Travel: Indian Summer in Béziers, France

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Travel to Béziers France

When I breezed into Béziers, a small town in the South of France, I had no idea of its history or even its geography. So full of Paris and its history, I wanted to discover some other parts of France, at my leisure and without preconceptions.   

Our guide, Simon, who soon becomes a good friend as we exchange notes on the history of the region and music, is a true-blooded Biterrois (as people in Béziers is known for), though his heart is set in Sète, the port town along the Mediterranean Sea, about forty kilometers away.  I am all set to explore this quaint commune in Occitanie, in the south west of France, with its capital at Toulouse. 

With me is my old friend from college, Snigdha. Another old college friend Arindam, a resident of France now for a quarter of a century, has already organized train tickets but you can do that with time on hand once you land in Paris. There are various other options such as the French Riviera, which is located more on the eastern side.   

Compared to Paris, where temperatures in September hit 34 centigrade, it felt nice and breezy here. The moment the train reached, after a four-hour journey, mostly through the countryside, my heart leaped and I knew that this is what travel does. It makes you want to live again when your soul sometimes goes combust.  

The houses resemble small and big villas; some parts even bearing a resemblance to south Goa. We are at Summer Paradise, a lovely property owned by a lovely lady called Natalie. It has a swimming pool but with the sea nearby, who needs a pool? Unfortunately we could not do justice to the seaside though Simon was ever willing to take us wherever we wanted to and whenever we wished to. The first glimpse of the bluest of the blue Mediterranean Sea and the beach comprising the last of the summer bathers getting that lovely even tan was tempting but we settled for an inland adventure.     

The first glimpse of the blue Mediterranean Sea.

There are two rooms with a kitchen at our cottage; with all amenities intact. We shop for groceries at a local store thinking of a salad for dinner; a bottle of the customary red wine is but mandatory. After all, we are close to the wine producing region of Bordeaux.  

As we drive around the next day, a weekend, we observe a languid town, with a city square that has a theatre hall, open street cafes and boutiques. The architecture is predominantly Roman; understandably, as the location was on the road that linked Provence with Iberia. The moors also set their footprints during the eight century. History also has it that Béziers was the first place to be attacked by the crusaders who burnt down the Romanesque cathedral of Saint Nazaire. It makes you sad that throughout history, places of worship are vandalised. 

You are soon cheered up as the Basilica on a steep slope accessed by wide stairs (and two elevators as well) is a magnificent structure rebuilt in the 13th century. It offers a spectacular view of the town from the top. This commune of canals and stone bridges takes you back in time and space. The Cathedral is very popular with tourists and the open courtyard resonates with the feel of a peaceful abbey. A short video presentation in an antechamber succinctly captures the history of this Catholic church.  

There is another attraction. The Canal du Midi is an engineering marvel of the 19th century. The Canal consists of nine-stair locks, which are mechanically parted to let a ship to pass but not before the water is leveled out for the vessel to sail. Known as the 9 ecluses de Fonseranes it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. What resembled a Roman aqueduct is the Pont Vieux between the city and Fonseranes.

The colourful town square.

The grand arcade in the city provides a wide boulevard to walk and observe the trees slowly change colour as the leaves are starting to shed, welcoming Fall. A series of beautiful musical fountains interspersed with red and white flowers sculpted in crystal to be replaced with winter flowers coinciding with Christmas, provide an artistic canvas.   

Just footloose in the town; stopping for a sandwich or coffee at a side café and window shopping for getting an indication of the latest fashion colours (remember, France or specifically Paris is where the latest trends are kicked off) does provide an unhurried, if not unique holiday. 

We drop in small shops run by local artists. Bumping into local artists, observing some street art and some lovely houses on beautiful streets – the names of which we do not wish to know – Snigdha and I simply cannot stop hi-fiving, to the amusement of Simon. 

So is Béziers worth doing? Most definitely if you club it with some more sights nearby but as a literary fiend I like to compare quiet places to poetry. You have to punctuate your hyperactivity of to-do lists, with the silence of seeing something different and beautiful. As in the words of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda below. 

 I like you when you are silent because it is as though you are absent. 

Distant and painful as if you had died.

 A word then, a smile is enough. 

And I am happy, happy that it is not true.

Béziers fulfills this expectation and instills a longing to return. Tomorrow we drive to Sète, the town port close to Monpellier.    

 

Images used in this article are by the author.

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