A once-prosperous town with many stately homes, Pézenas is today something of an artists’ enclave with so much of the charming centre given over to shops and ateliers wherein painters, carpenters and woodworkers, jewellers, mosaïsts, masons, cabinet-makers and potters all beaver away industriously.
Once called Piscenae, the town has been a place of inspiration for craftsmen and artists since the 18th century when annual fairs attracted merchants and a wealth of goods and crafts that began a tradition that continues to this day.
Foodwise, Pézenas is renowned for two things: berlingots, a hard-boiled sweet in multi-colours and flavours first introduced to the town by an African pedlar; and petit pâtés, a small pie, for which we have to thank Clive of India who came to Pézenas in 1768, and led a fairly healthy social life in spite of deteriorating personal health. During his stay he ordered his Indian cooks to come up with something new, and so they produced these small, bobbin-shaped pies with a golden crust. ‘Clive’s Pies’ were a success, and his cooks passed the recipe on to the bakers of the town. Stuffed with lamb mince, suet, brown sugar, lemon peel and spices the pies are generally served hot at the start of a meal, but also work a treat eaten cold.
The place Gambetta and the narrow streets that radiate from it offer an irresistible invitation to explore. In summer, the town comes alive with a series of folk festivals, theatrical performances and concerts, but it’s a bustling, energetic and appealing place most of the year.
Pézenas is one of 7 towns down the length of the A75 motorway, which go under the name of Les Perles Vertes, and promote themselves as stop-over places en route to the Med. Each is individually charming, and well worth a short visit.
1 place Gambetta, 34120 Pézenas
Tel: 04 67 98 36 40