The Hérault and the Corona Virus

I have been reminded that it’s ‘about bloody time you wrote another blog’ or words to that effect.  And yes, it certainly is about time.  Since I last wrote in some respects not much has changed and in other respects the world feels very different.

So let’s be chronological about this.  I mentioned in my last blog that Eric and I would visit Tarbes and we did.  Tarbes isn’t very far away from Pau but its look and situation are quite different.  It’s in a wide river valley so it’s very flat.  It has a nice feel to it and the centre is reasonably busy but not interesting per se.  The people we spoke to were very friendly which was lovely.  The day we visited was overcast and it rained on and off (mostly on than off) so we just walked around a bit in the centre and in a lovely park before going home.  This is the only picture I took….

Mairie, Tarbes

So this last visit concludes our Pyrénées Atlantique adventure, and we will very definitely return.  But for now our path leads us toward the Mediterranean coast. 

After an overnight stop at an Aire on the Canal du Midi (not very nice) we rocked up at a campsite near Béziers which, according to our ACSI campsite book, was open from the 1st March, the day we arrived.  Chosen for its heated toilet blocks which is an absolute necessity when showering, and a rarity in many French campsites especially along the Med coast.  But it was shut.  Very firmly shut.  Unequivocally shut.  What to do?  Most campsites are still closed at this time of year and the few that are open boast shower and toilet blocks open to the elements.  Contrary to popular belief it’s freezing cold at this time of year especially when you’re under a luke warm shower with the wind blowing round your head and ankles.

Casting about, we located a municipal Aire fairly near by that had reasonable reviews.  So that’s where we spent the night of Sunday 1st March.  The following day we decided to try another open campsite that had heated facilities but only average reviews on account of ancient facilities.  It wasn’t great but we managed.  Located just outside Castries which is, in effect, a suburb of Montpelier, its main feature was its proximity to the expanding metropolis.  We didn’t really like it.  But it was somewhere to stay until our house sit began on the 6th March.

So it’s now time to start mentioning the dreaded Corona virus epidemic, something we had been watching for a while as it marched from China toward Europe.  By the time of the beginning of our house sit things were looking more alarming, but we still didn’t feel directly affected by the situation.  Life felt pretty normal.

The couple we house sat for were heading off to the UK to visit family and friends.  So far so good.  But life was going to change, and quite rapidly. 

But before I get too far ahead of myself let me remind you why we are here.  We chose our house sit based on a location near Béziers which is one of the places we thought might have potential for our future home.  Our house sit is in Tressan, in the Hérault department of Southern France, our hosts Carole and Malcolm.  Our responsibilities include looking after two cats thus allowing us to explore the area.  Cats are far less needy than dogs…..

Cat, TressanTiger, Tressan

An estate agent who manages long term rentals is, coincidently, based in the area so we can also start looking for somewhere to stay whilst we apply for French residency.

Tressan has a population of about 650 people.  It doesn’t have a bakery but there is a small café/shop where you can collect your daily bread that you order the day before.  It’s a pretty location, but isolated as you can imagine.  Nearby are other smallish villages with a similarly limited range of facilities.  The nearest bigger places are Clement L’Hérault (pop just over 8500) and Pézanas (pop just over 8000), and Gignac (pop nearly 6000).  Montpellier and Béziers are both around 40kms away.

Here are some pictures of Pézenas…..

PézanasPézenasPézenasPézenas

Our initial impression of the area is that it is pretty but quite rural.  The towns I mentioned are lively in the summer when filled with second home owners and tourists, but are quiet in the winter months.  We want to live somewhere with a year round population.

We also spent a day in Béziers to get a feel for the place.  It looks run down though there does appear to have been investment to spruce the place up.  Some bits around the Cathedral are quite pretty but sadly we didn’t feel it for Béziers.  As the area and towns we have seen nearby don’t work either, we have come to the conclusion that the Hérault region is not for us as a place to settle.  Pau still has top spot.

BéziersBéziersBéziersBéziers

But our first priority is to get French residency and for that we need a French address… To that end we have seen and are in the process of renting a one bedroom apartment in a village called Péret, near Tressan.  Our future landlady (English ☺️) has lived in the area for many years and has connections to people who can help and support us whilst we apply for residency.  So whilst the Hérault isn’t for us long term, for now it will work very well.

So to return to what was happening in the world around us.  The Corona virus COVID-19 epidemic turned into a pandemic.  The travel and contact restrictions began.

Carole and Malcolm were worried they would get stuck in the UK, and our house sit near Carcassonne which was due to start immediately after this one, had to cancel as they weren’t allowed to go to Spain.  Like in the UK, people here began to panic buy food and toilet paper.  France went on lockdown, banning all non essential travel and ordering the closure of non essential shops.  Anyone who needed to leave their home has to to carry a form (Attestation) justifying why you are out, with a list of approved reasons e.g. going food shopping etc.

Carole and Malcolm finally managed to fly back on what seemed like one of the last planes out of Luton airport to Béziers.  Eric picked them up at the deserted airport having to complete an Attestation to justify the trip.

We now can’t leave Tressan at all (especially in a motorhome which would definitely be seen as non essential travel) unless we leave to return to the UK which we don’t want to do.  And at the time of writing, this option is no longer available anyway. Carole and Malcolm continue to welcome us in their home for which we are eternally grateful as it can’t be easy for them.  So far France has declared the lockdown will last until the 1st April.  We expect this to be extended.  What we will do then we do not know……

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