Just a few minutes farther down the track from Montpellier is the canal-laced 17th-century fishing village of Sète. Don't expect Venice, but the canals are busy with small craft and lined with pastel buildings and interesting shops selling all kinds of boating gear and hardware. Here, you may escort your dinner of fresh oysters and sea bass as they are delivered by the incoming fishermen to the score of restaurants lined up along the quay. A fragrant open market with a variety of regional products like olives and herb-coated sausage, country terrines, and tiny crust-roasted legs of lamb is a rustic pique-nique treasury before a trip to the nearby sandy beaches. However, like most French seaside resorts, Sète is probably best sidestepped in July and August. In that period, instead, consider a slow drive from Montpellier through the less-congested Languedoc area, which is studded with picturesque fortified castles, now time-worn, and on to Carcassone or Albi, both of which are accessible by car or train.

The Languedoc gave the world the sumptuous dish known as cassoulet - white beans, preserved goose or duck, pork, lamb, sausage, maybe a partridge in season, all cooked together slowly until the aroma and flavor can wait no longer - and they now produce about one-third of all French wine. Some of it, like Corbières or Minérvois, is of increasingly good quality. A sweet dessert muscat wine from here, called Frontignan, was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson.

And speaking of wine, you can be whisked away to Bordeaux in about four hours by catching one of the seven daily trains from CDG. From there, the region's storied vine­yards - St. Emilion, Pauillac, Médoc, Sauternes, to name only a few much-admired appellations - are just a short drive away.