Party time!!

Today is France’s national holiday – a day which remembers the storming of the Bastille fortress on July 14, 1789, as well as the Fete of Unity (Fete de la Federation) on July 14, 1790.  All over France there will be celebrations of one kind or another.  In some of the very small villages it may be a communal meal with music and dancing on the day.  Larger villages can afford to spread the festivities over several days, and in many towns there will be fireworks and parades.

The most spectacular fireworks display takes place in Paris, where the Eiffel Tower is beautifully showcased by truly amazing pyrotechnics.

The festivities in Saint-Chinian will go on for three days, with bands and parties.  Here is the programme:

The 14th of July is also the start of the French summer holidays, and in the spirit of that I will be taking a bit of a break.  I hope you will all have a wonderful summer, and I look forward to catching up with you again in August!  if anyone would like to write a guest post in my absence, please let me know!

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Time with the Swiss

One grey Saturday morning this spring, I went to meet up with a group of like-minded people for a guided visit on Beziers’ architectural history.  The history of that town has fascinated me for a long time – it goes back so far, and there are so many different layers to discover.  The theme of the guided visit was Chez les Suisses, and very appropriately the visit started on a square just off Boulevard de Geneve.  The boulevard was given its name around 1904 after the town councillors of Beziers had had a particularly cordial welcome on a visit to Geneva.

During the later part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century, there were strong commercial ties between Switzerland and Languedoc.  The Swiss would buy wines from the region, and in turn would sell grain.  Swiss merchants opened offices in Beziers, and built themselves sumptuous mansions with their profits.

On our visit we stopped at several of these mansions.  The first one we saw was built by Godefroid Meyer on Boulevard de la Liberte between 1926 and 1928 in a very pure art deco style.

We were fortunate in that the owner of this beautiful white house was one of the guides – there were several of them, each with a different field of expertise.  He had brought several photographs of the interior of the house to show to the group.  The interior looked as stunning as the outside. In fact, my pictures above do not do the building justice, it really has to be seen in person!

The next mansion we saw used to belong to the Bühler family.  Traugott Bühler bought an enormous plot of around 4500 square metres along Avenue Saint-Saëns, and proceeded to build not one but two mansions.  The one on the corner was used as offices, and is a relatively modest brick and stone confection with a mansard roof.

The initial of the family name still decorates the stonework at roof level, and the railings on the balcony just below hint at art nouveau.

The big mansion next door, completed in 1903, was designed by the architects Leopold and Louis Carlier, well-known architects from Montpellier.  The locals called it the Chateau Bühler, on account of its size and air of sumptuousness.

Both of the Bühler mansions have been split into apartments, and a large part of the park has been sold off and covered with very nondescript apartment buildings.  The facade of the chateau as well as the monumental wrought iron gates and railings have listed building status!  Here is one of our guides in front of the gates:

The last of the mansions we visited, was built for Otto Müller, another rich merchant of Swiss extraction, who, if I remember correctly, had married one of the Bühler daughters – or was she a Meyer?  The architect was Leopold Carlier.  He designed the mansion in the Flemish style, with gables and turrets.  The building was finished in 1870.  At the time there were few other buildings surrounding it.

You can still see Otto Müller’s initials on the monumental chimney:

In 1916, the mansion was bought by the brothers Guy.  In 1918, they engaged a renowned landscape architect to turn the land surrounding the house into a park.  They also commissioned original artwork from the local sculptors Antonin Injalbert and Jean Magrou for the park.  Once the Guy brothers bought the house, the locals started to call it Villa Guy.  It retains that name to this day.

We were fortunate in that the current owners of Villa Guy allowed our group to visit the grounds – we got a very close look at the building and the park.  Villa Guy is today an exclusive Bed and Breakfast and function venue.

Here is a selection of photographs of the building and of the sculptures in the park:

Farthest from the house is the Neo-Moorish garden, which was undergoing restoration when I visited.  At the time of writing this post, the fountains should be tinkling again!

