Yes folks my wife and I have been married a year and travelers that we are we decided to celebrate the occasion, amongst other things, with a trip down to the Southern French Languedoc region and the cities Montpellier, Sête and Beziers and of the course the Mediterranean itself, with its blue sea and white beaches.
Getting there was another thing. Ah the joys of driving down the A7 and A9 in high summer! It wasn’t the eight hundred kilometer round trip that was the problem, just the hundred odd kilometers between Valence and Orange.
Let me explain. Normally you can do the trip, Grenoble/Montpellier, in about 2 & 1/2 hrs to three hours but at this time of the year you can always count on the traffic jams, especially around Valence, Montélimar and Orange, that on a good day they can stretch the equivalent distance of London to Dover and triple your traveling time, imagine, people even consider this part of the charm of going on holiday to France. Fortunately the motorways have numerous rest places to stop off at that exist nowhere else in the world, you can even find places to go scuba diving. OK it’s in a tank but you won’t the likes on any British motorway that I know of.
We drove down the Friday afternoon – the news broadcasts having announced the (massive) arrival the Brit’s for the Saturday (start of the school holidays) – and luckily for us the weather was nice and sunny, even warm but not exceptionally hot for the time of year so driving was actually a pleasure.
One word of advice though you really do have to keep the eyes open for radar, even if you are Brit, the law will flash and stop you at the next exit, the French law’s new favorite pastime is nabbing Canonballers hot off the ferry.
But we made good speed arriving at our first destination, at Montpellier, in time for a dip in the hotel’s swimming pool and a leisurely drive into town to see the old Roman Viaduct and some of the old city centre before dinner.
The choice of the 01st hotel, Kyriad – a French 2** hotel chain – was made out of availability and previous experience rather than for the price, situation or cuisine. Generally all these 2** hotels all have the same amenities, same style of restaurant, same menus and same breakfast buffets as any other 2** hotel chain so you can’t go far wrong. This one however decided to try to offer a new French cuisine which honestly wasn’t a success and quickly to be forgotten.
Ok it’s my professional training and twenty odd years in the job coming out but honestly! Chocolate ice cream with pimento! Hells bells I didn’t think it possible to massacre chocolate ice cream like that… and, why oh why do restaurants seem obliged now to have these George Clooney capsule coffee machines? Whatever happened to the good old espresso machine? Much better than the insipid stuff these capsule coffee machines churn out.
On leaving Montpellier we stopped off at Frontignan, a touristy seaside resort with a lovely beach, for a dip in the Mediterranean, a first for the wife, then lunch.
After lunch we drove sedately west along the coast stopping off at Sete before going to Beziers, digesting our meal of local seafood and slowly discovering the spots we forgot to put sun cream on.
NB. The thing to note about this route is that you drive along a beach of white sand and turquoise blue sea that just goes on and on and on for miles, some 40Ks in all, so that after a while you have one sole craving. Stop the car and go for a dip! The only problem is that if you are driving west you can’t just stop the car anywhere, cross the road and go for a dip, you’d have more luck trying to cross any major motorway during rush hour!
But on to our second stopover, Beziers. We spent the night in a nondescript 2** Ibis hotel, which again was another case of taking what was available but I have to say that this hotel, although the rooms are devoid of all complementary products and services, has a better restaurant service and a much, much better breakfast buffet (very important) than the one at the hotel in Montpellier.
To most people, mainly foreigners, Beziers is a stopover on the way to and from the Spanish Border some 120Ks away, a backwater city stuck between Montpellier to the east and Narbonne in the west. In fact on visiting Beziers it reminded me of Valence, in the Drome. Same geographical problem – stuck on the A7 between Lyon and Avignon – and like Valence when you actually visit Beziers you discover its points of interest, like the charming 19th century, Second Empire period, horticultural garden called the “Plateau des Poetes” or the canal du Midi that goes from Sete to Bordeaux.
To people who know Beziers is more importantly the gateway to an immense and amazing stretch of seaside, some 10Ks away from the city centre, that includes a resort called “Valras Plage”.
I had heard quite a lot about “Valras Plage” so we decided to go there the Sunday morning and although the weather was turning, it actually rained which didn’t stop the morning swimmers, we got a fair idea of the atmosphere of the place. I wouldn’t exactly say that it’s a French version of Benidorm but it’s not far off, so much so that we decided to go and spend a week there sometime.
But that’s in the future. For this year it’s finished with the seaside, although you never know, but watch out for more exhilarating tales of our trips up mountains, down dales and what ever happened in between.