This small city is oozing with history and charm and makes an ideal destination for an affordable weekend break as Anna McKittrick found out
When thinking of an escape to the south of France, Languedoc- Roussillon doesn’t always spring to mind up against the big hitters of the Riviera. But in actual fact it offers visitors plenty to see and do and is surprisingly good value for money. With this in mind we decided to opt for a short break in B�ziers, a small city in the H�rault department midway between Montpellier and Perpignan and just inland from the Mediterranean. It’s often overlooked by its larger neighbours but without reason as it is a worthy destination in its own right. With the Spanish border only 90 miles away, the influences this has on the area are clear from the outset. The F�ria de B�ziers bullfight, based on the Spanish corrida, takes place in August every year and attracts a million visitors over the 5-day event.
During the rest of the year, B�ziers is relatively quiet and ideal if you want to avoid hordes of tourists. And, with an average of 267 days of sunshine per year, Languedoc-Roussillon is perfect for year-round short breaks.
After a leisurely breakfast we were fully fuelled and raring to discover what the city had to offer. B�ziers is steeped in history and our first port of call was the fortified Cath�drale St- Nazaire situated on a hill overlooking the city with dramatic views out to the sprawling vineyards and the River Orb below.
The beautiful Romanesque-style cathedral, which dates back to the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, witnessed terrible bloodshed during the crusades that took place in 1209 and led to the massacre of 20,000 inhabitants, many of whom had been taking refuge in the cathedral. It’s hard to imagine that such carnage took place as the streets of the medieval part of the city are so peaceful. We meandered back to the city centre discovering the fa�ades of private mansions with their hidden courtyards and sumptuous spiral stairways along the way.
After a spot of d�gustation at the wine festival we headed to the market hall to sample some of the regional food specialities. Strolling round taking in the sights and smells really worked up an appetite. You can also dine in the market so thankfully our growling bellies didn’t have to wait too long. The informal setting of La Gargote des Halles might fool some into thinking it’s only simple fare but the meal, a seafood platter with a rich aioli followed by a cassoulet, was delicious and proved to be anything but basic. It truly was the perfect way to round off our short break.
DISCOVER…the local iconsAs B�ziers is the wine capital of Languedoc, it would be wrong to visit without an obligatory d�gustation. Every October, the grape harvest festival takes place to celebrate the new vintages, which luckily happened to be in full swing when we arrived. A party atmosphere prevailed down the tree-lined All�es Paul Riquet with stall after stall offering red, ros� and white varieties that we were more than happy to sample. Another must-see when visiting the region is the UNESCO World Heritage Canal du Midi, which links the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The picturesque canal was built by Paul Riquet in 1666 and marked a period of prosperity for the region. Today a statue of him takes pride of place on the street which bears his name.
STAY…on a shoestringB�ziers is a good-sized city for exploring on foot and the charming H�tel des Po�tes makes an ideal base. The two-star hotel is quirkily modern without being cold and has pretty views out to the Parc des Po�tes opposite. The friendly staff and cosy d�cor make the hotel seem far from a budget option but with room rates starting from €45 (�41.79) excluding breakfast it offers excellent value for money. 80 all�es Paul Riquet, 34000 B�ziers Tel: 00 33 (0)4 67 76 38 66 www.hoteldespoetes.net
TASTE….something newFor a break from French cuisine, Le Chameau Ivre wine and tapas bar is a delightful option, which gives a nod to the Spanish influences in the area. The wine cellar boasts 3,500 varieties with a large number produced locally in Languedoc-Roussillon. Even at the end of October we were able to sit outside to soak up the ambiance and people watch. It was definitely the place to be seen on a Friday night and was full to the brim with locals – always a good sign that you’ve made a wise choice. Le Chameau Ivre 15 place Jean Jaur�s, 34500 B�ziers Tel: 00 33 (0)4 67 80 20 20
Fact FileAnna travelled to B�ziers with Ryanair. Since March 2008 budget airline Ryanair has been flying to Beziers-Cap d’Agde airport from London Stansted and Bristol and in October London Luton was added to the schedule.