And thus ended a fascinating visit into Beziers’ past!

 

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On rocky ground

It’s amazing what you can discover on walks around the villages in Languedoc! (I know that the area has now been renamed Occitanie, but I refuse to call it that!!)  A village which is full of interesting things to discover is Montouliers.  It is perched on a hill in the hinterland, not far from Bize Minervois and Argeliers.  Walk the narrow streets of the old part of the village up towards the chateau, and with a little imagination you could picture yourself transported back in time.

The narrow streets are paved with stones, a surface which is called calade.  Calade is a word that you’ll not find in a French dictionary – it has its roots in the old Gaulish word cal, meaning stone and height.  Calades were built using the materials to hand – stones which had been cleared from the fields to make them arable.  Skill was required so sort the stones and to place them, so that they would form a durable surface.  Mortar was not often used as that would have raised the cost.

Steps were built to shore up the steeper slopes and to allow humans and animals (donkeys and horses in the main) to walk up and down more easily.

In most villages, the calades disappeared with the advent of tarmac in the early 20th century, the old making room for the new.  However, in some villages you can still find calades.  I know of two small patches in Saint-Chinian.

Here are a few more images from Montouliers – along with the Calades, the exteriors of the houses in the old part of the village have also been carefully renovated!

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Summer festivities in Saint-Chinian

For this post I have decided to concentrate on the many things that will be going on in Saint-Chinian this summer!

The very popular night markets will be starting on July 4, 2017 and will take place every Tuesday throughout July and August.

Every Saturday there will be a Vide Grenier, a flea market, in the shade of the plane trees on the market square.

On Thursday nights there will be open-air cinema in front of the town hall building – July 6th and 20th, August 3rd, 10th, 17th and 24th.  Free admission!

On July 9th, Chateau la Dournie will be holding an open day from 10am to 6pm.  Visits of the cellars, wine tasting, craft market, picnic in the park.

The Fete du Cru will be taking place on July 23, 2017 – a great day of wine tasting in the market square!  The Fete du Cru is organised by the winemakers of the Saint-Chinian area to showcase their wines and to allow the public to discover the great variety of wines on offer.

The music festival will take place from July 26 to 30 this year.  Five days of concerts in the historic surroundings of the former abbey church, the cloister, and the parish church of Saint-Chinian.  A variety of concerts with different styles of music which are sure to appeal: Classical, New Orleans jazz, Latin rhythms, world music, choral, etc…  Full details can be found on www.festivalmusisc.wordpress.com

On August 4, 2017 the Cave Cooperative winery will hold its open day.  Free guided visits of the cellars throughout the day.  Unveiling of a new mural in the cellars, followed by an open-air meal and concert.

On Mondays during July and August, a guided visit of the architectural heritage of Saint-Chinian takes place, starting at 9am from the entrance hall of the town hall building.  Reservations via the tourist office.

On Tuesdays during July and August, there is a free guided visit of the Chapel of Notre Dame de Nazareth at 9am.  Meeting point is at the start of the path up to the chapel, where the D177 forks to Assignan and Babeau Bouldoux.  Reservations via the tourist office.

On Wednesdays during July and August, you have the option of a guided visit of the Capitelles, the little huts built with just stones and no mortar.  The visit is free of charge, reservations at the tourist office.  The meeting point is at the windmill, and the walk starts at 9am.

Thursday mornings during July and August are dedicated to guided visits of the Cave Cooperative, the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian.  The free guided visit starts at 10:30am and the visit is followed by a wine tasting.  Reservations via the tourist office.

The Canal de l’Abbe is the theme for a guided visit on Fridays during July and August.  This canal was built during the Middle Ages, originally to power a number of mills along the way.  To this day supplies the vegetable gardens in Saint-Chinian with river water!  The free visit starts at 9am from the town hall in Saint-Chinian.  Reservations via the tourist office.

