On Rue de Montmorency

This post is a continuation of my visit to Beziers during the recent European heritage days.  After my wonderful lunch at the market halls in Beziers, I made my way towards Beziers’ main square, the Allees Paul Riquet.  Along the way, a small hand-written sign drew my attention.  It led me a few steps along the Rue de Montmorency, to the Hotel de Montmorency, a building which I had walked past many times before.

Rue de Montmorency is in the heart of the mediaeval part of Beziers, and the building dates back to at least 1605, when it was recorded in a census as belonging to Guilhaume de Castilhon.  Guilhaume de Castilhon was secretary to the King of France, ordinary commissioner of wars, and secretary to Henri II de Montmorency.

Rue de Montmorency is incredibly narrow, so getting a picture of the entire facade was more or less impossible.

The property never belonged to the Montmorency family, but the connection between Castilhon and Montmorency must have been strong enough for the house and street to be named after the latter!   Guilhaume de Castilhon added to his property by buying neighbouring houses in 1609 and 1616.  His son, Jean de Castilhon added another part in 1646 and the ensemble of the buildings is thought to date from around that time.  The house passed through several hands over the course of the centuries.  During the latter part of the 19th century it was bought by a Mr Cavallier, who in 1877 “homogenised” the appearance of the building in the then fashionable neo-gothic and neo-renaissance styles.  In 1908 the house was bought by Achille Gaillard, a rich factory owner, who left it to his daughter Yvonne.  It stayed in the same family until 2009, when it was sold to a real estate company.

The doorway on Rue de Montmorency is big enough for a horse and cart!

I did some searching on the internet about the history of the building, and found that parts of it had been added to the register of listed buildings back in 1952.  In 2011, the entire building was placed on the register, which means that any alterations have to be approved by the French heritage commission.  I also found that in 2009, Carlos Carillo Gomez, a student from Barcelona university, did a survey of the building as part of his final year project.  If you’re interested in old buildings, the paper about the Hotel de Montmorency is very interesting!  It’s written in Catalan, and you can find it here.  The plans and elevation drawings, which are annexes to the paper can all be found here.  I found it absolutely fascinating!

Another source of fascinating information is the cadastre, a land registry plan, which shows the exact shape and size of a property.  The Hotel de Montmorency is No 32 at the centre of the picture, and the cadastre relates that the plot which the house stands on is 441 square metres in size.  With the courtyard in the centre being approximately 73 square metres, that leaves 368 square metres of floor space on each of floor of the building!

The only access to the house is via the door on the street, which gives into a vaulted passage.  The passage leads into the courtyard at the centre of the house.

As I stood in the courtyard looking around, a window on the first floor opened, and a young man waved and told me to come into the house.  It turned out that he worked for the owner of the real estate company, and he was in charge of the house during the visits.  The building was exactly as it had been left by the previous owners, nothing had been altered.  Electricity and water had been disconnected 10 years ago, so in some places it was a little too dark for good pictures.

Behind the large glass windows on the ground floor was a hallway with three doors.  The door straight ahead was decorative only, the one on the right led into a large room, and the one on the left led to a monumental staircase!  The windows on the half landing of the monumental staircase overlooked the street, and the stained glass windows were probably from the 1877 renovation project.

The handrail on the staircase was supported by finely sculpted brackets:

The ceiling of the staircase was incredibly ornate, and seemed to pre-date the 1877 renovations.

I’m adding a picture of the layout plan of the house – the one below is for the first floor.  The numbering of the rooms works in an anti-clockwise direction, my tour of that floor was in a clockwise direction.

On the first floor landing, the door straight ahead of me led into a rather gothic looking room.  The windows overlooking the courtyard were also made of stained glass, which gave the room a chapel-like appearance:

The ornate door surround at the opposite end of the room led into an enormous room.  At 41 square metres it was the second largest in the house (the largest room was on the ground floor).  The walls were lined with linenfold paneling and tapestry like fabric, and the ceiling was ‘a la francaise’, with closely spaced beams, which were beautifully painted.  The curtains matching the wall coverings were still in place, and there were two pieces of furniture:  a monumental glazed bookcase, which might have been made for this room during the 1877 renovations, and a somewhat incongruous looking 1920’s buffet.

