The Midi-Pyrénées and Languedoc-Roussillon: Places to Explore

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Béziers

The Languedoc's wine capital, or capital du vin—crowds head here for tastings during the October wine harvest festival—and centerpiece of the Canal du Midi, Béziers owes its reputation to the genius of native son and royal salt-tax collector Pierre-Paul Riquet (that's his statue presiding over the Allées Paul Riquet). He was a visionary at a time when roads were in deplorable shape and grain was transported on the backs of mules, yet he died a pauper in 1680, a year before the canal into which he sank his fortune was completed (it was begun by the ancient Romans), revolutionizing commerce in the south of France. Few would have predicted much of a future for Béziers in July 1209, after Simon de Montfort, leader of the crusade against the Cathars, scored his first major victory here, massacring hundreds. Today the Canal du Midi hosts mainly pleasure cruisers, and Béziers sits serenely on its perch overlooking the distant Mediterranean and the foothills of the Cévennes Mountains. Early August sees the four-day féria—a festival with roots in Spain and replete with gory bullfighting (you've been warned).

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