On Saturday mornings during July and August, a visit of the former Abbey is on the agenda, showing the evolution of the buildings between 1656 and 1950. The free visit starts at 9am in the town hall building.  Reservations via the tourist office.

The windmill, which sits on the rocky ledge above Saint-Chinian, can be visited on Sundays.  The free guided visit starts at 9am at the windmill.  Reservations via the tourist office.

There’s never been a better time to visit Saint-Chinian, so book your stay now!

 

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Full of cheer

I’ve just received a lovely message from Noelle, one of the regular readers of this blog, and resident of Saint-Chinian:

I just wanted to thank you for a suggestion on your blog: “La randonnee de Bacchus” from Berlou.

Lucien and I took the hike on Sunday June 4.
After a week of not knowing if it was going to rain, we woke up to a beautiful day, sunny, just a little breeze.
As per instruction we were at Berlou for 10:30 AM. After registration we were given a glass to hang around our neck, and then we were on our way. Since we were among the last group to depart I never felt crowded on the walk. I was told we were around 350 people but I never saw such a crowd. Actually I thought a lot of the time Lucien and I were the only ones on the trail. At each stop the crowd was only around 50 people. The wines and matching food were excellent. Plenty of time to drink and eat, seating sometimes in the shade of a tree on the ground, on a long table with chairs, or on fallen tree which served as a bench. At each of the 7 stops we tried different wines: a sparkling wine, 2 roses, 1 white, 2 reds and a sweet wine. I thought I would get drunk drinking the mix but with plenty of water it did not happen.
The trail is not an easy one but the views are grandiose on the top of the mountain. With such a day, we were able to see very far, the sleeping Lady, towns, wineries…  We were even able to pick some cherries from a lonesome tree on the side of the trail – just refreshing. We did met a few people, mostly Belgiam English and French, living close by.
We ended the walk through the narrows streets of Berlou, a small and pretty village with many flowers on balconies, and on the bridge. At this time of the year it was a feast for the eyes with all the different colours.
Thank you again for suggesting this “randonnee”!
Have you followed in my footsteps and visited any of the places I have written about?  I’d love to hear about your experiences, feel free to share them!!

Down by the bay

The Mediterranean coastline has changed a good deal over the past few thousand years. A place where this can be seen rather well is Gruissan.  In Roman times, the topography would have been very different.  The Massif de la Clape nature reserve, and the Ile Saint Martin were islands, not at all connected to the mainland, but surrounded by the estuary of the Aude River.  The limestone rock, on which today stands the ruin of Gruissan castle, was probably just a bare rocky outcrop then.  Narbonne had a harbour, and the Roman ships would have sailed into the bay behind modern-day Gruissan.

All that changed, when the harbour gradually silted up, and the lagoons formed between Gruissan and Narbonne.  The Etang de Gruissan is on average 55 cm deep – great for the flamingos, which were notably absent the day I took the picture above! 🙂

In the Middle Ages, a fortified castle was built on the limestone outcrop, to provide shelter from marauding pirates!  Houses were built at the foot of the castle, with the streets surrounding the rock in a circular pattern, which can still be seen today.

The sleepy fishing village turned into a major seaside resort during the course of the 20th century. Two marinas were constructed in the 1970’s, with space for 1650 boats!  All around the marinas, developments were built, to cater for the increasing number of visitors.

Unlike many seaside resorts, Gruissan is very much “open all year”.  Many people live there year round, and a good number of restaurants do NOT close down for the winter.  One such restaurant is called La Cranquette.  It is located in the old town, and specialises in seafood.   You can tell I went there before the trees started to leaf out!

Inside, the decor is somewhat eclectic!

Whilst the decor is somewhat important in a restaurant, the food is the star of the show!!  And the food in this restaurant was very good!!

All the food was very delicious and beautifully presented!  A feast for the eyes and the palate!

Afterwards, a walk along the beach was a must – out of season the beaches are often empty!

If you fancy a stay at Gruissan, have a look here and here! 🙂