Beziers is close to the coast and the beach. Inland lie the mountains and lakes of the 'Haute Languedoc Regional Park' to the north and the wild Corbières to the south, both good for exploring and walking. Throughout the year, there are concerts and theatrical events taking place in and around Beziers.
Situated on the banks of the river Orb, Beziers has a wine history that dates from Greek and Roman times, when it was an important halt on the Roman road 'La voie Domitienne' linking Italy to Spain. During the Middle Ages the town was besieged by the Cathar crusaders where Simon de Montfort declared "Kill them all, God will recognise his own". Throughout the XVII and XVIII centuries Beziers prospered from the wine trade. The 'Arenes' (now known for the 'Feria' - bullfights) is also from this period, designed initially as an Opera house with the help of Saint Saens.
This old city's pedestrian streets are well worth exploring. Hidden behind grandiose oak doors are the 'hotels particulars,' with their intricate staircases and secret courtyards built in the 17th and 18th centuries. To gain access to these hotels, take a tourist office guided tour of the city.
The huge 18th Century square, the Place de la Comédie, is the heart if the city. Sometimes known as l'œuf, owing to its egg-shaped central roundabout around which traffic once circulated until it was pedestrianised, it is the most lively part of town.
The Arc de Triumph was built in honour of Louis XIV in 1691 by Daviler upon the site of Western city side medieval gate. Medallions depict important events during the king's reign. On the city side, you see the Canal du Midi connecting the Ocean and the Mediterranean and the revocation of the Edict of Nantes which outlawed Protestantism.
During the 60's the city experienced a 35% growth in population with the arrival of the Pieds Noir (the French forced to leave Algeria). The city has since established a firm economic and cultural footing.
Carcassonne is located at the crossroads of two main circulation routes used since Ancient times, the east-west axis runs from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, and the north-south axis joins the Massif Central to Spain. The Medieval city is the largest fortified town in Europe still in existence. It is composed of two gigantic ramparts each flanked by 26 towers, stretching over a length of almost 3 km.
From the Ville Basse (Lower Town) to the Ville Haute (Upper Town) you can see the remains of over 2000 years of history, left successively by the Romans, Visigoths, Sarrasins and other crusaders. The town enjoyed exceptional influence during the Trencavel dynasty (from 1089 to 1209), and it was during this period that Catharism developed. Mandatory visits include : the Château Comtal and it Musée Lapidaire, the Basilique Saint Nazaire the Portes Narbonnaises, and the Tour du Tréseau.
The Ville Basse (Lower Town) was created after the crusades on the left bank of the Aude, based on a grid lay-out which is still perfectly visible today. Its bustling shopping streets, its squares and private mansions are also worth a visit. Carcassonne is one of the finest Walled Cities in the world and is a World Heritage Site. It becomes very busy at peak times.
The Canal du Midi brushes also goes throough Carcasonne on it's way from Toulouse to Sete.
In the southern Cévennes, the Montagne Noire rises progressively by stages to tower over the Aude plain at its culminating point, the Pic du Nore (1210 m.). The Montagne Noire regional park of the Haut-Languedoc is situated between the Tarn and the Hérault departments. It is marked by the diversity of vegetation due to influences from the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. In only a few miles, you can observe completely different vegetation and completely different climatic influences. In the Orb valley, you have a Mediterranean influence that makes the mimosa bloom. A few miles west, due to a more wet climate influenced by the Atlantic Ocean, beech trees and epiceas are growing.
Swimming is possible in a number of mountain lakes, the two
closest being at Pradelle and Lac du Montagne. Le Lac de Pradelles located at
about 15kms from Mazamet, provides swimming, tennis courts, pedal boats,
fantastic mountain air and stunning views yet incredibly peaceful and completely
Set above Pradelle is the "Le Pic de Nore", 4000 feet high, offering a panoramic view over Carcassonne's plain, and in the distance, to the Pyrenees.
Perpignan lies about 1 ¼ hours away from Colombiers and has many attractive features not least being the Old Town, paved with red Marble and who's small streets are crammed with shops and stalls.
It used to be the Capital of Catalonia which has left it with a distinctly Spanish overtones. It is a busy City not only from its own population but with the many visitors from the nearby beaches such as Canet Plage.
The main streets are lined with plane trees and palms, particularly those beside the small river Basse. During high days and holidays dancers in Traditional Costume dance the Sardanas in the street.
It is worth visiting the 'Palais des Rois de Majorque' which is more like a
fortress set on top of a small hill a few streets away from the old Quarter.
There are excellent views from the roof of the entrance tower over the town to
the Massif de Canigou.
This small Roman City is full of history from the flat grey stones of the Via Domitia (a 250 km Roman Road that was built from Beaucaire to Le Perthus in the pyrenees) to the Canal de la Robine that runs through the centre.
