Trapped in almost Paradise – Beziers

by Karen
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So after lots of research and contacting of sites to ensure they had space for our large RV, we set off on our move from Millau to Saint Pons de Thomieres Campsite, where we were planning on staying a week. We had a good drive though, a few smaller towns with their favourite chicanes and some wonderful mountains where we even managed to get above the odd cloud!

Unfortunately, it was not meant to be, the roads around the site were too small and we had to leave! The warden just shrugged his lack of care or interest, so perhaps we dodged a bullet here? We headed for our next planned stop, Aire de l’Espagnac in Portiragnes, just south of Beziers where we were going to be meeting a family friend and collecting a care package from England with our much-needed gravy and Weetabix!

Aire de l’Espagnac – Portiragnes

On arrival at the aire, Olivia managed to make some friends on our first evening who were local and were playing in the park, so it felt like it was meant to be. She played with these two girls many times during our stay and learnt some French from them too.

Olivia also made friends with a lovely English couple, they played table tennis and football with her, listened to her stories and we all had a nice laugh. They took a trip back to the UK leaving us to look after their plants and very kindly bought back some hay-fever medicine for Olivia. Just shows you can make friends with people of all ages.

It was a lovely site with chickens and peacocks wandering around, a small park, electricity, water and dump point but no toilet or shower facilities so we had to make use of the ones in the van. Meaning more strip washes than showers, as after two showers the tanks needed emptying which meant pulling the slides in, feet up drive to point, empty, drive back, re-level and push slides back out!

Les Neuf écluses de Fonserannes

We went to see the 9 locks of the Fonseranes, one part of a huge canal dug and opened in the 1670s that brought trade and money to Béziers. The original nine locks have been reduced to seven electrically operated locks, and the original canal has been diverted so that it crosses the river d’orb via an aqua duct, due to the regular difficulty of crossing the river during flood or drought.

On arriving at the locks we went to the reception and bought tickets to the 15 minute cinema, audioguide and an Alice in Wonderland treasure hunt.

We went straight into the cinema, to watch a movie which was really informative, kept Olivia engaged and gave a good overview of the building of the locks.

Cinema at the locks

We were very lucky and shortly after we started our walk down the hill some boats came through. It was brilliant to see the immense amount of water that was moved to allow the boats to traverse from the top to the bottom of the locks. Olivia found the whole thing very exciting and was always eager to get to the next lock to see the water rush out from the lock above.

As well as viewing the locks in operation, we took part in a treasure hunt across the site, which is meant for kids age 5 and up but stumped us and several other families! The final payoff was a small wooden mushroom with an address on it, which Olivia was very pleased to find!

It was a beautiful day out if a little windy given I had to fish George’s hat out of the canal! The marvellous engineering, power of the water, and the shared misery of grinding through the treasure hunt made it an experience to remember.

Walking around Béziers Old Town

We took a trip into the old town of Béziers. We looked around St Nazaire Cathedral, which was interesting because it was filled with painted art, as well as beautiful statues and stained glass windows. There was also a huge statue behind the altar that looked like something from Game of Thrones!

Olivia and I took the opportunity to climb the 168 steps to the top of the bell tower, which ended up having huge steps – but we were rewarded with a great view.

We also looked out from outside the cathedral and it was nice to see some of the places we had been, like the aqueduct and the 9 locks from previous days.

Afterwards, we walked around old town Béziers, and down to a park next to the river l’Orb, where Olivia had some fun playing in the small park and we saw a red squirrel hunting for nuts.

The buildings in the old town were very close together, with narrow streets that were impassable to all but the smallest cars. In some ways, it was nice to see, but it was also very downtrodden, with crumbling buildings, boarded up windows, graffiti and dog mess everywhere. It felt like we were in something of a slum at times!

Still, the park was nice, next to a weir and a building that presumably once housed water wheels. We found a lot of ant colonies and followed various trails of huge ants going to and from a food source. Eventually, we returned to the car park via a winding and steep staircase that exhausted all of us – and we were grateful to get back in the car and head back to the RV.

Parts of the old town are nice but it was not really our cup of tea.

Pont Vieux

Sightseeing in Béziers was a little difficult in the car! But to get to a few of the places we wanted to see the car was a must. We managed to get a good look at Pont Vieux. The Pont Vieux with the cathedral looming above it is beautiful. The bridge was first built in the 12th century to allow the crossing of the Orb. It remained for a very long time the only crossing point of the Orb on the way from Provence to Toulouse. It was improved in the 1500s and they must have done a good job in its construction since it is still in use today one way.

