remains wild and untamed: from the high plateaux of the Cerdagne, to the wild hills of the Corbières or the remote uplands of Languedoc. But it also has the most youthful and progressive cities in France: Montpellier, the ancient university city and capital of the region, and Nîmes with its exuberant feria and bullfights.
The whole area is typified by a insouciant mixture of ancient and modern, from Roman temples and postmodern architecture in its cities to solar power and ancient abbeys in the mountains.