To the right of the monumental fireplace, a door had been set into the panelling. It led into a little pantry of sorts, which communicated with a similar sort of pantry/closet off the room next door.  If you look at Gomez’s floor plan, this is marked (in Catalan) as ‘sala 4’ on the first floor.

Next door was ‘sala 5’, which might have been a bedroom once. It had two walk-in closets, one of which connected with the closet in ‘sala 4’.  One closet had a toilet and basin, the other one had just a basin.  The doors to the closets were rounded and were in the corners of the room along the same wall, so the bed could have been in the centre for ‘his and hers’ private facilities!!  The room had very elegant panelled walls, which were painted a creamy colour.  A beautiful white marble fireplace was on one wall.

Fireplace in ‘sala 4’ on the first floor

From this room there were two doors more or less next to one another – it was a little strange.  The one on the left led into a second staircase hall, which the architecture student denoted as a service staircase.  The door on the right, a little smaller than the one on the left, led diagonally across into the next wing of the building.  I have a theory for that: in one of the comments about the history of the building, an exterior spiral staircase was mentioned.  Such staircases could often be found on mediaeval and renaissance buildings.  The mention said that it was taken down in the 1990’s but I have a feeling that it might have been the 1890’s.  The staircase could have been located in the corner between two wings of the building, giving access to either wing.

The so called service staircase was almost as big as the monumental staircase at the entrance, and to my mind far too luxurious to be used by the servants alone.  I have a feeling that it might have been added during the 19th century renovations.

Continuing on the first floor, now in the wing opposite to where I entered the house, there were two bedrooms, and a bathroom which could be accessed from either of the bedrooms.

At the end of the bathroom, beyond the bidet was a separate WC.

Some details from the windows, these are espagnolettes, handles which are used to close the windows.

I moved on into the fourth wing, which was the one alongside the road.  A long corridor led to two bedrooms (dormitori 1 and dormitori 2), as well as to a bathroom and a separate WC.  One of the bedrooms had a niche with a wash basin and bidet.

The bathroom was done in the same kind of green tiles as the previous one.

Next came Sala 1, another large salon with a beautiful fireplace and elegant panelling.  The ceiling height in the rooms on the first floor was around 3.6 metres.

I imagine that this might have been used as a dining room once, since there was a kitchen right next door to it.

On the second floor the rooms were much simpler in their decorations; the ceiling height was lower, and the layout somewhat different from the floor below:

These are some of the fireplaces on the second floor.

And this is a picture of one of the two kitchens on this floor (cuina 2):

The monumental staircase ended on the second floor, but there was a smaller spiral staircase which continued upwards.

On the third floor awaited a little surprise – a loggia (covered terrace) which overlooked the courtyard – the views over the rooftops of Beziers were very interesting!!  If you scroll back up towards the beginning of this article, you’ll be able to see the loggia from the outside at the top of the building.

There was a great view down into the courtyard!

Next to the loggia was a bedroom which overlooked the street, and included an en-suite bathroom.  This suite was right above the monumental staircase.  And then there was another tiny spiral staircase which led up again!

The monumental staircase was in a tower-like building, and at the very top of the building was a room with windows on two sides – the views from here were spectacular!  It was very exciting to be able to visit this room!!

After this exciting discovery I went all the way down to the ground floor.  A few details from along the way:

On the ground floor was another suite of impressive rooms!

The light was not as good as upstairs, so it was difficult to take pictures.  The following are pictures of Sala 2, a room with dark brown wooden panelling and deep red wallpaper!

The kitchen on the ground floor was much larger than the ones on the upper floors.  It also did not seem to have been modernised very much – there was still the old fireplace to cook in/on!