Orb Aqueduct

We wanted Olivia to see her first aqueduct and after seeing the locks this seemed like a great place to start. The Orb Aqueduct is one of the largest aqueducts in France and allows the Canal Du Midi to traverse the Orb River.  Built between 1854 and 1858, it allowed boats to bypass the dangerous Orb River.  It stretches 190 meters long and is 15 meters wide at its narrowest part.  Its height is 12 meters.

Unfortunately, it is a little tricky to get to with the car park next to it now closed. We found a place to park for a short while and took a walk along the river to take a look. We admired the architecture, though spoilt somewhat by the amount of rubbish and graffiti and explained to Olivia how it worked pointing out the walkway that runs along the top under the canal where people would have walked across the river. We then climbed the stairs to the top to find the canal de midi and show Olivia the water that rushes along the aqueduct which is still used today.

Cruising the Canal du Midi – Vias

We took a 2hr boat hire along the Canal du Midi. Due to the time and the low-speed limit, we didn’t see too much, but it was a good first try for Olivia and nice to plod along the (mostly) tree-lined canal, through the three-eyed bridge and to see the Ouvrage du Libron.

The Ouvrage du Libron is like a mobile aqueduct. The Libron river is at almost the same height as the canal and was diverted via a culvert under the canal. However, the Libron river is known to flood with meltwater, depositing silt and debris into the canal. The answer was to split the river in two and feed across two channels to the edge of the canal. There, a series of U shaped channels can slide across and create a bridge over the canal, allowing floodwater and silt to pass through, just over the canal du midi below. When a boat needed to navigate past the flooded river, sluice gates would block the first channel of the river, and the temporary aqueduct be slid back, allowing the boat to pass into the central rest area. Then the Libron would be rejoined behind the boat, and the next channel would be opened, allowing the boat to continue its journey onward.

Olivia had a good go at steering our little boat, which she really enjoyed, and we even tried a little fishing, but the canal current and the wind made it impossible to stay still long enough to get any bites. It was very sunny, but the breeze kept everyone cool enough to enjoy the trip. Next time we will try a long trip.

Plateau des poètes

We spent a very pleasant afternoon enjoying the Plateau des Poètes. A beautiful garden in the middle of Beziers, with a lake, ducks, park, waterfalls, statues of famous French poets and even a small fairground. Elegantly laid out, and very clean with staff walking around tidying and cleaning up, the ‘Poets’ provide a welcome respite from the busy tourist sites and a great place for little ones to play.  

Gaumont Comedie Cinema – Montpellier

One thing that we didn’t want to miss due to our trip was the premiere of Avengers: Endgame. We’ve watched all of the movies leading to this one shortly after they came out, and with a lot of planning, we found a VOST (original audio, French subtitles) showing in Montpellier! With Olivia (and Rainbow) dressed up as Captain Marvel, we squeezed ourselves into the old, small and beautiful cinema along with a packed evening house. The movie and atmosphere were great, even if it rained while we ran back to the car!

The comedie area was very interesting, with beautiful buildings and a giant play park for kids. Unfortunately, due to the time of day, we were unable to explore but we would like to return to Montpellier as some point.

Minerve and the Gorges du Brian

Minerve was picked out by all of us as a place we’d like to visit. The whole area is a strange geological mystery, but this small fortified village, built atop an island in a dry river is a real delight. The drive in along the sides of the Gorges du Brian gives great views of the old river.

You are not allowed to drive into the village but there is a good carpark with toilets to park in. You then have a smooth but steep walk down into the village. This grand site is based in the southern foothills of the Montagne Noire. It is marked by the presence of the medieval village of Minerva, especially known in Languedoc for its Cathar past. This almost natural fortress stands proudly on a rocky outcrop at the confluence of the two rivers Cesse and Brian. The village itself is nearly 1,000 years old, with narrow cobbled streets and buildings which lean out over perilous drops.

We stopped at a dog friendly little restaurant, sat out on a beautiful terrace with lovely views and enjoyed a pizza and pasta lunch.

The river bed is much harder to walk on than we expected, with a mixture of large rocks, pebbles and sand everywhere.

The surprise that caught us out was a series of large, naturally formed caves which duck under the roads. With the wind howling through parts of them, and completely still in others, you can imagine using them for shelter as a cro-magnon man. One of the caves contained many piles of rocks, so we put together a few ourselves to add to the collection – though on our return journey the wind had knocked some of them down.

Olivia said that these caves were like walking through a tunnel to a new world and sent her imagination into overdrive.

Walking along the river bed you could really see and imagine a massive river coursing along the gorge carving out these amazing rock formations. Especially helped by the placement of a large dead tree truck stuck sideways under an overhanging rock formation.

We found an area that still had a little stream so Olivia put on her water shoes (which we always carry) and had a little paddle, though it was a lot colder than she expected she had fun paddling around.

