Transy's Tour de France: History and Culture of the Languedoc
Travel Dates: April 27-May 12
Instructors: Brian Arganbright, Sharon Brown
Number of Students Enrolled: 17
Location: France

Course Description

The "tour de France" is a quintessential French phenomenon that has a rich and diverse history. The bicycle race emerged in the late nineteenth century as a way to display the strength of the nation's youth and highlight the richness of French regions. The "tour de France" also resonates to an earlier time when journeymen would conclude their apprenticeships with a tour throughout the country. This tour allowed the apprentice to master certain techniques of the trade from the expertise of regional artisans.

The spirit of the "tour de France" is one of perseverance, cooperation, and solidarity, as the regions of France, not Paris, become the center of attention. This interest in regional culture and what it has to teach us is the cornerstone of this course. In a figurative sense, the term "tour de France" is a notion through which we can gain a better understanding of regional history and culture and how local culture fits into a national framework. In a literal sense, it is a means by which we will learn about local culture by bicycling through the backroads of southwestern France. By studying firsthand the richness and diversity of the Languedoc region of France, we aim to dispel the common myth of a highly centralized French history, culture and language that simply evolves around Paris.

The Languedoc is a region well known for its autonomy and independence. In the Middle Ages, kings of France had little influence south of the Loire valley, and for centuries, the Counts of Toulouse (capital of the Languedoc) refused to recognize the sovereignty of the monarchy. In addition to the dissemination of political power among a number of local barons and seigneurs, the Roman Catholic religion had trouble asserting its authority in the Languedoc region. From the 10th to 14th centuries, the medieval Christian religion known as Catharism flourished in this region until the Roman Catholic Church called for a crusade against the Occitaine overlords who were seen as the protectors of the heretics. This autonomy of the cities of the region (we will visit La Cité, the largest walled medieval city in existence today) led to a spectacular development in the arts. Troubadours wrote poems in the local language of Occitania ("langue d'oc") and architectural monuments sprung up around the countryside. Our understanding, therefore, of the history and culture of Languedoc will be aided by visits to these monuments as we bike through and learn about the history and people of the Languedoc.

The historical background will also contribute to our understanding of contemporary society and culture of Languedoc. Our biking excursion will take us to places that highlight the distinctness of the region and local customs. We will visit a local organic market and learn about health and nutrition. We will visit an old fishing village built in concentric circles around the ruins of the 13th century Barbarossa tower. We will stay in a village that was the one-time home of the 18th century playwright Molière and view one of his plays in a local theater. And, of course, our bike excursion will allow us to stop along the way to meet and talk with the people of the region. As a group cycling through France, we will partake in the spirit of the "tour de France" as we work together through a rigorous regime of cycling and learning.

Explore Languedoc from the mountains to the Mediterranean as you cycle through the picturesque and sunny south of France. Discover the mystery of the Cathars, a medieval Christian sect that emerged in the middle of the 10th century and flourished in Occitania for about 300 years. Visit remote mountaintop castles, ornate abbeys, and the majestic La Cite of Carcassonne, the largest walled medieval city in existence today. Our hidden roads take you along the peaceful Canal du Midi and through the breathtaking scenery of the Gorges d'Heric.

Riding distances average from 40 to 80 kilometers (25 to 38 miles) a day. While the cycling on this tour is generally moderate, several days include mountainous climbs with spectacular views. There are a couple of rest days (from biking) with possible sightseeing or hiking trips available.