Gabian is a small but very typical village of the old Languedoc. Viewed from the air, it resembles a snail’s shell—this is the form of defence known as the ‘circulade’, where the outer walls of each house are built very thickly to repel invaders and each circle interlocks as it has grown and been added to over the centuries of the village’s existence. It is not a showy village but it is the embodiment of what makes an ancient village in the Midi. Founded originally because of its significant water source (the ‘Resclause’), the village was able to grow when the Romans developed this source and built an aqueduct to transport its water all the way to Béziers 30km away.
In the early 20th century, another, more unexpected, resource found near the village was tapped—oil! For a short period, oil-drilling and recovery made Gabian an important contributor to industry. A station and railway were built to facilitate transportation but by the time the Nazis took the wells over in the Second World War, the supply was already well-nigh exhausted.
Now, like dozens of other villages in Languedoc-Roussillon, the economy of Gabian turns on wine and wine-making. This brings quality of life to the population, supports economic activity, aids the development and professionalisation of tourism, and helps improve and preserve the natural environment and architectural heritage.
Just up the road from the village is the Château-Abbaye de Cassan, a former Royal priory. This is now classed as an historic monument which hosts many different events throughout the year, including classical concerts, conferences and lectures and ends with the hugely popular Christmas Fair in late November. Never has buying presents for the in-laws been so easy and so fulfilling!
About 10 minutes drive away is Pézenas, a great town for tourists with an excellent Saturday market and lots of medieval ‘ruelles’ to lose yourself in, lined with artisanale shops selling everything from hand-gilded candleabra to designer frocks.
For days out, try Montpellier, a city which has its own long history but has grown immensely in recent years, largely due to its science parks and associated industries. Visitors go to Montpellier for its shopping opportunities, its great aquarium - the Mare Nostrum, its Galilée Planetarium, its ice rink and its range of cultural activities.
In the other direction, there is Béziers. This historic town is charming and ideal for a day strolling around, soaking up the culture or doing some shopping. Sights to see include the bullfighting arena (Les Arènes), the theatre and the Plateau des Poètes (a lovely English-style garden where you can find many species rare in this part of the world). If you are in the town in the morning then have a peek in the covered food market, Les Halles. There is a lovely flower market on Friday mornings and in summer there are concerts in the bull ring.
A good way to take a whistlestop tour of the town is Le Petit Train Touristique which you can pick up from the Cathedral or the Nine Locks (Neuf Ecluses) on the Canal du Midi.
Slightly further afield (a bit over an hour by car) is the Cité of Carcassonne. Carcassonne is more than just a castle that's been restored; it is an entire early-medieval world covering several hectares. While there, you can enjoy a meal in one of the many restaurants, a refreshing drink in one of the bars, you can visit the medieval museum, a very old school, and even go into the haunted house and torture museum.
For a slight respite from the heat, head north to the hills and the Haut-Languedoc National Park. Here there is a multitude of outdoor activities ranging from hiking to paragliding, rock-climbing and mountain biking.
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