Restbite

Having been to see the old prison, the cellar beneath the cloisters, and the former archbishop’s palace on my visit to Beziers during the most recent European Heritage days, I had built up an appetite! My search for somewhere to eat took me to Les Halles, the covered market near Place de la Madeleine.  About half of the floor space inside the market hall is now given over to restaurants, with the other half still occupied by food stalls.  I liked the look of A la Maison, and that’s where I had lunch!

The restaurant claims that it serves old-fashioned home cooking prepared with the help of grandmother’s recipes.  I liked the sound of that! 🙂

The menu had a good selection of starters, main courses and desserts:

I chose the entrecote steak – it came accompanied by fried potatoes and some salad.  The steak was tender, tasty and perfectly cooked!  I cannot remember when I’ve had such a wonderful steak in France!  And the potatoes and salad were excellent too!!

My companion ordered the tuna fish, which was served with rice and salad, and a sauce vierge, a kind of salsa made with chopped fresh tomatoes, onions, and olive oil.  The tuna too was perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious!

If I need to choose whether to have a starter or a dessert I will always go for a dessert!  So, from the dessert section of the menu I chose the panna cotta.  It was topped with mango puree and whipped cream.  It was very different from the panna cottas I have eaten and made myself!  The cream was very dense and firm, yet it did not have the rubbery texture that can be attributed to too much gelatine.  It was very yummy and satisfying!

My companion chose the tiramisu with red fruit coulis, as with the panna cotta, this was also a very tasty dessert!!

After this wonderful meal I was ready to continue my quest to discover more hidden historical gems in Beziers!  I did visit three more amazing places, and I will write about those in due course!!

A la Maison is open for lunch from Tuesday to Sunday.  While looked for a website, I found their TripAdvisor listing here.  It’s one of the few restaurant listings that I have come across on that site which has scored five out of five!!  They also have a website here.

From clink to dock

This week, I am continuing my series of articles about my visit to Beziers during the recent European heritage days.  After visiting the old prison and the cellars below the cloisters, I did not have far to go to my next port of call: the former archbishop’s palace, formerly the Palais de Justice, the court house, and now in a state of limbo.

As it was still drizzling with rain, I did not take any pictures of the outside – I did not have a rain cover for my camera. 😦 .  Instead, I’ve been looking at google, and have found some very interesting shots via the street-view and aerial view of google maps.

First, an aerial view of the area around the cathedral.  The old prison is to the left and the archbishop’s palace to the right of the cathedral. The little blue Palais de Justice marker indicates the main building and just below it are the gardens, arranged on two terraces and indicated by a green marker.

Construction of the present building started in the 13th century after the cathedral and palace were destroyed.  The palace was rebuilt again in the 17th century in the French manner: a main building flanked by two identical wings around a courtyard.  The picture below shows the entrance to the courtyard, which dates from the 18th century:

The archbishop’s palace became property of the state during the French Revolution.  I’ve not been able to find out what happened to the building from then until 1945, when it became a courthouse.  Here is an aerial view of the courtyard:

And this is what the building looks like from the opposite side:

Inside, the building has undergone many transformations over the centuries.  To enter the former palace/courthouse, I climbed a large stone staircase in the courtyard.  From a little hallway I went into a large room which took up the whole centre of the building.  The walls were decorated with beautiful plasterwork.  The ceiling was a la francaise, with large beams topped at a right angle with smaller beams that were placed closely together.

From this room, a door gave access to the courtroom.  The benches and desks were all still in place, and some people took selfies sitting in the judge’s chair!

Behind the courtroom was a room for the judges to retire to for their deliberations. Two of the walls were lined with very tall bookcases – now empty.  The ladder was still in place though and the parquet floor was beautiful.

In one corner of the room, a little door gave access to a tiny room, more of a short corridor really.  The building which that room was in protruded from the back of the main building, and from the window I managed to get a nice picture of the garden on the terrace below.

The door at the end of this ‘corridor’ room led to an even tinier room, with a window overlooking the river.  If you look closely at the aerial shot earlier in this article, you’ll be able to identify that window!

From the deliberating room, a door next to one of the bookcases led into a dark, bookcase lined passage, and from the passage I entered the courtroom once more.  The bookcase was still full of books!!   Perhaps they were no longer needed when the court transferred to the new courthouse?

