Starting at BEZIERS.... probably already know by many as the point of starting the torture of a holiday on the "Canal du Midi" in the rented houseboat.
Undoubtedly an adventure, it is best to choose carefully the timing of your holiday, if you can. The Canal is most agreeable - always assuming you can navigate it, not always the case in the height of the season, and you could end up spending more time queuing up at one of the numerous "locks" than actually carefree drifting!
Another suggestion is that you don't really have to clean the bicycles that come with the houseboats...although that's what I always remark - every year!
Hundreds of Tourists all cleaning the bikes...in the baking heat...!
Here is a little bit about the Ancient town of Beziers.....
Old centre of the "Cathar" stories and histories, it is also noted nowadays for its famous "Feria de Beziers" from which you can deduce that "Tauromachie" (the "sport" of Bullfighting) is practiced here and is a large part of the Cities life. The "Feria" (both of Beziers and Nimes) are in fact most informative and agreeable - if you only take the events around the Arenas. I personally am not a great fan or supporter of what goes on INSIDE the arenas, but it is local tradition, and as such has to be accepted.
Around the Arenas you will find all sorts of events going on, mainly dealing with customs, tradition, art, music of the immediate area or dealing with Tauromachie.
Spain and Spanish things are obviously represented in many things, particularly in the Restaurant menus and snacks served. The Spanish Border is quite close to Beziers in any case, so many traditions come directly from there, and a large percentage of the population ARE Spanish!
Strange fact is that on this trip, we will be passing through a whole area of Southern France which, for some reason or other does NOT have any links to Bulls and Tauromachie, planted within the centre of a Region which almost survives from it!
Between Pezenas and beyond Montpellier, there are no Arenas, no bull fighting, no Tradition of Tauromachie. I have never been able to find anyone who could explain this to me.
Then, just after Montpellier, it all starts up again with every village, small or large, having their own Arenas, mainly with the "sport" called "Jeux Provençale" and rarely the "Mis au Mort" of the bulls being practiced.Just make sure WHAT you're paying to go to see before you actually go...the "Corrida" with the killing of the bulls is not to everyone's taste!
Beziers was the birthplace of Pierre-Paul Riquet - the creator of the Canal du Midi - who never actually saw it completed - he died before the final opening.
It was also the birthplace of "Jean Moulin" a famous French Resistance fighter in the 2nd World War.
Beziers is worth a visit even outside the Feria or tourist seasons, it has a good market and market halls which (for some reason or other) always had my personal favourite item available, fresh - Lamb's tongue - so I was always able to stock up, sometimes only going to Beziers for that and the other item they always seemed to have, the whole fish called "Bonito" (a member of the Tunny family, but considerably smaller and cheaper)..but probably even more tasty and succulent than the larger versions.
From Bziers, we'll take the main road - direction Montpellie, and we'll pass by the signs to the airport "Bezier/Cap d'Agde" - We'll even pass by Cap d'Agde itself, an uninteresting place full of some hundreds of thousands of Tourists - all naked...! The Cap d'Agde is the largest naturist place in Europe! Can you imagine that in the 60's, these very beaches were shared by naturists and British Soldiers on "rest & recreation"........! A very volatile mixture....
Before that, the same beaches had been "internement camps" for Spanish refugees from the Spanish Civil War...! A very agitated history, and probably even more agitated now!
The only place worth visiting along that coastway is in fact the other part of Agde - the town of Agde, and the "Grau d'Agde" both are worth visits for the beaches, the river Herault (the "Grau" is where it enters the sea) for the town and for the Restaurants with their specialities.
Of course the area we are in and travelling through is mainly agricultural and Touristic, the largest wine producing area in France and Europe, with some famous names.
All of the villages welcome you to free tastings and events, and the advantage is that the wines are not only good to excellent, but are cheap! You'll need to drink them without too much transportation, and if you bring some back with you, make sure you allow it to "repose" as long as possible, but at least for a couple of months. You will not be disappointed!
This is also the home of the wonderful "vins de sable" - particularly good the Rosé du Sable, pale in colour and so delicious, nicely chilled, as an aperitif...
Passing by the naked truths therefore, we approach the town or rather "largish village" of .....
PézenasBirthplace of the French master and fable...."Molière" - the French version of the English Shakespeare, and - frankly, about the only interesting thing about Pézenas...!
The British Soldier, General and hero....Lord Clive of India lived here for a while, together with his Indian attendants, and is reputed to have introduced the locals to what has become the famous speciality... "petit pâté de Pézenas" - a savoury but also sweet pastry.
Pezenas is worth a visit, but not for too long.....!
From here, we carry on up the National or "D" roads 112/113, and this is now Tauromachie free country, solid vineyards left and right, passing villages with names such as "Villeveyrac", where Europe's biggest "Cave Cooperative" can be visited, and enter the town of Meze, where I lived for a number of years.
This village is placed on the "Bassin de Thau" an inland salt lake, connected to the sea by various channels. The view across the lake takes in the town of Sete opposite, and over the main product of the area - Mussels and oysters.
If you like mussels and oysters - or if you've never tasted them - here's the place to do it. They're cheap and good. Washed down in a local Restaurant with a bottle of chilled white "Picpoule" - delicious.
There is also a very good little inland beach area, safe for children, since the "etang" (the lake) is quite shallow and descends very slowly. A favourite for families, it is surrounded by the port and restaurants, and it's only in the height of August that there are problems parking. Otherwise you should have no problem
A walk around Meze will be interesting for you, and the Market is a busy little place, with all the local products on offer.
From Meze, it's just a couple of miles to the town of Marseillan, where the vermouth "Noilly Prat" is made, and up until a few years ago the Martini's of Italian fame were also produced, during a production problem in Milan...! Visits can be made and tastings done.
From Meze, at around 2 kilometres, the ancient village of Loupian can be visited, with it's old Roman church and excavations. This was my "home village" and this was my regular café for many years
There are many, many day outings to be done from Meze, with many famous names around, maybe sometime I'll come back to the region in another article and give you some "in-depth" tips....
Right now, we'll get back on the road and take off - direction Montpellier, but that's another story......
Image via Wikipedia
Montpellier.....Capital of the Region.....