The 12th Century Cathedral is set up high and is impossible to miss being clearly visible no matter which direction you approach the town. There is a lot to see including the Cathedral, the stone museum, an extraordinary underground Roman storehouse (L'Horreum) and the Archbishop's Palace. The Town centre is compact but allow for plenty of time if you wish to do justice to all the sights! The centre is split by the Canal du Robine, an offshhot of the Canal du Midi which makes for attractive walks.
This ancient little town is spread along the banks of the river Herault 3 kms before it reaches the sea. It was developed by the ancient Greeks in 500 bc but silting of the river has meant that only pleasure craft and small fishing vessels can use it's moorings and narrow quays. Many of it's older buildings are made from local black basalt giving its local nickname of 'La Ville Noire'! It has also been called the Black Pearl. The use of Granite is especially visible in the rather dour Cathedrale which can be seen from a significant distance! The river exits into the sea at the Grau D'Agde a mile or so away.
The Old town is pretty and has some attractive shopping streets worth an hour or so of anyone’s time.
The main road houses a tree lined Pedestrian Avenue which often holds markets of bric a brac etc while some attractive fountains add to the feeling of the town.
One of the large buildings off a small central square has been painted and camouflaged so effectively it is difficult to see what is real building and what is paint!
As well as the town itself, there is the Cathedrale St.-Etienne and the Musee Agathois Espace Molieres to visit. During the summer time Agde (like it's neighbour Sete) has jousting competitions (Joutes Nautique) on the river which make for interesting viewing.
There are plenty of places to eat out and many of these restaurants look out onto narrow riverside terraces where you can watch the bustle of the river as you dine!
Agde is also the last port of call on the Canal du Midi before it runs into the Bassin de Thau (pronounced Toe) although the last port before the Mediterranean proper is Sete at the other end of the Bassin.
A purpose built modern town with broad avenues bordered by gardens of colourful Oleanders lead to pink and ochre villa and apartments beside a large marina and 14 km of beaches. Also well known for its nudist enclave and beaches (The Quartier Naturiste) - but you don't have to visit these if you don't wish to!
Cap D'agde is a 'Kid' resort which recognises the quality and quantity of things available for children in the main holiday season. It also has a large aquarium that is worth a visit and a 10 acre aquatic leisure park called Aqualand with wave pools and water slides for the adventurous.
The Bassin de Thau
The Bassin de Thau is another of the salt water lakes (etangs) that line parts of the Languedoc Rousillon coastline. It is contained by a 20 km sand bar which runs from Cap D'Agde, through Marseillan Plage (The old town of Marseillan on the inner shore of the Bassin is the homeplace of Noilly Prat - a well known French Apperitif made from local wines) all the way to Sete. The Bassin de Thau is famous for it's shellfish industry - particularly it's Huitres de Bouzique (Oysters!). The water is highly protected from pollution so the shellfish need very little cleaning before eating.
At the Mediterranean end of the Canal du Midi is France’s largest Mediterranean port after Marseille and the Languedoc’s leading fishing port, mainly sardines and tuna. Sète is also the oldest and most interesting of the local seaside towns having been developed significantly over the last 300 years starting with the completion of the Canal du Midi .
The road from Béziers skirts Agde on one side and Cap’dAgde on the other then runs parallel to the Mediterranean and an enormous beach that stretches some 7/8 miles along to Sete – this is an amazing stretch of beautiful sand and attracts people all year round who park along the seaward side of the road (in their droves in Peak Time!). Although you can’t easily see it, the Basin du Thau is on the inland side of the land to your left and is famous for its Oysters, Mussels and Whelks.
As you come to Sete you should turn right at the new roundabout following the signs for the Corniche which takes you around the coast that follows the Eastern base of Mont St. Clair upon the flanks of which the old town is set. The first part of Sete you will see is all new flats, apartment and is very holiday orientated but bear with it!
As you get further around the Corniche there is some modern, open parking on your right - obviously with good view out to sea as the road is quite high up here – if you don’t fancy little town centre roads it might be best to park here and walk down to the port – perhaps a quarter of a mile – if you are made of sterner stuff, continue down the steep slope until you come to the fishing port and the rest of the old town.
At the roundabout take the second exit, not along to the lighthouse which guards the main entrance from the sea but down onto the quayside then back up into the old town. From here on, many of the roads are one way only.
When you arrive next to the quay alongside the river (on your right) continue on for a hundred yards or so then filter right down into the traffic light controlled underground (and under river!) car park. Make your way back upstairs and enjoy the visit! Next to this entrance is where the bright red/orange water bus is moored that can take you for a trip around the waterways.
The old town has attractive streets with a good mix of shops, a couple of pleasant squares and a mature park.
The view from the upper end of some of the old streets gives vertiginous views down to the quays. Be prepared to be tempted by the Patisseries, Epiceries and other small shops as you wander through the town.
