ESPERAZA, FRANCE "“ Imagine stepping into a part of Europe almost untouched by time. The little-known Languedoc region of southern France is such a place, and a new one-week self-drive package offered by The Great Canadian Travel Company will take you there for as little as $615 per person.

Languedoc is a region of castles and Cathars, of the DaVinci Code and dinosaurs, the mysteries of the Knights Templar and even a museum devoted to le chapeau (a reminder of when Languedoc was a world-renowned center for manufacturing hats).

You'll spend six nights in the tiny market town of Esperaza, which sits astride the River Aude some 25 miles south of Carcassonne and is ideally located to explore the region. The package features accommodations at the Maison de la Riviere, a lovely chamber d'hote where hosts Jo and Roy Hayes offer comfortable accommodations. For those who prefer a little more space"”perhaps those traveling with families"”a house rental in the area for a one-week stay is a wonderful alternative.

The Languedoc countryside is spectacular as it rises high into the Pyrenees. Explore mountain villages in France and close-by Spain. Plan to drive on a day trip to the principality of Andorra"”a distance of only 50 miles"”and you'll climb from about 1,300 feet to about 8,500 feet. You can even explore tiny Llívia, an enclave of Spain completely surrounded by France!

Languedoc also is unabashedly wine country, with many wonderful wineries to visit and samples to be enjoyed. The Great Canadian Travel Company has arranged a special two-hour tutored wine tasting at the Vinecole, an integral part of the exquisite Domain Gayda winery located only about 20 miles from Esperaza.

The history of the region is fascinating, as you become engaged with the mysteries of the Knights Templar, visit 1,000-year-old castles of Cathar heretics and study the mystery surrounding the Da Vinci Code. Esperaza also is home to an expansive dinosaur museum, exhibiting abundant local finds of paleontological remains.

The countryside offers a seemingly unlimited number of marked hill walks and also provides opportunities for horseback riding as well as river kayaking and rafting. Then, there are the simple pleasures of sipping a restorative in a charming town square as you watch people go by.

Cost of this trip is just US$615 per person (based on double occupancy). Included are a seven-day economy class car rental (including taxes), accommodation at La Maison de le Riviere, breakfast daily and the two-hour wine-tasting tutorial. Departures are available year-round.

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