We had our second Pfizer vaccination two weeks ago so with a promised effectiveness of 94.6% against Covid-19 we felt comfortable in getting back to our favorite pastime: travel. After all we moved to Carcassonne to have easy rail access to the rest of France and into the neighboring countries. While we wait for border crossing restrictions to be eased it made sense to stay within the “Hexagone” as this 6-sided land is often called. With several direct trains a day and a journey time of only 44 minutes, a visit to Béziers seemed reasonable. Classed as one of the oldest cities in the country, from at least 675 BC, it was time to head to within 12 km (7.5 miles) of the Mediterranean Sea to discover what 2700 years of history has to offer.
With that much history to experience it made sense to start with the ruins of a Roman amphitheater that was able to seat 15,000 spectators two thousand years ago. Over time, it has been partially dismantled with the stones being reused for other buildings, especially St. Jacques church, but we could still clearly see columns, bleachers, and exits from the original structure.
Keeping with that theme, our next stop was at the highest point in the city, site of a Roman temple now occupied by the Cathedral St. Nazaire begun shortly after 1209 when the church that was there was burned in a campaign against the Cathars. Inside we saw several 14th century frescoes and the towering organ built in 1625. We exited through the unfinished cloister that normally gives you easy access to the Bishop’s Garden laid out in traditional French style just before the Revolution of 1789. It overlooks the valley below with its river and canal and the Minervois hills as a backdrop. Because of construction work, access to the garden was blocked but not the view from the nearby walkway.
We continued our descent to get a closer look at the Old Bridge (Pont Vieux; today’s cover photo) that’s been in use since at least 1134 having been built on Roman foundations. But that’s not the only notable structure crossing the Orb river. The Canal-du-Midi that has run near and then through Carcassonne for 350 years does the same in Béziers except a bit differently for part of the way: via bridge. The Pont-Canal sur l’Orb built in an aqueduct-style in 1858 gives boats easy passage over the river below that sometimes has an insufficient depth for floating.
With the river safely crossed barges soon confront another challenge from the canal itself; descending a height difference of 21 meters (69 feet). Bézier’s native son Pierre-Paul Riquet devised a series of 9 locks and 8 basins (Les Ecluses de Fonseranes) to allow passage over a distance of 300 meters (984 feet) that has been a tourist attraction since it began operation in 1680.
That native son’s name appears prominently a mile (1.6 km) from there on the Allées Paul Riquet, a wide, tree-lined boulevard said to connect the old city with the new. It was a great place to walk and especially important at the current time, to find bars and restaurants with ample outdoor terraces for service. Not far from there we visited another establishment well-known for food in many cities across France, Les Halles, the covered market. The official Béziers website says it best, “bakers, pastry cooks, cheese makers, butchers, caterers, fishmongers, greengrocers, poulterers, delicatessens and organic food stores, bars, cafés, wine merchants…”
For a birthday splurge, we stayed in a mansion, La Villa Guy, that sits within its own well-manicured 1 hectare (2.5 acre) garden classed as a national monument. The view from our balcony (included in the gallery of other Béziers photos) was sublime and I’ll put a link to their website below.
On our walk back to the train station on Friday morning we were treated to the colorful flower market that’s held along the Allées Paul Riquet that day each week. Conveniently that led us to the park Plateau des Poètes created in 1867 to pleasantly link this part of the city to the station. On the short ride home we talked about the success of this first post-vaccination trip and began planning our next excursion.
Tip: We didn’t realize that Béziers is so hilly so be prepared for lots of ups and downs. Because we had to wear masks everywhere, all that huffing and puffing provided the perfect test for the shave cream anti-fog trick. Bill put a light coating of shave cream/gel on both sides of our sunglass lenses, gently wiped it off with a soft cloth, and finished with the polishing cloth that came with the glasses. No fog!
City of Béziers: https://www.ville-beziers.fr/
Béziers Tourism: https://www.beziers-mediterranee.com/
La Villa Guy: https://lavillaguy.com/