After a long hike in the sun, we made it back into the village, climbing the steep steps under the viaduct, and grabbed some well-deserved ice creams for the walk back to the car. This was an amazing place and one of the most beautiful villages I have seen. I would love to return when fitter so that we could explore more.

The beach at Portiragnes Plage

Our first trip to the beach on this trip! We took a drive to Portiragnes Plage 4 km from the old village of Portiragnes, the seaside resort of Portiragne Plage developed in the early 1960s. It has an ideal beach for families with its long stretches of thin sand that slide with a gentle slope into the Mediterranean. Perfect for doing nothing with beach chairs to rent, it is also perfect for practising water sports such as pedalos, stand up paddles or windsurfing.

Olivia had great fun splashing and playing in the edge and even gave her new paddle board a try, but the sea was just too cold and rough with the wind. We had some fun but think we will leave the beach until it is much much warmer and less windy.

Béziers Aventure

Olivia was incredibly excited to go to Béziers Aventure – an adventure park in the trees near Béziers, where kids and adults can climb and zip through the trees via a series of obstacles.

Olivia and I both suited up for the adventure, and were lead through a training section to see how the safety lines and zip lines work, before being sent off to the other courses with gradually increasing difficulty.

Despite a couple of scary moments, both mum and daughter made it to one of the more difficult courses, which left them high up in the trees on logs that swung apart, climbing walls in mid-air and 100+ foot zip lines!

All went well until near the end, Olivia couldn’t reach the end of a zip line, and she crushed her finger during a rescue attempt. Nothing too bad, just some skin and bruises, but it did end the day on a bit of a sad note.

I was very proud of both Olivia and myself for what we achieved and overcoming moments of fear. It was great value for money with lots of different courses, you start out on the training course and then gradually work your way up to the harder and higher courses. You can stay up to 4 hours and do the courses as many times as you like.

Chateau du Carcassonne

We almost missed Carcassonne because we couldn’t stay at the campsite we wanted to. However, as we ended up staying in Beziers for 3 weeks due to our parcel taking much longer than expected to arrive, we made the journey back along the peage and it was well worth the trip.

The city of Carcassonne has a long history, with the original city wall and towers dating back to Roman times. The Cathar castle was built within the walls, which were further fortified in the 12th century. After a siege gave the castle to the French king in the 13th century, the castle was further fortified with an additional outer wall and internal fortifications to make an impregnable fortress on the border with Spain that never fell again.

In the mid-late 1800s, the castle ruins were restored to their heyday, leaving a castle that truly feels like a place where lords and royals would live.

The castle has impressive views all the way to the Pyrenees, and the huge double city wall ringfences the whole area.

View all the way to the Pyrenees

We could only visit for the afternoon due to an incident with some ticks in the morning, but we’ll try to revisit this city again.

We took a lovely tour of the castle Comtal with brilliant English audioguide. We spent a good hour walking through the castle. Lots of stairs to navigate but worth all the walking to see wonderful views of the fortress city of Carcassonne plus the countryside below for miles around.

The bustling tourist city outside the castle is narrow, twisty and filled with shops. We stopped for some ice cream and took the beautiful walk back down through the town and over the bridge to the car park which gives an amazing view of the castle.

Gorges d’Heric – Mons

It’s a long drive from Vias to the Gorges d’Heric but it’s well worth the trip.

The 5km hike starts in a little village, but I recommend driving further along to the dedicated parking area, just before the gorge proper begins.

The hike is made much easier by a paved road along the gorge that allows access to the rocks and river below, and lets you view the beautiful scenery from an easy platform.

Right from the start, there are pools and rocks to climb and play around. The water warms up as it comes down through the gorge so paddling is ok and swimming might be good in the summer. Crystal clear water and many waterfalls make the view picturesque but all the water can make it noisy at points.

The last half of the walk takes you high above the water, where we saw snakes, mice and lizards, eventually reaching a cafe where we got some ice creams. I wouldn’t recommend climbing that far if you’re looking to mainly enjoy the water.

Once we reached the top and had lunch and ice cream we made our way back down the gorge. We stopped off at a beautiful little spot where Olivia and I put on our water shoes and went for a paddle. The water was quite cold but it was nice to walk around in the crystal clear water, feeling the water rush past your legs and over your feet, looking at the different colour rocks and the amazing view. Olivia also had some fun making some potions. On our walk we collected various interesting things; different coloured leaves, berries, tiny fir cone, petals and then she mixed it in a pot with magical water from the river.

A beautiful day, I am so proud of George and Olivia for walking so far and managing the 6% slope all the way up the gorge.

Would love to go back during warmer weather to swim in some of the pools.

Conclusion

We loved the aire we stayed at and it would have been perfect if it had shower and toilet facilities. Beziers town centre was not for us but the surrounding areas of the Canal du Midi, gorges, rivers, parks and villages were amazing.

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