Excellent outdoor fish restaurants and cafes line the canal banks where famous nautical jousts are held several times each summer.
Fishing boats, which are generally quite large and modern, moor up along the quays and some will sell parts of their catch directly onto the quayside – more for the tourists than serious buyers – as most drop their catch at the main Fishing quay a couple of hundred yards from the seaward side of the car park. When the fishing boats come in they attract a wheeling crowd of seabirds hoping for a free meal.
The further ‘inland’ you go, the more pleasure craft there are although there is a Marina along the quay that reaches out to where the lighthouse stands as well.
The old town seems like Venice as the broad waterways cross the Town and the old town has some attractive and upper-class architecture for all to enjoy. There are three main ‘canals which join the Sea to the Basin du Thau at the rear of the town but there are links between them. To the North West of the main ‘Canal’ mentioned above are the Commercial parts of the Town and alternative deeper waters that the more commercial shipping uses. The Road to Montpellier continues along the coast from this part of the town.
If you have the time (and the energy) consider walking up the Eastern flank of Mont St Clair to the large terrace as the views over the Town, the North Western Coast and (possibly) the Cevenne are supposed to be Marvellous. Visit the delightful Chapelle de Notre-Dame-de-la Salette behind the terrace while you are up there. On the Western Flank there is a similar viewpoint which looks South West across the Basin du Thau.
On your way out you will have to use a different exit from the Car park and make your way back up to the small roads that parallel the quayside where you originally came in then you can retrace you steps back to Béziers and Colombiers! If this is obviously going to be too time consuming, continue along the quayside to the next main road bridge and follow the signs around the inland side of Mont St Claire to Béziers or the Autoroute and avoid the rush as much as possible. The town on this side is initially more industrialised and you might need to follow your nose but at least you would be moving!
Old Sete is well worth a visit because it is a working town, not a tourist destination but be warned, in Peak Season the queues to get there can be very off-putting and parking can be a lottery. If you wish to go in Peak Season I’d suggest getting there very early!
Sete is also a very popular holiday resort with a swathe of holiday homes, apartments and hotels overlooking the beaches on the South Eastern facing parts of the Mont.
For 250 years Pezenas was the seat of the Governors of Languedoc and much of the grandure remains in the old town. It has a fine ensemble of 15th – 17th century houses, still largely intact, Moliere made his name as a playwright here. Visitors can explore the old quarter to view the finest of these buildings, on foot.
There various traditional events throughout the year and many shops are given over to craftsmen and artists so there is a lot to see.
Many shops in the pretty Historic Quarter are given over to craftsmen and artists so there is a lot to see. There is also a good choice of quality restaurants and cafés. It is touristy but classy and well worth the twenty mile trip – especially on a Saturday when there is a first class market. Get there early so you can get parked more easily!
This fascinating old hamlet built North East of Carcassone is set into
and on a
limestone cliff which dominates the vineyards of the Minervois that stretch for
miles below and produce some of the best Languedoc wine. There are ramparts and
11C church and small museum of pre-history to visit.
St. Guilhem le Desert
42 km N.W of Montpellier is another fascinating old village,
remote, historic and very picturesque, together with adjacent grottos well worth
Canal du Midi
Constructed 1666 by up to 12,000 men and women runs through the region and its 235 km and 100 locks link the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. It was created and funded by Paul Riquet, a tax farmer from Béziers. It is lined throughout its length by majestic plane trees which become a spectacular golden colour in the Autumn.
The towpaths offer superb cyling and walking opportunities and you can hire a boat or take a cruise between various centres from Sete to Carcassone.
A fine old village perched on the banks of the orb in the High Languedoc Regional Park. You can picnic on the sands or canoe on the river. Inland the river arrives through the Gorges d’Orb while downstream the river ends up at Béziers. It is only a 20/25 minute ride from Colombiers, the last 10/15 miles being in the foothills of the mountains – green and attractive without being too vertical for those of a nervous disposition.
It has a good enough micro-climate to enable a Mediterranean Garden to flourish on the terraced slopes at the top of the mountain backing the village. It’s a good climb to get up there and although the fee for entry is reasonable at 4.5 Euro per adult (August 05), some of the terraces appear pretty vertiginous so a good head for heights might be useful.
The weekly market is on Wednesday and there are a number of events that take place during the year, including a Mimosa Festival in February! Well worth a visit.
Lac de Salagou
This large Lake complex is North of Beziers near Clermont Herault – N9 then A75 - about an hour’s drive, but well worth if you like Watersports!
If you are in search of more mountains and scenery it is certainly feasible to reach the Cevennes North of Montpellier, The Black Mountain (La Montagne Noire) South West of Beziers or even the Pyrenees all of which can be reached in between an hour and a half or two hours.
A Trip into Spain is not beyond the bounds of possibility!