The tiles were very pretty, perhaps dating to the 19th century or even earlier?

The cupboard next to the sink was topped with marble.

Sala 3 was a very elegant salon with grey/beige panelling and gold accents.  The fireplace was made from pink marble, and the ceiling was decorated with plasterwork rosettes. This was the largest room in the house!

Sala 4 was a more sombre room, with a wooden ceiling a la francaise, a dark marble fireplace, and exuberantly patterned wallpaper!

From Sala 4 the door led back into the entrance hall, and from there out into the courtyard!  But before we leave, here is a detail from the iron grilles at the bottom of the monumental staircase.  The stairs led down to the cellars which are under the building along the street – I was very curious, but I did not dare to turn that large key!

What an amazing visit – and just by chance!!  The Hotel de Montmorency is supposed to be transformed into a luxury hotel, just as they are planning to do with the former prison in Beziers.  I’m sure the real estate company who owns the building has been looking at ways to make it happen, and I wish them every success!

After this wonderful discovery I resumed my walk to the Allees Paul Riquet and towards my next destination, the Theatre des Varietes.  To be continued…

Up and coming

With spring in the air, it’s time to come out of hibernation!  There are many events coming up which will tempt you to visit Saint-Chinian!!

Grands Crus Clasiques, Saint-Chinian – 10 March 2019

The pianist Conrad Wilkinson has relocated his successful series of concerts from Villeneuve-les-Beziers to Saint-Chinian for 2019.  There will be a total of six concerts, and the series kicks off with a concert of German Lieder by Mahler, Brahms and Strauss, sung by Ulrike Van Cotthem, with Conrad Wilkinson on piano.

Occitan Carnival, Beziers – 16 March 2019

The 35th Carnival in Beziers will have biodiversity as its theme!  There’ll be children dressed as bees, butterflies, ladybirds, hedgehogs, frogs to name but a few different animals, and there’ll be lots of colourfully decorated floats!

Journees Europeennes des Metiers d´Art, all over France/Europe– 1 to 7 April 2019

The European Artistic Craft Days are held every year on the first weekend in April.  They give the public a chance to see expert craft makers in action.  Several years ago, I visited a workshop in Azillanet, where the almost forgotten art of etching glass is still practiced – see for yourself here.  You can find the full programme of this year’s events on the official French website.

Procession de la Sanch, Perpignan – 19 April 2019

Each year on Good Friday, the town of Perpignan hosts the traditional Good Friday Procession.  The custom dates back 600 years, and it is a deeply moving spectacle, the only one of its kind in France.

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Grande Deballage, Pezenas – 5 May 2019

For lovers of flea markets and antiques, this is an event that is not to be missed!!  There will be in excess of 150 stalls, selling all kinds of “stuff”, from rusty old keys to beautiful furniture!

Vente de Charite, Saint-Chinian – 9 June 2019

This is a fixture on Saint-Chinian’s calendar of events – a sale of bric-a-brac, plants, clothes, second-hand household items, books and more, all sold for a good cause.  The sale takes place in the abbatiale, the former abbey church in Saint-Chinian, and in the cloisters, and it is open until noon.

 

Festival Jazz au Cloitre, Saint-Chinian – 12 to 16 June 2019

Five evenings of Jazz concerts in the beautiful surroundings of the cloister in Saint-Chinian.   There will be a variety of styles: New Orleans Jazz, Blues, Soul Jazz, Gypsy Jazz and French Jazz!  The artists are a mixture of up-and-coming stars of tomorrow and well-known musicians.  The full programme is at www.festivalmusisc.com

Fete de la Musique, all over France – 21 June 2019

This one is an absolute must for your calendar!!  There will be concerts everywhere, from small recitals of classical music to large pop/rock concerts!  Saint-Chinian will be hosting a concert that day, details are yet to be announced.

Fete du Cru – 21 July 2019

A day packed with wine-tasting! The wine makers of the AOC Saint-Chinian set up their stands on the market square – paradise for wine-lovers, who’ll be able to taste and buy their way around Saint-Chinian wines!!  There will be food trucks, music, games and a tombola (prize draw)!!

