lundi 5 avril 2010

Rue des Anciennes Arènes, Place du Cirque, Béziers

In 1999, I co-invested in a renovation project in the French city of Béziers. Béziers is located in Southeast France, in the département called L’Hérault (34), in the region known as Languedoc Roussillon.

Béziers is not too far from the larger and better known city of Montpellier. In fact, Béziers is something of a secret treasure. It is located just 10 kilometers from the Mediterranean and 50 kilometers from the mountains. The back country is simply spectacular and untamed, and features the station thermale Avène and roquefort cheese. More about Avène below.

The city of Béziers is known for bulls and wine. But there is more: the inner city neighborhood where I bought and renovated an apartment (as part of a larger and ongoing project) is where the Roman arenas (arènes) were located, built in 80 AD and able to seat nearly 15,000 spectators.

The vestiges of these arenas and surrounding neighborhood have now been almost completely rehabilitated and are open to the public for guided tours. So if you’ve never seen a vomitorium, consider visiting Béziers.

Béziers boasts 65 centuries of history, from the Roman era to the Crusades, not to mention the opulent 19th century, traces of which remain in the wide tree-lined avenues, the new Arena, fountains, public gardens, and imposing Haussmanian architecture. Better still, the weather is California-like. Best of all, Béziers is off the beaten tourist track. Even French tourists seem to stop at Montpellier or head straight to the Côte d'Azur without stopping.

Some people may be shocked to learn that bull fights are still staged in France, but they are, in Roman amphitheaters located in Fréjus, Arles, Nîmes, Béziers and other towns in the south. In Béziers, the annual 4-day feria, based on the Spanish corrida, takes place in August. Béziers even has its own accredited bullfighting school.

I’ve been thinking about Béziers lately because my investment has matured. It has been a rental unit since work was completed, with rent controlled at a moderate rate and the property managed by a special company set up for this purpose. A hassle-free investment, except for all the hassles. More about that another time. I've also been thinking it would be fun to look in on my investment this summer. We could fly into Paris, rent a car, and head south. Maybe go to Grenoble after that, where my friend Monique has just bought a resturant. Maybe traverse France and pay a visit to my sailboat in La Rochelle. Just thinking aloud here...

Not too far from Béziers, up in the hills, sits the Avène spa. Visits are covered by the French social security system, as the water is noted for its healing properties for sufferers of skin ailments such as eczema and psoriasis. Incidentally, Avène makes a wonderful, gentle line of skincare products, which unfortunately are impossible to get in the US (but sold in Canada!).

Here are some photos taken as the project was near completion. And yes, the sky really is that blue in Béziers.

1. These tiles, which date from the 18th century, were found when the project got underway. We decided to use them in the entryway to the apartment.

2. This is the view from the kitchen terrace, which overlooks a tiny interior courtyard.

3. Vestiges of the Arènes.

4. Béziers

5. Place du Cirque. My apartment is in the white building with the green shutters. The living room overlooks the square, Place du Cirque.