We wound our way out of Saint Remy and found that we were on a toll way for over 100 ks, so easy driving cruising at 130 ks per hour on an excellent road. We exited the toll road with about 20 ks to travel and before long we were in Pezenas. Again there is no easy way but to take your luggage by foot and walk as again we are in the Old Town with no vehicle access.
As in Saint Remy we love to stay in the Old Town so you walk out your door and are right in amongst the old buildings, shops and cafes. We don’t want to stay outside the village and have to drive and park at the Old Town every day, much better just to step out the front door and you are there. We wound our way through the Old Town dragging cases over cobblestones until we arrived in a narrow street with what looks like a two story enclosed walkway over the laneway. This was our accommodation for the week…..a bridge! There is a door on street level so we entered and climbed a spiral staircase to the apartment. The apartment was quite spacious and modern with windows looking up the laneway. We are certainly in the middle of the old town action as we look out the window as tour group walks underneath us. A great find!
Pezenas Old Town is a lot bigger than we thought, it is split down the middle by a road that has a wide promenades on either side. The buildings are four stories high and of course are classic French in appearance. It is possible to drive down here but parking is only short term and seems to be used mostly by locals. There are two fountains one a very big fountain at the end of the road that is used as a roundabout after which the road narrows and exits onto the ring road.
The side we are staying on has laneways leading off this central road and this is where all the great shops and little boutique cafes and restaurants are. The laneways are very narrow with quite rough cobblestones and the tall buildings (four stories high) can make some of these laneways dingy but beautiful in their own right. The shops are very artistic and some have small frontages but can widen and go back a surprisingly long way. Some of the more artistic shops are selling wares that can be very inventive and amazingly individual, the likes of which we don’t see in Australia, and if we do certainly not all congregated together in the one town. A lot of the buildings here seem to be 15th century and possibly earlier. Some of the buildings with a historical significance have plaques on the outside explaining that significance.
From Pezenas we visited:
*Le Cap d’ Agde is the biggest holiday resort in France on the beautiful Mediterranean Coast. It is a short drive of 30 minutes from Pezenas. The harbour front is a huge boardwalk for about one kilometre with boats, some cruisers but mostly yachts tied to jetties that extend out from the boardwalk. Fronting this is mostly cafes and restaurants, most would have over 100 tables all trying to face them towards the sea. A friendly waiter provided us with a map and directions to find the beach. We followed the map and found the swimming beach, a wide sandy beach, not very big but hey it’s on the Mediterranean and very pretty. The water looked very inviting but perhaps a little cool to Aussies used to warmer water !
*Twenty minutes further on we are at Sete, a town that looks very much like Venice, a lot of old buildings on a big wide canal, again with lots of restaurants overlooking the canal. There are a lot of bridges over the canal so we walked one side admiring the beautiful buildings and the boats moored in the canal. Delightful !
*Montpellier - Montpellier is a big city and it had been recommended to us not to drive into the city but to use one of the park and rides to access the city central. Tickets on the light rail purchased, not easy but helped by an English speaking local, another English speaking man explained which is the best station to get off and where to go to see the Historic Town. After a fifteen minute tramcar ride we alighted at central Montpellier. We stepped off the platform and we were in a huge paved town square of very grand proportions, two big fountains at either end and big classic French buildings surround the square. Even though we had a map and from time to time checked where we were, the only way to see these historic parts of these big cities is to just wander up narrow laneways, down here, up there and you will be amazed at what you find and see. Fuchs Boulevarde is all about designer label clothes and expensive jewellery, beautifully presented shops in classic French buildings with topiary trees and pots line the boulevard. At the end of this and past another grand monument is the aqueduct built in 1765 that was used to supply the water to Montpellier. The architect who designed and built this was inspired by the Pont du Gard and its likeness was uncanny, we had only visited the Pont du Gard last week.
* Carcassonne - a UNESCO World Heritage site. Plenty of parking here and the access is easy. The first view of this medieval walled city completely takes your breath away. We have never seen a more complete and wonderful Castle and walled city. We spent the next two hours walking the ramparts, climbing stairs, some are very steep, others are spiral as we climbed and descended towers and chambers that are frequently dotted along the wall. The views outside the walls over Carcassonne are stunning. Lunch was beckoning so we decided try the local dish of the Languedeoc - Cassoulet. Café Le Trouvere is very French looking and has Cassoulet on the menu, we opted for a table inside as the weather was a little cool and you avoid the smokers. Eventually our meal arrived and it was served in a casserole dish full of beans with a ducks leg and huge pork sausage sitting on top. We both looked at each other and laughed as neither of us had any pre vision of what this dish would look like. We both had a good shot at eating it, and it was truly delicious, but the size of the dish beat us both.
* Another Unesco World Heritage site…Saint Guilhem-le-Desert about a 45 minute drive from Pezenas. Its Abbey is Unesco listed. It is located high in a valley near a river with rapids where white water rafting is done. A short walk from the carpark and we turned down a shortish road that opened out into a large town square. The centre of the square had a fountain and an extremely large Plane tree that is 170 years old! The square is surrounded by beautifully maintained 2 story buildings and in a corner is the Abbey. Underneath the Plane tree are the mandatory tables that are served from different restaurants with the kitchens all about twenty metres away from the tables. The Abbey is superbly restored and maintained and is a significant piece of French history but quite bare, just towering stone walls. Some the Abbey’s sculptures are in “Cloisters Museum” in New York, I am not sure why or whether this is good or bad, but I think those artefacts would be better back in Guilhem. From the Abbey there is one narrow laneway that splits into two halfway down the hill towards the river with houses and shops on either side. Behind the Abbey is a large low-walled garden beautifully cared for, full of grapes, vegies and the mandatory roses that are always planted with grapes. There are some side lanes but very few as we are walking down the hill towards the river, with very steep hills behind the buildings on either side of the laneway. We are in actual fact walking down a gently sloping ravine to the river. The buildings are very old with half circle terra cotta roofs, most of the houses have flowering pots usually at their entrances, some have small gardens with terraces but there is one thing in common they are all beautifully maintained. A delightful place !
Recommended restaurants in Pezenas: Pomme d’ Amour
Photos can be seen here:
To be continued
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Part 2 -Five Weeks in France - September 2015