This is all I was allowed to see of the former archbishop’s palace.  The building belongs to the town of Beziers, and plans are afoot to transform it into a museum, where all the collections will be on show together.  Currently, the collections are displayed at several different museums in the town.  When the new museum is finished, there will be approx. 3000 square metres of exhibition space – still not enough to display everything, apparently!

After that visit I was ready for a spot of lunch!!  To be continued…

Underground treasures

Here is the continuation of the story of my visit to Beziers during this year’s European heritage days.  After visiting to the former prison (see article here), I went to the cathedral, which was right next door.  Behind the cathedral is the cloister, which was part of the archbishop’s palace complex, and there was the promise of a guided visit to show what lay beneath the cloister.

I was intrigued from the moment I had read the programme of the day’s events, and this visit was high on my list of priorities!  The weather was not great and it had started to rain when I entered the cathedral, so I was very glad that I could wait under cover for the start of the guided visit.  It also gave me a chance to have a good look around and to take some photographs!! 🙂

The evacuation plan of the cloister showed that it was not perfectly square as I had imagined it to be!

The cloister dates from the 14th century and was never completed – a first floor should have been built on top of the arcades.

The gothic vaulting has many sculpted decorations – some have survived remarkably well!

At some time in the past, the cloister served to exhibit a collection of stone fragments from antiquity.  Here’s what looked like at that time:

There’s something very romantic to black and white photographs, don’t you think?

The most beautiful pieces have since been transferred to the Musee Bitterois.  This is what it looks like today:

When the appointed time came for our visit, the guide took our group through a small door and down some stair.  I’d walked down those stairs before – they lead to the gardens on the terrace below the archbishop’s palace!

We skipped going to the archbishop’s garden, and instead walked down some more stairs, and then through a heavy wooden door.  Behind that door was a gallery of the same size as the cloister above, but with a barrel vaulted ceiling!!  This was the ‘cellar’ of the south gallery of the cloister.

The archaeology department of Beziers town discovered the underground galleries by chance in the 1950s.  They had been completely filled up with rubble and dirt, probably during the 19th century and perhaps before.

During the 1970s, the south gallery was entirely excavated, and work started on the west gallery.  The idea was that all four galleries would be excavated, and that the space would be turned into a lapidary museum, housing the stone collection that was on display in the cloister, as well as the stones which were found in the rubble during the excavations.

The west gallery was only partly excavated – work stopped in 1978 and was never resumed!

Our guide was an archaeologist who works for the town of Beziers.  The archaeology department is of course understaffed and underfunded – no surprises there! The available resources are fully occupied with doing preventative archaeology on the many building sites in the town!

Part of the western gallery was once a refectory for the monastery which was attached to the cathedral.  I’m not sure if it was part of the building which preceeded to the current cathedral – that was burnt down in 1209 during the cathar crusades!  If I understood correctly, the wall against which the ladder was leaning was the outside wall of the refectory.

Two diagrams showed the lay of the land:

The wooden ceiling in the western gallery was installed in preparation for the museum space.  The tubes for the wiring of the ceiling lights are all in place too!!

The stonework from the various building periods is remarkably well preserved.

So there you have it!  When you next visit the cloister in Beziers, you’ll know what lies beneath your feet!!

After that fascinating visit, I continued on my way to explore other interesting sites in Beziers!  I’ll write more soon about my discoveries!

Coming up

I know I promised you last week that I would continue the story of my visit to Beziers, but I realised that you might miss a lot of the events in this present post if I waited another week.  I’ll continue with Beziers as soon as possible –  I promise!!

You could be forgiven for thinking that this area falls into some Sleeping Beauty like slumber after the busy summer months.  Far from it!!  Fall has a lot to offer with festivals and activities all over!

The whole area is busy with the grape harvest during the month of September, and sometimes into early October.  You’ll see small tractors pulling trailers that are heavily laden with grapes.  People are out in the vineyards, picking grapes by hand.  In other vineyards the grapes are harvested with enormous machines.  Stop by any cooperative winery at this time of year, and you’ll see the grapes being delivered and tipped at the ‘quai’, where the transformation from grape to grape juice to wine starts.  I wrote about the process some years ago – you can find my article here.

Music is something I enjoy a lot, so I’m very glad that the pianist Conrad Wilkinson will continue his successful series of concerts here at the abbatiale in Saint-Chinian on October 6, 2019 with a concert showcasing very gifted young musicians – watch out for tomorrow’s stars!

The final concert in the series takes place on November 3, 2019.

