The city of Bezier (Béziers), built on a plateau on the east bank of the Orb, prospered both before and during the Roman occupation, but was reduced to ruins at the time of the murderous Albigensian crusade against the Cathars in the early 13th century, which saw more than 20,000 people put to death, Catholic and Cathar alike.
Move on 600 years, and a thriving wine industry has rekindled Bézier’s prosperity, but imbued it with a relaxing ambiance that is typical of the Midi, where life among its warren of narrow, cobbled streets and plane tree-lined esplanades goes on at an unhurried pace, which is just as well because so interwoven and confusing are the many streets that exploration is both ever-interesting and occasionally repetitive.
Here, in the shade, the biterrois (inhabitants of Béziers) play pétanque and sip pastis as the world goes by. The distinctive cathedral of St Nazaire sits on a terrace above the Orb, symbolising the might of the bishops of Bézier who held sway for a thousand years from the mid-8th century.
At the southern end of the city, the Plateau des Poètes is a continuation of the allées Paul Riquet, a delightful, hilly park laid out by the Bühler brothers in the 19th century and containing a wide variety of trees and flowers including Caucasian elm, Californian sequoia, magnolia and Cedar of Lebanon, as well as the busts of poets that line the paths and give the park its name. At the top of the park is a monument to Jean Moulin, a hero of the Resistance.
There is a strong Spanish flavour about Béziers. Outside the Café la Comédie, the patron greets his old friends in Spanish, and the lavish food and traditional festivals of Saint Aphrodise (end of April) and the Féria, the bull-fighting (around the end of August), underscore the Spanish links. For a whole week, the city endures the Féria, night and day. In Spain, this would be a fair and festival of the bull, but in Béziers it is also the festival of the horse, the cinema, wine and music, and something happens every day.
Maison du Tourisme et des Vins
1 bd Wilson, 34500 Béziers
Tel: 04 67 76 20 20