 

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Festival MusiSc, Saint-Chinian – 22 to 28 July 2019

This is another one for your diary – the fifth annual Music Festival in Saint-Chinian!  11 concerts in one week, with a mixture of classical music and jazz, and a great variety of styles and performers – not to be missed!!  For the programme visit www.festivalmusisc.com

If you need a place to stay for any of these events, look no further than the www.midihideaways.com website!  You’ll find a selection of properties from apartments for two to larger properties sleeping up to 10 persons.

Still lots going on!

You’ll be forgiven for thinking that at the end of the summer the area falls into a Sleeping Beauty-like torpor – but far from it!  There is still plenty going on to keep us entertained!!

As soon as fall starts, there are the harvest festivals such as the ones I wrote about last week.  The theatre season starts up again in Narbonne, Beziers and Montpellier.  Beziers has several venues for theatre, classical music, dance and even opera – you can find the full programme here.

The theatre in Narbonne is housed in a very modern building, quite a contrast to the quaint old theatre in Beziers.  It does have better sight-lines than the theatre in Beziers, and the second (smaller) auditorium has been equipped for cinema screenings.  The programme can be found via this link.

The live broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City are screened at the Theatre in Narbonne, and at the MonCine cinema in Beziers!

Montpellier, being a big city, has a number of theatres of all types – a modern opera house, a grand 19th century theatre building and several smaller theatres.  There’s always something going on!  The programme can be found here.

November is the time when people in this area start to buy fresh foie gras and other bits of duck and goose, to prepare a stock of goodies to last them the winter!

Coursan and Limoux have their Foires au Gras – literally translated as ‘Fat Fairs’ but they are really foie gras markets – on November 18 (Coursan) and 24 (Limoux), 2018.

The truffle markets start this year on December 15 with a market in Moussoulens.  The last truffle market of the season will be on March 10, 2019 in Cabrespine – you can find dates and the programme here.

In preparation for Christmas (think shopping!!), eleven wineries in the Saint-Chinian area have a day of tastings and visits on December 8, 2018 – the programme can be found via this link.

Next, we have Christmas markets!  They are becoming ever more popular in the area – here is a small selection for you:

November 24 and 25, 2018 – (Christmas) Cracker Fair at the Abbaye de Valmagne

December 2, 2018 – Christmas market in Saint-Chinian, Salle de l’Abbatiale

December 9, 2018 – Christmas market in Capestang, Salle Nelson Mandela

In the bigger towns, the Christmas markets are on for most of December:

Les Hivernales Christmas market in Montpellier is open from November 29 to December 27, 2018.

Carcassonne’s Magie de Noel opens on December 6, 2018 and closes on January 6, 2019.

So far, most of this post has been about food and other shopping opportunities.  Here now are a few more opportunities for entertainment:

On December 12, 2018 the Salle de l’Abbatiale in Saint-Chinian hosts a concert with the La Cantarela choir from Beziers, Ulrike van Cotthem (soprano), Sebastien Mazoyer (bandoneon) and Conrad Wilkinson (piano).  There’ll be music by Debussy, Faure, Schumann and Strauss, and the Misatango by Martin Palmeri.  This should be a very good concert – don’t miss it!

The Christmas concert in Narbonne takes place on December 15 in the cathedral, with the Narbonne Symphony Orchestra, the Via Lyrica choir and Daniele Scotte (soprano).  This should be another great concert.

And finally, If you are a fan of the circus tent, you’ll have to visit Toulouse between December 1, 2018 and January 6, 2019.  The Grande Cirque de Noel pitches its tents at the Cepiere racetrack in Toulouse.  There will be acrobats, clowns, horses, daredevil stunts and more!!

 

A solitary place

Last week’s post was about the first half of a wonderful day out with friends in the hills near Lodeve.  I’m going to continue the story with this post.

