I wondered whether to write about Bize or not because it is such a small village and not one that seems to attract many visitors. When I mention Bize, people usually say, ‘Do you mean Beziers’ (a town not very far away from Bize)?
With a population of approximately 1,000 it is well served by two bakers, two general stores, a post office, a hairdresser, a pharmacy, a wine cave, several restaurants and a couple of bars and a general market every Wednesday morning throughout the year. About a quarter of the houses are second homes, a fact I think that stands as a testament to its charms.
So why do I like it so much. I think it’s because despite being a village housing many second home owners, Bize-Minervois, to give it its full title, located on the banks of the Cesse in the middle of a mountain gorge surrounded by vineyards and olive trees, has retained its old world charm.
The old stone houses, some covered in ivy, their shutters brightly coloured and their decorative iron balconies draped with red and pink geraniums, green ferns and leafy plants, the old fashioned little shops and narrow cobbled alleys lends Bize a sleepy air. It should all feel a tad overdone, rusticity applied with a trowel, but somehow it doesn’t. It is also eerily quiet in the afternoon, which I love, and the street cats aren’t feral!
It doesn’t take long to walk through Bize but along the way you will be intrigued with the little jokes that the inhabitants have placed here and there. Sculptures of animals and some peculiar faces will peek out of walls and on corners but you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled to see them.
Apart from the hidden sculptures, things to look out for are Bize-Minervois’ ancient main gate, Porte Saint-Michel which dates from around the 8th century and which leads in turn to a small square where gardeners once sold their produce – the Place aux Herbes,
Two kilometres from Bize you will find L’Oubilo, my main reason for visiting when I’m in the area. For me this is olive heaven, a co-operative that sells the Rolls-Royce of table olives cultivated only in the Languedoc – the lucques. Lucques are not your usual olives, they are buttery, creamy, totally smooth and very moreish. I’ve never managed to find them in the UK.
L’Oubilo also does a good line in wines from their own vineyard. Tastings are always available and it will be hard to resist driving away without a couple of boxes of really great wines – and some olives of course and the by-products of the olive, tapenades and oils. If you are hiking or cycling you will just have to sample on the spot and maybe pack a bottle or two?
Cycling or driving, the most important sight-seeing spot in the area is the beautiful Abbaye Sainte-Marie de Fontfroidede which you can read about here. It is also a good spot for a midday snack, or a more substantial meal if needed, plus a glass or two of the wine produced by the Abbey.
For a day’s total relaxing, head for the wide, wide beach at Guissans, where the sand is soft, the swimming is good and there is a wonderful fresh seafood restaurant right on the beach.
And if it’s history you’re after then a visit to the Cathar village of Minerve, perched on a column of rock in the gorges of the river Cesse and one of the most beautiful villages in France, will deliver food for the mind and scenery to delight the eye.
Before you leave the area, be sure to drive or cycle down to La Somail on the Canal du Midi, relax by the waters while you watch the boats go by, nurse an aperitif while you peruse the menu before dining in the lovely L’O de la Bouche, a restaurant invariably full of locals.
One thing’s for sure, you won’t be short of options for spending time in this lovely area of France.