Prepare to be charmed by Pézenas, France.
After our first day of cruising the Canal du Midi aboard the luxurious Athos barge, we visited our first medieval town in the South of France, Pézenas. I had my first taste of southern France at the port of Marseillan, and I was ready for more. Out of all the towns we visited on our cruise, Pezenas France was quite possibly my favorite of them all.
Could Pezenas France quite possibly be the most beautiful town in the Languedoc-Roussillon region? It has an intriguing history, a preserved town, and lovely little shops with locally made wares. Here are a few wonderful things to do in Pezenas.
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Preserved Old Town
If you’re looking for a perfectly preserved old town, you’ll find it in Pezenas France. It’s likely one of the most historic towns in the South of France. In fact, it was one of the first town centers in France to be declared a protected monument. Not only that, but I’d be willing to bet that it’s one of the most beautiful towns in the South of France, too. Go for a wander around every narrow alleyway and cobblestone street.
Our first stop was one of the “hotel particuliers” in town, which are not hotels. They are brilliant mansions where their extremely wealthy owners lived back in the day. We visited the Hôtel de Lacoste to learn a little bit about these mansions. I adored the stone archways and staircases in the courtyard where you could look straight up to the sky. I tried to imagine what it was like back in the 17th century when the rich and famous visited this home (even Louis XIV!).
Pezenas France had a large Jewish population back in the 13th century, as did many towns in the South of France. The two main streets of the Jewish Ghetto are Rue Juiverie and Rue des Litanies. Although the Jews were ordered to be expelled from France by King Charles VI in 1394, Pezenas was one of the last towns to take action on the king’s orders.
While walking around the Jewish Ghetto, our guide pointed out a Star of David on the exterior wall of a home. He noted that the person who recently put up the Star of David by their home was not Jewish themselves. The home owner wanted to pay tribute to those who were discriminated against and forced to leave their homes, as well as demonstrate the importance of remembering the history of this neighborhood.
Details on the Streets of Pezenas France
If you walk around and look at all of the buildings, you’ll notice so many intricate details. It really is like walking through a living museum. This is certainly one of the best things to do in Pezenas France. Admire every little detail by looking up and around as you go.
Saint Roch Statue
On one corner, there’s the statue of Saint Roch carved into the upper corner of a building. St. Roch usually has a dog by his side, and he typically points to a lesion on his thigh. It’s a sore from contracting the plague. After becoming ill with the plague, he was forced to move outside of town where his faithful dog brought him bread every day and he recovered. Saint Roch is the patron saint of dogs, and he gained a reputation for helping to heal other people with the plague.
Interesting Balcony Railings
As I was gazing up at various balconies and decorative railings, this one definitely stood out. Take a close look at this railing. See an interesting…design? This could signify that this building was once a brothel back in the day!
Beware: A Lunatic Cat
I was admiring this gorgeous little garden and patio of a home when I saw a tiny cat door. By the cat door, there was a sign: “Attention Chat Lunatique”! Uh oh. Was some sort of insane cat going to leap out and attack me?
Apparently, there is a very sweet cat that lives at this house. It’s possible that the owner was growing tired of tourists hanging out in front of their house, petting their cat. Or maybe it’s a bit of a joke? Regardless, I did find the cat. He was curled up inside a planter in front of the house. And he was not crazy; he was super sweet.
Connections to Moliere
Pezenas France is a town that idolzies Moliere. They love Moliere so much that you’ll find restaurants and establishments named after Moliere wherever you turn. While I didn’t delve too much into the history of Moliere in the town, you can certainly learn more about his role in Pezenas through local museums.
Moliere did tour Pezenas quite often with his troupe over several years. Though he didn’t live there permanently, he did stay in Pezenas quite often. If you’re interested in the history of Moliere in Pezenas, head to the tourist office to watch a short 3D film. There’s also a Moliere monument in town, as well as his armchair at the Musée de Vulliod Saint Germain.
Shopping is one of the top things to do in Pezenas France. Our small group arrived early in the morning before many shops opened for business. If you love peace and quiet, come to Pezenas before 10:00am. As the businesses slowly began to open their doors, people started to flock to the town. It was actually quite lovely to watch the town come to life.
There are tons of boutique shops selling fancy hats, dresses, purses, and jewelry. A flowing yellow tunic caught my eye in a shop window and I couldn’t resist trying it on (and buying it). I also went into a shop selling handcrafted and painted cat figures that were super cute (and I couldn’t resist buying one of those either).
One of the local specialties of Pézenas are the Berlingots de Pézenas. These are small, hard candies in dozens of flavors. You can buy these at the Confiserie Boudet Shop right in town.
If you happen to visit on a Saturday, there’s a lively Saturday Market in town. Unfortunately, we weren’t there during the market, but I’d love to return in the future for this.
Restaurants and Cafes
While I didn’t dine in Pézenas, I did see some vegetarian (and quite possibly could be made vegan) options on restaurant signs around town. There are so many patios overlooking cobblestone streets and plazas. I ended up stopping for a quick coffee at O Ju ex Au cafe (8 rue Alfred Sabatier). It’s such a colorful building with so many fun decorations hanging everywhere, both inside and outside. You really can’t miss it! They have a cute little patio out front where I sat and enjoyed my cup of coffee.
While we only had a few hours in Pezenas, France, I could have easily spent more time here exploring its museums and streets. It’s possible to see Pezenas in a short amount of time and get a great feel for the town, especially if you’re visiting from a barge cruise from the Canal du Midi. However, if you’re interested in spending a day or two here, definitely go for it. Check out these hotel reviews by fellow travelers when choosing a place to stay.
If one thing is for certain, you must include it on your bucket list of South of France towns (along with Narbonne, Minerve, and Capestang to name a few). I only skimmed the surface of what this spectacular town has to offer and I’d love to return in the future. It’s truly one of the best places in the South of France.
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