Following our delicious lunch at La Petite Fringale in Saint Jean de la Blaquiere, we drove towards Lodeve, to visit the Priory of Saint Michel de Grandmont.  This monastery belonged to the little known order of Grandmont, an order founded at the end of the 11th or the beginning of the 12th century, according to which historian you believe.  The rules of the order were incredibly austere, even for mediaeval times: possessions were forbidden, heating was only for visitors, monks walked barefoot all year round and lived in strict silence.  Their lives were more like those of hermits, even though they lived in communities.  Lay brothers were an integral part of each monastery – they had to look after the day-to-day running of the monastery.

The set of buildings at Saint Michel de Grandmont is one of the few Grandmontine houses left more or less intact.

The entire order was dissolved in 1772 due to lack of monks, and the monastery was attached to the diocese of Lodeve.  The last monks left Saint Michel de Grandmont in 1785.

During the French revolution the buildings were sold, but lucky for us, they were not demolished, and not hugely altered either.  The picture above shows the buildings overlooking the courtyard – you can see part of the gable end of the church on the left.

The audio guide (available in several languages, including English) which was part of the entrance fee was very helpful!  The visit started in the visitors’ room, a sturdy vaulted room with an enormous fireplace, where visitors to the monastery were welcomed.  This fireplace was the only one in the monastery, as physical comforts were a no-no for the monks.

A wooden model showed the cloister, with the vaulted chapter house area on the ground floor and the monks’ dormitory above.

The double doors at the end of the visitors’ room led to a small, dark room, and from there a door led to the cloister.  The cloister is supposed to be the only one of all the Grandmontine cloisters to be remaining intact.  The architecture is very simple and austere!

A doorway led from the cloister to the church. In the time of the monks, there would have been some ecclesiastical furniture, but today the church’s walls are bare and the building is almost completely empty.  The proportions of the church were impressive – 28 metres long, 6.7metres wide and 11 metres high!  The acoustics were wonderful, and during the summer season concerts are being held in the church on a regular basis.

The chapter house was just off the cloister – a large vaulted room with arrow slit windows on one side.  The chapter house was the place where the monks gathered every day, to listen to the rules of the order being read, and to do penance.

From the chapter house, we stepped out into the sunshine.  The guided walk took us around the back of the chapter house and to the apse of the church.  I got the feeling that the mullioned windows above the arrow slits of the chapter house were a later addition.

By the apse of the church, excavations had revealed the remains of Visigothic tombs.

The audio guide took us back to where we had exited the chapter house – a terrace shaded by chestnut trees.  The facade of the building along the terrace had been remodelled in the 18th century and given a more classical look with a pedimented door and other architectural elements (not visible in the picture below).

Our walk continued to the park, across another terrace, this one planted with plane trees, which had not yet leafed out.

A little climb brought us to a rather surprising feature – an ornamental lake with an island in the middle! The plinth bore an inscription in Latin and a date of 1850.  At that time Etienne Vitalis was the owner of the property.  The audio guide explained that the lake was created where the stone for the monastic buildings had been quarried.  The lake is fed by a small stream and the water was no doubt used to irrigate fields and gardens.

On we went, through the woodland surrounding the lake, to the next point of interest: vestiges of pre-historic man’s occupation of the site!

The views from there were spectacular!

After a brief walk, we reached a dolmen, the final point of our guided visit.  It sits all by itself and the views from there were also spectacular!  Legend has it that the monks used to sit inside the dolmen to be healed when they were sick!

On our way back to the abbey, there was a lovely view of the buildings across a green field:

The priory of Saint Michel de Grandmont is open from February to the end of December, from 10am to 6pm.  It is closed on Mondays during the off-season.  Full details can be found on www.prieure-grandmont.fr

I leave you with a video of the fountain which plays on the courtyard wall.  It sums up the peace and serenity of Saint Michel de Grandmont on the day that I visited.

