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Stage 11, Tour de France 2016: Carcassonne to Montpellier

Carcassonne

Carcassonne, by Nelson Minar, Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

A guide to Stage 11 of the Tour de France 2016. Stage 11 of the 2016 Tour is 162.5km from Carcassonne to Montpellier, via Villalier, Villegly, Caunes-Minervois, Trausse-Minervois, Siran, Azillanet, Minerve, Aigues-Vives, Villespassans, Saint-Chinian, Cessenon-sur-Orb, Murviel-lès-Béziers, Saint-Geniès-de-Fontedit, Magalas, Puissalicon, Espondeilhan, Alignan-du-Vent, Pézenas, Montagnac, Montbazin, Cournonterral, Pignan, and Lavérune. There are two categorised climbs, in the first half of the stage - the Côte de Minerve (Category 4) and the Côte de Villespassans (Category 4). The intermediate sprint is at Pézenas, with 49km left. The stage is classified as flat, and the finish should be contested by the sprinters. Read about Stage 11 of the Tour de France 2016 here.

Read the Stage 11 race report.

Stage 11, Tour de France 2016: facts, figures, and map

Stage 11 of the Tour de France 2016 is 162.5km from Carcassonne to Montpellier.

Stage classification Flat
Distance 162.5km
Sprints Pézenas (after 113.5km)
Climbs Côte de Minerve (Category 4)
Côte de Villespassans (Category 4)

There's an official map of Stage 11, Tour de France 2016.

This is the official Tour de France stage profile for Stage 11:

Profile of Stage 11, Tour de France 2016

Stage 11 profile, © A.S.O. Tour de France organisers

Stage 11, Tour de France 2016: timings

These are some of the Stage 11 timings (based on the medium estimated speed of 44kmh):

Km Place Time
Départ fictif in Carcassonne 1335
0 Départ réel  Carcassonne D620 1350
2 Villalier 1353
14.5 Caunes-Minervois 1410
38 Côte de Minerve (Category 4) 1441
57 Côte de Villespassans (Category 4) 1507
66.5 Saint-Chinian 1520
84.5 Murviel-lès-Béziers 1545
95.5 Puissalicon 1600
113.5 Pézenas (sprint) 1625
119.5 Montagnac 1632
151.5 Pignan 1717
162.5 Finish at Montpellier 1731

See the full timings for Stage 11 on the Tour de France website, based on average speeds of 46, 44, and 42kmh.

Stage 11, Tour de France 2016: the start at Carcassonne

View from la Cité, Carcassonne

View from la Cité, Carcassonne, by Andrew Gustar, Flickr, Licence CC BY-ND 2.0

Stage 11 starts in Carcassonne, a town of 46,724 people in the Aude département, dominated by its Medieval château surrounded by ramparts, la Cité de Carcassonne. 

According to Carcassonne Tourisme, the Village du Tour will be on boulevard Barbès, the open-air TV studio on place Général de Gaulle, and there'll be stands with local produce on place Carnot. (These streets and squares are in the Ville Basse, rather than the la Cité Médiévale).

The départ fictif is at 1335. There are 15 minutes before the racing starts, so it seems that there'll be a reasonably extensive procession around Carcassonne. The riders then roll out of town on the D118 (probably the route Minervoise by the Canal du Midi), then the D620 north east of Carcasssonne. At 1350, the flag goes down for the départ réel, 2km before Villalier.

Stage 11, Tour de France 2016: Carcassonne to Murviel-lès-Béziers

Murviel-lès-Béziers

Murviel-lès-Béziers, by gardiole, Flickr, Licence CC BY-ND 2.0

Leaving Carcassonne on the D620, the riders cross the Orbiel river, then the first village on the route is Villalier. (Villalier takes its name from a villa, or rural dwelling, which existed here at the time of the Romans. There was a château from the C9th, belonging to the  Viscounts of Carcassonne. Today, Villalier is a village in a wine-producing area, in the midst of vineyards).

The route continues to Villegly, on a little river called the Clamoux, where it meets the ruisseau de la Ceize. (Villegly is a village set amongst vineyards, in the Minervois area, where grapes have been grown since Roman times. It has a château which was originally built in the Middle Ages, but which has been remodelled over the centuries, and a church with a C13th bell tower).

Minervois vineyard

Minervois vineyard between Villegly and Caunes-Minervois, by Office de Tourisme de Haut-Minervois Carcassonne, Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

From Villegly, the riders stay on the D620, which crosses the Clamoux and the ruisseau de Naval as it continues through the vineyards. The road rises about 50m between Villegly (150m) and Caunes-Minervois (202m).

