On the edge of town was a modern shopping centre which I remembered because this was where the Hotel Ibis was that I stayed at in 2003 so we pulled in, found a Lidl supermarket for some wine and beer for later on then and fully provisioned we rejoined the main road. We avoided the direct route by motorway via Narbonne because although it was no doubt quicker this involved the unnecessary expense of toll fees and instead we took the departmental red road, the D11, which more or less followed the same route as the Canal du Midi all the way from Carcassonne to Beziers and we stopped a couple of times at convenient places along the way to take a look at this iconic French waterway. These tree-lined, meandering stretches of the Canal du Midi are of such perfect postcard beauty that it is easy to understand why that when naming it a world heritage site, UNESCO declared it not only “one of the most remarkable feats of civil engineering in modern times”, but a “work of art”.
We arrived in Beziers at six o’clock and the centre of the city was a fermenting vat of overflowing masculine celebration bursting with stale booze and testosterone and the reason for the singing and the processions of cars all blowing their horns and the occupants chanting, was that earlier today France had beaten Wales in the semi-final of the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand and would now be playing in the Final the following week.
Rugby Football is the national sport of the south of France, even more popular than soccer and everyone here was in party mood. In fact if you draw a line from La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast to the Swiss border at Geneva twenty-eight of France’s top thirty clubs fall below that line and the only other two are in Paris, which means they get to do a lot of travelling for away fixtures. At this particular time, in October 2011, Beziers were bottom of the second division (i.e. thirtieth out of thirty) but this wasn’t spoiling it for anyone tonight I can tell you!
We had a nice hotel close to the centre and after we had settled in and taken care of a bottle of wine we walked into the city which by nine o’clock was curiously subdued after the earlier festivities which now seemed to have burnt themselves out and it was with some difficulty that we found a restaurant that was still open. Eventually we found a quiet little place where the staff seemed pleased to have some customers and we enjoyed a simple meal and a carafe of house wine before strolling back under a star filled sky to the hotel des Poetes and our little room on the first floor.