For lovers of Jazz, the line-up has just been announced for the Jazz festival in Conilhac Corbieres which takes place from November 2 to 30, 2019.

Fall is also the time for the harvest festivals near and far.  The following list is in no particular order!

In Cessenon-sur-Orb, the Fete des Vendenges d’Antan takes place on the first weekend of October.  There will be stalls with local produce, music and the traditional pressing of grapes!

In Azillanet, the Fete Paysanne d’Automne takes place over two days, October 4 and 5, 2019.  It’s going to be an interesting event, with a producers market on Saturday, and lectures about different topics such as how to collect wild herbs, sustainable farming, producing your own seeds, etc.  There’ll be food and music too!

The Fete de La Lucques Nouvelle at the Oulibo Cooperative in Cabezac is on October 20, 2019.

I’ve written about the Foire de la Pomme, du Riz et du Vin a couple of years ago.  This fete takes place in Marseillette on October 13, 2019 and you can find details of this year’s programme here.

I will try to visit the Fete des Vendanges in Banyuls this year – it takes place over several days from October 9 to 13, 2019.  The full programme is available from this website.

The Fete de la Chataigne in Saint-Pons de Thomieres is one of the biggest festivals in the area – this year it takes place on October 26 and 27, 2019.  I’ve visited this fete many times, and have written about it here, here and here.

While I’m on the chestnut theme, the Fete du Marron et du Vin Nouveau in Olargues takes place on November 2 and 3, 2019.  Although it’s a smaller fete than the one in Saint-Pons, it’s nonetheless well worthwhile a visit – the combination of roasted chestnuts and new wine is very delicious!!  The program will be listed on this site shortly.

The flea markets continue in the fall, they are fewer in number than in the summer, but there are still great bargains to be had!!  In Murviel les Beziers on October 20, 2019 there’ll be a big flea market, along with a market for regional produce, food stalls, and there’ll even be a concert at 11.30am!

Pezenas hosts the mega antiques market on October 13, 2019 – a great event for anyone who loves to find a special piece or keepsake!  I’ve been to this event several times, and there is a post on the blog about this event here.

This is just a small selection of events which are taking place in the area – great for a visit at any time of the year!

 

In the clink!

Last Saturday I went to prison!  Yes, you read that right – I went to prison, in Beziers!!

If you’re starting to get concerned, remember that in my last post I mentioned that I was planning to explore some of Beziers’s lesser known places during the European heritage days! 🙂

The weather was grim.  Heavy rain had been forecast for the weekend, but I decided to go out anyhow!  Dressed in a showerproof jacket, and umbrella in hand I explored.  What I was able to visit was amazing and exceeded all my expectations!!  I managed to pack in a lot, so this is the first of a series of blog posts on the places I visited during my day in Beziers.

And yes, I went to prison in Beziers – the old prison, which is next to the cathedral, and which was closed down ten years ago!!

As you approach Beziers from across the river, the old prison is very visible as it sits at the top of the hill, with the cathedral next door.  But because it’s built with the same kind of stone as the cathedral, and because it has a crenelated tower on one side, it looks from afar as though all the buildings belong together.  Not altogether far-fetched – on the site of the prison were buildings which at one point belonged to the archbishopric of Beziers, housing clerics until the French Revolution.  These buildings were demolished to make way for the prison!

Building work started in 1850 and lasted until 1857.  The building site was on the side of a very steep hill, so it could not have been easy to build.  Only in 1867 did the prisoners and staff move in.  The prison closed down in 2009, when a new facility opened on the outskirts of Beziers.  Here is an aerial shot from google maps which shows the T-shaped building of the old prison, with another building just north of it.

A curtain wall encloses the yard in front of the prison – to the right of the entrance, visitors would have been waiting on visiting days; the yard on the left had a large gate which allowed vehicle access to the outside world.  It was also where the guillotine was located!  The last execution took place in Beziers in 1949!!

The door we entered through had a kind of cat-flap in it!  Might cats have been allowed in without a pass, as long as they helped keep the rodent population in check??

Just Inside the building was the reception area, where prisoners would be “processed” before being taken to their cells.  It was rather cramped for our group of 20, so taking pictures was not possible.  The room in the picture below was for prison visits.  One wall had been decorated to make the families of the prisoners feel more at ease.  I wonder how that would have worked, since they would have been sitting with their backs to that wall.

This is where people would have been able to talk but not touch!  Comfort was not of prime consideration!!