Abbey of St Peter & St Paul, Caunes-Minervois

Abbey of St Peter & St Paul, Caunes-Minervois, by Mike Prince, Licence CC BY 2.0

The race leaves Caunes-Minervois on the D115, crosses the ruisseau du Cros, and passes through Trausse. (Trausse is a village of 503 people. It is dominated by the Tour de Trausse, which is what remains of Medieval fortifications. The Tour de Trausse is sometimes called 'Trencavel', after one of the Medieval Viscounts of Carcassonne. As well as grapes, cherries and olives are grown here).

Tour Carrée, Trausse

Tour Carree, Trausse Minervois, by ArnoLagrange, Licence CC BY-SA 3.0

The route from Trausse remains on the D115, and the race leaves the Aude département and crosses into the Hérault near a hamlet called les Tuileries. It takes the D168/D168E1 and crosses the Ognon river, passing close to la Livinière.

La Livinière

La Livinière, by Greg Roberts, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

(La Livinière was referred to as Lavineira in 1069, meaning 'the place planted with vines' in Occitan. Because the original meaning was no longer understood, it was given an extra definite article at some point in its history, so its modern name means 'the the place planted with vines.' It was the Romans who planted the first vines in the Minerve region. Minervois-La Livinière wines are quality reds.)

The next village, 1.5km after la Livinière, is Siran. (Siran was inhabited in prehistoric times, as the dolmen just outside the village shows. It was a military camp in Roman times. It had a château in the Middle Ages, from C9th, but the present one (now a hotel) dates from the C16th. Siran is another wine-producing village).

The riders pass the hamlet of la Mignarde, where wine is produced at Château Massamier. (Massamier's Domus Maximus red won the International Wine Challenge's 'best wine in the world' in 2005). The route then goes through Cesseras on the way to Azillanet, another village set among vineyards.

Azillanet

Azillanet, by Caitriana Nicholson, Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

The race takes the D10/route de Minerve north out of Azillanet, and shortly after it leaves the village, the first climb of the day starts, the Côte de Minerve.

Côte de Minerve (Category 4)

The climb of the Côte de Minerve starts at an altitude of about 115m, and reaches 245m at the top, 2.4km later. This gives a height difference of 130m, and an average gradient of 5.4%.

The route then descends slightly to the river Cesse and the village of Minerve.

Minerve & the river Cesse

Minverve, by Christine & Hagen Graf, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

The riders follow the course of the Cesse from Minerve to la Caunette.

Notre-Dame de l'Assomption, la Caunette

Notre-Dame de l'Assomption, la Caunette, by Fagairolles 34, Licence CC BY-SA 4.0

Beyond la Caunette, the D907 takes the riders to Aigues-Vives (a different one from the Aigues-Vives where the Stage 10 intermediate sprint takes place). They then cross the Cesse on the D20, and continue to Agel, with the Château d'Agel dating from the C12th, C16th & C17th.

After Agel, the D20 runs east alongside the Cesse for a little way, then it veers north and starts to climb. This is the second and final climb of Stage 11, the Côte de Villespassans.

Côte de Villespassans (Category 4)

The climb of the Côte de Villespassans starts at an altitude of 103m, and reaches 207m 2.3km further up the road. This gives a height gain of 104m, and an average gradient of 4.5%. 

The village of Villespassans comes 1.5km after the top of the climb. The race continues on the D20 to Saint-Chinian. 

Vines at Saint-Chinian

Saint-Chinian, by Craig Drollet, Flickr, Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

(Saint-Chinian gets its name from Saint Anianus, or Saint Aignan, who was Bishop of Orléans in the C5th, and resisted a seige of Orléans by the Huns in 451. The saint's name is Sanch Inhan in Occitan, and that morphed into Saint-Chinian. An Abbey dedicated to the saint, founded in 826, was at the origin of this village. Singer Charles Trenet grew up in Saint-Chinian. Saint-Chinian is known for its wines. The Benedictine monks were the first people to grow grapes here. The wines are so good, that they were prescribed to patients in Parisian hospitals in the C19th.)

From Saint-Chinian, the D20 follows the river Vernazobre to its confluence with the Orb at Cessenon-sur-Orb.

Cessenon-sur-Orb

Cessenon-sur-Orb, by John Nuttall, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

After Cessenon, the race forks left onto the D36. It crosses the Orb at Réals, where there's a canoeing and kayaking centre, then continues to Murviel-lès-Béziers.

Murviel-lès-Béziers

Murviel-lès-Béziers, by gardiole, Flickr, Licence CC BY-ND 2.0

Stage 11, Tour de France 2016: Murviel-lès-Béziers to Montpellier

Fountain, Saint-Geniès-de-Fontedit

Fountain, Saint-Geniès-de-Fontedit, by Fagairolles, Licence CC BY-SA 4.0

From Murviel-lès-Béziers, the race route is on the D16, north east to Saint-Geniès-de-Fontedit. It then continues on the D18 to Magalas. (Magalas is a village of 3,327 people, north of Béziers, on the Libron river. It developed in its current hilltop location from around 950AD, in dangerous times when a 'perched' village was safer because it was easier to defend. The church of Saint-Laurent was built in the C11th).

