I started to write about this year’s outing during the European Heritage weekend some time ago, with the post about the wonderful meal at O Petits Bontemps in Beziers. My intentions were good – I was going to write about the other amazing places we had visited as quickly as possible, lest I would forget all the interesting details we had seen and heard. Alas, I got sidetracked and wrote other weekly stories for my blog, no less interesting, I hope, or perhaps more so?
I’ll try to pick up where we left off: after that wonderful meal at O Petits Bontemps we headed to the Rue des Docteurs Bourguet (don’t ask who and why, I’ve not been able to find out! 🙂 ), where the Hotel Berge was awaiting our visit. The Hotel Berge is a typical example of why I love the European Heritage weekend – it is only open this one day each year to the general public!!
In France, the word hotel can mean both a conventional hotel and a mansion – the Hotel Berge falls in the latter category. The building was given to the town of Beziers in 1986 by Dr Lucien Berge, an eminent local citizen and dentist, on the understanding that it would provide a home for the Societe Archeologique, Scientifique et Litteraire and the Antico Confrarie de Sant Andiu de la Galineiro. The first is a learned society, established in 1834, and behind the creation of several of the municipal museums in Beziers. The latter is a brotherhood devoted to the promotion of wine and local products; its members organise the Fete de Saint Aphrodise and the Caritats. Dr Berge also wanted his former home to house a museum for decorative arts, but that hasn’t happened yet.
Apart from a monumental door, the outside of the building is rather unprepossessing. Behind that door lies a courtyard, which is at the heart of the building. Straight ahead is the main part of the house, where Dr Berge lived; the wing on the left housed his dental surgery on the first floor, and there were also stables on the ground floor of that wing. I never found out what happened in the other wings around the courtyard.
The main facade had been given a makeover in the neo-renaissance style in the late 19th century. The ornate door on the very left led into the kitchen! The detail on the facade is quite amazing, and appears to be very much untouched, apart from the spikes to deter the pigeons.
We were welcomed by the president of the archaeological society, Mr Barthes, who started our guided visit of the ground floor. Incidentally, Mr Barthes is also the church organist in Saint-Chinian!
Our first stop was in the former kitchen, to the left of the front door and the staircase. This room is large and airy. The old red terracotta tile floor and the original fireplace and potager are still in place. A potager is a cooking range where charcoal was burnt and where dishes could be cooked more ‘daintily’ than in the big fireplace. Above the potager hangs Dr Berge’s diploma from the Chicago School of Dentistry! Leaving the kitchen we passed through a very small pantry with a sink made of the same red marble as the fireplace and the potager.
From the pantry we stepped out into the garden, where we could admire the elegant 18th century facade of the main building, as well as the view over the lower part of Beziers.
Mr Barthes led us back into the house, past this marble bust. I don’t know whose likeness that is, does anyone know?
We were now in the main salon on the ground floor, where the meetings of the archaeological society are held.
The decorative scheme of the room hasn’t changed since the good doctor moved out of the house. The wallpaper is not pasted to the wall, but stretched onto wooden frames. Not great if someone pokes a hole in it! 😦
The original cast-iron central heating radiators are still in place, but no longer used.
From this salon we passed through a small room with green painted panelling, and out into the entrance hallway, which was guarded by the statue of an angel, and which was also painted green.
The staircase with neo-renaissance ceiling and marble mosaic floor led up to the first floor (note to my north American readers: in France the first floor is actually your second floor).
At the top of the stairs, a door on the right led into the dining room, which was a typical example of the kind of dining room any fashionable late 19th century mansion in Beziers would have had. The whole room was panelled in dark wood and the windows were made of stained glass. Very little daylight penetrated into the room and my camera struggled to get any decent pictures. At least it did pretty well with the stained glass! 🙂
There were five more rooms to be visited on the this floor. The first was a salon which overlooked the central courtyard. The panelling was painted a putty colour, and the parquet floor was in a kind of checkerboard pattern, which looked almost three dimensional from some perspectives.
The next room was the start of a long enfilade of rooms, with one room opening onto the next, along the garden side of the main building. It had a bit of a gloomy feel to it, but our guide cheered us up by pointing out a somewhat risqué painting near the fireplace! Well, it was rather risque at the time it was painted!
The next room was a library, with some of the bookcases protected with pink-ish fabric.
The following room was a monumental bedroom – almost as large as the main salon on the ground floor! The room was also slightly creepy because of the wax dummy to one side. Was that a likeness of Mme Berge, keeping an eye on her bedroom??
At the end of the enfilade was another, much smaller bedroom, with a distinctive masculine flair. Had that been Dr Berge’s bedroom?
All the rooms had more or less hidden doors, which would have allowed the servants (and sometimes the occupants of the rooms?) to come and go unseen. I’d love to explore those corridors some time. One of the guides said that they were just very dusty and not very interesting, but I’m not so sure!? We retraced our steps through the various rooms and down the stairs, to visit one last room. This was the Hotel Berge’s answer to the souvenir shops which can always be found in museums and galleries. A very large table in the centre of the room held the various booklets which had been published by the society, and which could be purchased. Because of the stained glass, this room was also fairly dark, but at least I managed to get a good look at the valve of the antique radiator!! 🙂
I felt very privileged that I’d been able to visit this amazing building. If you want to see it for yourself, keep an eye on this website for dates of the 2017 edition of the European Heritage weekend.
Our next step that afternoon was the Hotel Fayet, but you’re probably exhausted from reading all this, so I’ll save that for a future post!