 

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Sittin’ on the dock of the bay

After that wonderful visit at Noilly Prat (see last week’s post) we needed some sustenance!!  There are a good number of restaurants to choose from in Marseillan – we headed to La Taverne du Port because of its quirky interior!  I had eaten there a number of times before, and I knew that the food was going to be good – another major criteria when choosing a restaurant!! 🙂

La Taverne du Port is just a short stroll away from Noilly Prat, and right across a canal which functions as a harbour for fishing and pleasure boats.

Standing with my back to the restaurant, I could see the visitor’s centre of Noilly Prat on the other side of the canal (on the right in the picture below)!

I mentioned the quirky interior of La Taverne du Port earlier – the picture below will give you some idea:

The furniture is all made from wooden barrels, and the walls are lined with rows upon rows of bottles.

La Taverne du Port has an amazing collection of whiskies, armagnacs, cognacs, spirits and wines, and they are all for sale, either by the bottle or by the glass!  All together, the restaurant stocks over 800 different types of drinks, and their list is impressive!!

But we had come for a bite to eat – we’d already had our ‘aperitif’ across the water!  Here, without further ado, are the starters:

Gratinated oysters

Salad with smoked mackerel fillets

A selection of charcuterie, cured meats sliced wafer thin.

The restaurant has one of these fancy hand-cranked slicing machines, which allows the cured meats to be sliced ever so thin!

Next to the selection of charcuterie was an impressive cheese board, arranged on top of a barrel!

For my main course I had chosen the day’s special: boeuf bourguignon:

This was a most delicious and rich beef stew, wonderfully flavoured!

My dining companions had opted for the catch of the day – small red mullet and mantis shrimp, served with a very tasty garlic sauce.

All main courses were accompanied by a delicious potato and vegetable gratin.  The portions were generous, so we all skipped dessert.  Instead we decided to go for a walk around Marseillan.

Before we leave the restaurant, here is a picture of what the terrace in front of La Taverne du Port looks like – it’s just by the water, which you can’t see in the picture.  For further details visit the website of La Taverne du Port.

Here are some pictures taken along the canal:

On a good day, you can see right across to Sete and the Mont Saint-Michel:

As well as the beautiful views along the canal, there are many quaint views and interesting corners in Marseillan, a few of which I’ll show you below.  Do visit if you are in the area!!

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Spring into action

With Spring in the air, it’s time to come out of hibernation!  There are many events coming up which will tempt you, I’m sure!!

Journees Fleurs et Jardins, Chateau de Perdiguier, Maraussan – 7 and 8 April 2018

This coming weekend, Chateau de Perdiguier in Maraussan is opening its doors to the public for the annual flower and garden show.  I wrote about the event a few years ago. Here is the link to that post.

Journees des plantes rares et collections, Beziers – 28 and 29 April 2018

Spring is a time for gardening, and to continue with that theme, this event is taking place in Beziers for the first time this year.  The official website gives a list of exhibitors – it sounds as though there’ll be some interesting plants there!  I’m sure I’ll be able to find something for my garden!! 🙂

Farm open days, various locations in Herault – 28 and 29 April 2018

You may remember my post about my farm visits last year – if you don’t, you can find the article here.  The next open days are coming up soon, and you’ll be able to find details of all the participating farms via this link.

European museum night – 19 May 2018

Since 2005, European museum night has been enchanting visitors every year.  It’s a free event and it gives visitors the chance to discover the treasures of museums all over Europe in different ways.  You’ll be able to find the programme for Herault via this link.

Fete de la Musique, all over France – 21 June 2018

This one is an absolute must for your calendar!!  There will be concerts everywhere, from small recitals of classical music to large pop/rock concerts!  Saint-Chinian will be hosting a concert that day, details are yet to be announced.

Festival MusiSc, Saint-Chinian – 23 to 29 July 2018

The music festival will take place from July 23 to 26 this year.  Two concerts on each of the six days (no concerts on Tuesdays), 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, jazz, Latin rhythms, world music etc…  Full details can be found on www.festivalmusisc.wordpress.com