Fairytale France

Two weeks ago, I posted about our trip to Béziers in the South of France. While we were based in Béziers, staying at an airbnb in the city, we took a day trip to another (even smaller) French town called Pézenas which I thought was worthy of its own blog post. Since I'm currently writing to you from rainy (and fairly empty) Edinburgh, this post serves as a bit of wanderlust for myself, as I dream of soaking up the sun and being on holiday again.

Pézenas is practically a stones throw away from Béziers, taking only about thirty minutes on a coach bus to arrive at our destination. At only 1.60 each way, it's well worth the price for a change of scenery.

From the bus station, Pézenas is rather unassuming. But delve into it's labyrinth of nearly-silent alleyways and you'll emerge into a lively town centre, with not a tourist bus in sight. With a fountain as its focal point, and fewer cars than it has people, Pézenas is the perfect pedestrian-friendly town. Strands of paper flowers form a rainbow of color above one sunny street, while other pathways seem less treaded on. It's a picture-perfect French dreamland just waiting to be discovered.

Pézenas isn't the kind of place where you'll find major tourist attractions. It's more of an escape from that actually. But that doesn't mean that there aren't things to see. Wander down to a discreet corner of the town to find the site of the old Jewish Ghetto, a reminder of the past that flows seamlessly into the present. Today, you'll find various artists at work in their shopfronts, luring you in just by the sound of their handiwork to buy their wares.

Pézenas is also home to a fair few museums and galleries. From the whimsical museum dedicated to the life of actor, singer and comedian Boby Lapointe to the equally pedantic Museum of Doors, this town is not one for all-encompassing galleries. While the Museum of Doors might offer more guided insight into Pézenas' architecture, a careful look as you wander about the town will give you a feel for their notable facades- from gilded wooden doors to clever knockers, you'll find a photo-op around every corner.

For us, the only museum we managed to fully explore was a small gallery of independent artists' work that also served as a storefront. You could buy absolutely anything on show, and trust me when I say I was tempted. From stunning glassware to beautiful sculptures to unique jewelry, it's no wonder Pézenas is known for its artistry.

Stomachs grumbling, we were on the hunt for somewhere to eat. Throughout our trip, we actually didn't eat out that much, instead opting to take along picnics for lunch and cook in the apartment most nights. But since we were out discovering a new place, we were in search of a truly French culinary experience.

Now, I'm not one to take TripAdvisor as gospel- cranky, demanding tourists often have a way of distorting reality. But the website is certainly helpful when you're on very unfamiliar turf, especially at the last minute. A quick search found that the top eatery in all of Pézenas was but a humble cafe/restaurant called Chez Hansi. Although it had a rating of "£££" to indicate it's priciness, a skim of the reviews revealed that the set menu was far from expensive. For just 19 euros each we were able to enjoy three magnificent courses.

I could wax poetic about this meal (and I think it's practically deserving of it's own blog post as well), but I'll spare you from my absolute infatuation with this meal, and just give you a quick recap of our experience.

I love how in France, and arguably most of Europe, the attitude when it comes to dining is "take a seat and relax." No wondering if it's table service, order at the till, or otherwise. No one's in any rush, after all. We were greeted by the friendly owner who, after we meekly admitted that we don't speak French, kindly translated the menu for us. We both agreed that we knew at least enough menu French to get by, but it was incredibly nice of the owner/chef/waiter (a man who wore many hats) to be patient enough to go through every option.

After ordering a carafe of rose to cool us down while we sat in the beating sunshine, we were served warm bread (baguette, of course) with a salty, briny olive tapenade. To start out our meal, we both opted for salads. Ben went for the hearty chef's salad topped with all kinds of provincial meats, while I went for a lighter salad of warm goat cheese parcels atop mixed greens. It was heavenly, to say the least.

Despite having been near the coast for most of our trip, I hadn't actually had any fish yet. So for my main, I ordered tender cuttlefish served in a creamy garlic sauce. Ben, always one for an adventurous dish, chose rabbit as his main, which was served with stewed carrots and the richest potato dauphinoise I've ever tasted.

We fought over who was entitled to which dessert. One of us just had to have the lavender creme brûlée, but I was also drawn to the nougat ice cream with mixed fruits. Ben's creme brûlée was perfectly balanced, and tasted nothing like dish soap- a common fear of ours when ordering floral flavored desserts. And my ice cream? Well, it was ginormous. My brick of ice cream was served with beautiful, fluffy cream and a tart raspberry sauce.

If there's one reason to visit Pézenas, it's for the restaurant. I mean it when I say that this is one of the best restaurants I've ever been to. And for 47 euros including wine and coffee? You have absolutely no excuse not to go.

Full from our leisurely lunch, we headed for another wander around town to check out some of the artisan shops. From carefully crafted ceramics to handmade cork accessories to small-batch nougat, you're sure to find something for all of your loved ones in just a small area. I won't say exactly what I bought, because that will give away the surprise to my family members back home, but let's just say we did a bit of damage in the shops.

One of our favorite moments from the trip was when Ben confidently walked into a local wine shop, hoping to pick up a bottle for our dinner that night. He asked the shop owner, in French, if he spoke English at all, to which the man bluntly replied "No." But Ben pulled through, and successfully communicated what type of wine he was looking for in French. You could say he was pretty proud of himself.

And that's the thing about visiting a small town in a different country- it forces you to drop the notion that "everyone" speaks English. Because, in all likelihood, the locals won't. My shining moment came when we were on our way back to the bus station. I had my eye on a chocolate beignet from a small bakery, and was determined to order my treat in French. Thankfully, I took one year of freshman-level French in high school, so I knew the basics (that is, food, numbers, and "please"). One Euro, and one brief French exchange later, I was sitting pretty with my fluffy, chocolatey beignet.

Pézenas might not be on your radar, but if you ever get the chance to visit the South of France, it's a day trip that's well worth the drive or bus ride. With 5-star food to fill you up, and no shortage of beautiful, handmade crafts to fill up your hand luggage, Pézenas is a must for anyone seeking a true French Fairytale.


  1. I loved reading this- it sounds like you had a fabulous time! Definitely somewhere I'll be adding to my list!
    Lisa x

  2. I have to admit I don't really think too fondly on my own time in France. I visited a lot as a kid and as my parents are 'sunbathe at the pool' kind of people I was often really bored. But your posts have definitely made me want to go back and refresh my opinion of the place by actually getting out to explore!


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