Through another set of doors and we were in the prison proper.  Three floors of cells were arranged around a central light well.

In case you are wondering, the netting is there to stop people from jumping down!

Each cell had a vaulted ceiling and measured about 10 – 12 square metres.  There were 56 cells, each housing two to three (and at times even four) prisoners.  Nothing has been done to the prison since the last prisoners left in 2009 – what you see in the pictures is what it was like when the inmates would have last been there!

The cells had toilets and wash basins, some of them also had showers, but all of them had minimum privacy!  The prisoners would have been in their cells most of the day, but there were some physical activities:  on the lowest level of the prison there were four wedge-shaped yards, each with high walls and covered with steel netting – there was no escaping.  Can you magine the boredom of walking around the edge of this yard day after day??

There was also a gym:

and a library:

Some of the prisoners were allowed to work in the kitchen – the kitchen knives were counted after each session!!

Those who mis-behaved could be locked up in very small spaces!

Wooden stairs connected the three levels.  I was very glad when we made our way back up!
As we left the prison we walked along a corridor in the building in front of the prison proper – the view from a window along the corridor showed the drop outside the windows of the cells!

Of course, there was some barbed wire too!!

We left via the garage and the gate by which the prisoner transport vans would have passed.  I was very glad to be outside again!!

This was probably the last time that the prison will be open to the public in its current state.  The building has been sold and planning is underway for it to be turned into a luxury hotel!  Pass the champagne, darling! 🙂

Watch out for next week’s post, which will continue my story of my visit to Beziers!

And lastly, if you are still wondering about the title of this post, “clink” is a colloquial term, referring to a jail or prison.  It comes from the Clink prison in London – Wikipedia has all the information here.

It’s time!

This post is long overdue!!  I had wanted to start writing again at the end of August, but with one thing and another it didn’t happen quite as planned.  🙂

It’s been a long and busy summer, and with the weather still balmy it feels as though summer is not over yet!  All kinds of things have happened in Saint-Chinian since I wrote my last blog post: night markets, flea markets, concerts, open air cinema, the music festival, guided visits and …

The garden has also kept me busy — the warm summer weather meant that things did grow very well indeed! But in order for the plants to grow that well, the garden needed to be watered – very regularly!  It was all worth it though – the produce was wonderful: tomatoes, courgettes, aubergines, beans, cucumbers, melons, onions, okra, raspberries, strawberries, chilli peppers, potatoes and pears!!  I’m sure there’s stuff I’ve forgotten to list! Apples, kiwis and winter squash are yet to be picked.  Part of that bountiful harvest was canned and put in my store cupboard for the winter months, but most of it was eaten right away or given to friends and neighbours.  The orangeglow watermelon in the picture below weighed a whopping 7.2 kg!!  I felt immensely proud for having grown that from seed! 🙂

The orangeglow melon formed the base for the salad in the picture below: watermelon, tomato, red onion and feta – apart from the feta cheese, all the ingredients came from my garden!

Another favourite dish this summer was a salad made with thinly sliced raw courgettes, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice and sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan.  The recipe came from the telegraph website – give it a try if you can find small courgettes!

A friend introduced me to the Glory Bowl salad from Whitewater Cooks – it’s a layered salad that starts with cooked rice, topped with grated carrot, grated beetroot, fresh spinach, fried tofu cubes and toasted almonds.  The dressing that goes with this salad is fantastic!  I’ve made it a good many times since, with some variations in the ingredients:

Another favourite this summer was Thomasina Miers’ Roast Aubergine Salad with chickpeas, tomatoes and summer herbs.  Roasting the aubergines with pomegranate molasses turns them into a delicious vegetable in their own right!

Combined with the other ingredients, the aubergines make a most wonderful salad – unlike any I’ve eaten before!  My dressing looked a little grey as I used black sesame paste, but it was delicious all the same!

The fig harvest was not as abundant as last year, but there were still enough to make a delicious compote of figs with lemon and ginger!

The pear trees were heavily laden this year – a lot of them are slowly ripening in my fridge, the remainder are still on the trees!  There’s nothing nicer than a perfectly ripe and juicy pear!!

Late summer plums made an appearance in one of the farm shops I went to recently – they were perfect for a plum tart!!

I leave it at that for now – just one more thing:  If you are in France (or in Europe for that matter), don’t forget that this weekend is European Heritage Weekend – there will be many places to visit!!  I’ll be exploring some of Beziers’ lesser known places and will report back soon!!