The landlady is on holiday, and so she lent me her carkeys for the week. Today was an opportunity to head southwest of Montpellier along some backroads to the lower reaches of the Hérault – the river which gives its name to Montpellier’s départment.
Pézenas is one of the oldest towns in Languedoc, and was spared development in the 19th century when the trainline to Paris was pushed through to Béziers, largely leaving Pézenas wallowing as a sleepy market town. However the place has been well and truly discovered by holiday-makers and the expat retiree set. Saturday is market day, and the license plates in the carpark signalled significant number of shoppers from Nijmegen, Brussels and Düsseldorf.
The crowds in Pézenas were a little oppressive, so after buying a few vegetables for tomorrow’s lunch, I hightailed it south to Agde, where midday was beckoning, and the the cool grey streets were altogether more agreeable and quiet. Reposing beside the river in its unusual sombre stone architecture, Agde is celebrating its 2600th birthday this year (the place was founded as an Ionian Greek colony in 500 B.C.). A shady spot beside the fishing boats provided the perfect venue for lunch: a sandwich jambon beurre and a can of Orangina.
The beach was too close and too tempting to avoid, so a short drive took me to the mouth of the Hérault at Grau d’Agde, a fairly low-key beach village by Mediterranean standards. Shoes were thrown off and I dipped my pink Anglo-Saxon legs in the sea. Elsewhere on the beach, sandcastles were in progress.
The return loop from Agde took in the baking hot streets of Florensac (where eight years ago I spent a winter holiday with my uncle and aunt), and the remains of the Roman bridge at St Thibéry. The bridge originally carried the traffic of the Via Domitia, linking Spain to Italy, and the bridge remained in use for a thousand years after the Romans left, until a flood in the 16th Century washed part of it away.
The Via Domitia runs through Montpellier, but today its moden equivalent is the A9 autouroute, zooming in an arc through Languedoc parallel to the coast. After a day driving in the sun, it was this rather faster road that brought me back to Montpellier, just in time to save my Pézenas vegetables from expiring in the heat.