Have you heard of the Canal du Midi? It runs from Sète to Toulouse so you can sail from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic: a great idea dating back to ancient times.
It wasn't until the 17th century that it came to life thanks to Pierre-Paul Riquet. Louis XIV's tax collector was born in Béziers in 1609 and got the idea of using water from the Black Mountain to supply the Canal. Water was channelled to the Saint-Ferréol basin then Seuil de Naurouze, the highest point on the route, before running towards the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Ingenious!
Hop on board a boat, grab a bike, pull on your trainers and go through the Malpas tunnel which was dug out in three months in secret as Colbert didn't agree to it. It's a real technical feat despite being less spectacular than the impressive staircase locksthat are the Fonseranes 9 Locks. They have been fully restored and are now a first class tourist attraction.
Whilst in Béziers you can also see the beautiful canal bridge over the Orb which enables boats on the Canal to cross the river.
Start your adventure in Maraussan where the oldest cooperative winery in France awaits. Drive along lovely little roads running through the vineyards and villages: here and there you'll see wine châteaus built in the late 19th century by rich wine traders from Béziers. Vines have been grown here for 2500 years and are everywhere. Alongside almond trees, umbrella pines and fig trees, they make Béziers the "Tuscany of the Languedoc".
The Gaul Oppidum of Ensérune overlooks the Languedoc plain and the Canal du Midi. It isn't too much of a hard slog... it's only at an altitude of 100m. But the views running from the Cévennes to the Pyrenees are simply breath-taking.
Here you'll find the relics of a major Gaul town that was inhabited between 3 and 6AD. The treasure unearthed during archaeological digs is exhibited at the site's museum.
Well worth a visit
From the Oppidum of Ensérune you can see the Montady Lake which dried up in the 13th century. Its cultivated fields form a huge wheel whose spokes are water channels.
Whether you're a connoisseur or novice on the subject, the Regional Contemporary Art Museum in Sérignan 20 mins south of Béziers is a real treat. Everyone loves it! There's nothing unwelcoming about this place where you'll see the biggest international artists from the 60s to the present day.
The permanent collection is complimented by major temporary exhibitions. The 173 openwork columns by Daniel Buren light up at dusk outside.
Leave Sérignan Plage to reach Les Orpellières at the Orb's river mouth. A large fine sand beach, a long dune belt and a marsh area teeming with birds... This Natura 2000 site is heaven on earth. Signposted trail (2 hr walk).