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Yesterday we spent the day in Béziers, a pretty and friendly city, albeit built on rugby, bull-fighting and throat-slitting massacres (during the Crusades, and in the Madeleine church pictured above).
If you find yourself there, here’s what I would recommend:
1. Get this map!
Follow the signs to the Office du Tourisme and pick up ‘Les Sites’ – this is one of the best tourist maps I’ve seen, with easy colour-coded routes offering tours around Romanesque/Gothic buildings, gardens and fountains, the old city and the Golden Age of the 19th Century. You can easily mix and match routes. (Download the map here.)
2. Door knockers
Look out for the door knockers – a local speciality seems to be, ahem, hands on knockers, like this one.
3. Bishop’s eye view
Go through the cloisters at the cathedral to the Bishop’s Garden – there’s a good view looking down from the bluff over the orange rooftops to the river Orb.
4. Penitents Chapel
The Saint Nazaire Cathedral and the Madeleine Church (where the 1209 massacre took place) may be the main events but I found the Penitents Chapel on the Rue du 4 Septembre more charming – with a number of representations of female saints (here is St Germaine and check out this altar) and, strangely, a huge model ship mounted on the back wall.
5. Nine locks
Head for the Canal Du Midi aqueduct behind the train station – you can walk across it for a good view of the cathedral and the River Orb below. Continue on away from town for scenic canal walking and after 1.3km you reach the staircase lock at Fonserannes – a series of nine locks which brings the canal down to the level of the River Orb. It’s well worth a view. There’s also a little cafe serving cold beer at the bottom – welcome after the thirsty walk – plus there’s a good view back to the city.
Our hosts have been kind enough to give us their pick of the local beaches.
1. Leucat Plage
A wide, sandy Blue Flag beach – usually a lot calmer than this.
2. Serignan Plage
Another lovely Blue Flag beach. Image: H Anderson
3. Cabanes de Fleury
A great beach, plus there’s an “excellent pastry shop and fruiterie” at nearby Salles D’Aude.
4. Racou Plage
A shelving grainy beach on the Vermillion coast, with a view up to the Pyrenées and a short hop to Collioure. Image: Sean Gillies
“Because you are in the middle of Collioure and Collioure is the gem of the ‘Côte Vermeille’. You can swim in the harbour within the shadows of monastic buildings.” Image: Crabchick
A lovely awkward translation this. On the English menu in a Collioure restaurant yesterday was ‘Squids doughnut’. We had to ask for the French menu to discover this was, in fact, calamari. One for your future reference.
So can you tell what it is yet? Three clouds, three guesses…
1. Tenuous turtle (it was better 1 min previously, honest.)
2. This way.
Ok, ok, so here are some better examples of pareidolia, or creepy clouds…
Blue sky, sunshine and a temperature that is perfecto for gingers like me (average 24 degrees), meant today had to be a BEACH DAY! Better yet, the beaches were near empty. I love it how off-season for other people is when I can go outside and actually sunbathe. June-August is often a frightful bore for the fair-skinned, but the cusp of autumn/winter is just right for old Goldilocks here.
It’s given me the idea for a series of features based on The Ginger Calendar – where is good to go, with temperatures in the early 20s for most of the day and with a sea that isn’t too chilly? Please feel free to post your suggestions/experiences below.
Personally, I think it’s very easy to get wrong and have felt quite restricted on some trips abroad. For example, I once went to the Greek Islands in June and couldn’t go to the beach until 5pm when the sun finally turned the heat down. In reaction, I then made the mistake of going in October, when the beach was only warm enough from 11am-3pm and the sun set at 6ish.
Although the shops at many resorts were mostly closed, let me recommend the South of France in late September, early October. Today we took a picnic to Leucate (pictured) then went for a snooze on Le Racou beach in the far South-west of France, just a hour or two from the Spanish border, and it was lovely. The water could have been warmer and the waves slightly calmer, but the sun strength was just about right. One or two applications of Factor 50 and no frying skin.
Yesterday, on a walkabout near Colombiers, we were presented with this unusual radial farming landscape – the Etang de Montady.
You can see it more clearly on Google Earth:
But what is it? Answer: an ex pond. The area was pretty much a stagnant swamp that was emptied of water in the 13th century via a series of drainage ditches sloping to a lower central point (hence the triangular sundial format). And where does the plughole go? It drains under Malpas Hill and under what is now the Malpas Tunnel, which we also walked through yesterday. Here is the tunnel, housing a stretch of the Canal du Midi:
The rock you can see is called Tuff, which appears to be a pretty soft geological mix of volcanic ash and other material, giving a weird hole-mottled surface. Anyway, the water (I think) then drains empties into in the Aude River via the ponds of nearby Poilhes and Capestang, releasing 420 hectares of land for agricultural use – check out those vineyards.
We saw small grape pickup trucks bringing in cabernet sauvignon grapes near Colombiers. Interesting factoid I learnt yesterday: the grapes are blown off the vine by the agricultural equivalent of a Dyson Airblade tractor that looks something like this. Alors, dinnertime – time to go drink some of the local produce.