Eglise Saint-Laurent, Magalas

Eglise Saint-Laurent, Magalas, by Fagairolles 34, Licence CC BY-SA 4.0

The riders pedal a short distance south of Magalas on the D18, to Puissalicon.

Puissalicon

Puissalicon, by Yvan Galtié, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

From Puissalicon, the route is south east on the D18 to Espondeilhan. It's then on the D33 to Couloubres and Abeilhan. (Abeilhan is a village of 1,567 people. It could be named after a veteran of the Roman army, Apilius, who may have been given lands here. It's typical of many Medieval villages in this area, with the streets in circulades around the old centre. Abeilhan produces wine, and there's a Cave Coopérative, as well as individual wine-makers. The magpie has been adopted as the village's mascot.)

Notre-Dame de Pitié, Abeilhan

Notre-Dame de Pitié, Abeilhan, by Fagairolles 34, Licence CC BY-SA 4.0

Leaving Abeilhan on the D33, the race crosses the Thongue river, and heads to Alignan-du-Vent. (The name Alignan may come from a veteran of the Seventh Roman Legion, Alinianum, who might have been given lands here. In any event, pottery and coins from the Roman period have been found in the local area. 'Du vent' was added in the C15th, and probably refers to the presence of a windmill at that time. The village developed in a circle around a central defensive tower, la Tour Wisigothe, in the Middle Ages.)

Visigoth Tower, Alignan-du-Vent

La Tour Wisigothe, Alignan-du-Vent, by Fagairolles 34, Licence CC BY-SA 4.0

The riders leave Alignan, heading east on the D33; they then take the D13 alongside the river Peyne to Pézenas.

View of Pézenas

View of Pézenas, by Christian Ferrer, Licence CC BY-SA 3.0

The day's intermediate sprint is at Pézenas.

Profile of the intermediate sprint on Stage 11, Tour de France 2016, at Pézenas

Profile of the intermediate sprint on Stage 11 at Pézenas, © A.S.O. Tour de France organisers

The race takes the D913/route de Montpellier out of Pézenas, crosses the autoroute A75, and goes over the river Hérault on the D613 to Montagnac. (Montagnac is a village of 3,907 people between the Mediterranean sea and the first slopes of the Cévennes. Its church, the Eglise Saint-André, dates from the C12th and C14th. The animal chosen by the Montagnacois to represent their village is the goat. This is because, around the year 1200, a wandering beggar brought his goat into the village; the goat had been eating vine leaves, and instead of producing milk, it gave magic wine, which resulted in health and happiness when drunk.)

Montagnac

View of Montagnac, by Fagairolles 34, Licence CC BY-SA 4.0

Leaving Montagnac, the riders are on the D5. They pass the Cistercian Abbaye de Valmagne on their left. (The Abbey was founded in 1138 by Raymond Trencavel, Viscount of Béziers. The first vines were planted in the C12th. Wine is still produced and sold here, and the Abbey is open to visit.)

Bell tower, Abbaye de Valmagne

Bell tower, Abbaye de Valmagne, by ByB, Licence CC BY-SA 2.5

After passing the Abbaye de Valmagne, the race continues on the D5 to Villeveyrac (a village amongst vineyards, with bauxite mines within the territory of the commune.)

Villeveyrac

Villeveyrac, by Christian Ferrer, Licence CC BY-SA 3.0

From Villeveyrac, the riders are on the D2 then the D5 to Montbazin (a village on the route of the Roman Via Domitia). They continue on the D5 to the merged villages of Cournonsec and Cournonterral. (Cournonterral is on the Coulazou stream; Cournonsec has no stream, hence the suffix -sec.). Then, it's on to Pignan.

Chateau de Turenne, Pignan

Château de Turenne, Pignan, by Fagairolles 34, Licence CC BY-SA 4.0

The next village after Pignan is Lavérune (which has existed since Roman times, when it was at the crossroads of the Roman Via Domitia and a south-north path used by fishermen.) After Lavérune, the riders take the D5 east, then the D132 north. They're now on the final run-in to the finish in Montpellier.

Profile of last kilometres of Stage 11, Tour de France 2016

Profile of the last kilometres of Stage 11, © A.S.O. Tour de France organisers

Stage 11, Tour de France 2016: the finish at Montpellier

Place de la Comédie, Montpellier

Place de la Comédie, Montpellier, by Peter, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

Montpellier tourist office has details of the finish of Stage 11, with a map. The race arrives in Montpellier on the D5 from Lavérune, and goes north on the D132 avenue Léon Jouhaux, past the Château de Bionne, to the edge of Juvignac. It joins the N109, and the route is then east on the D65 avenue de Liberté, followed by south on the avenue de la Récambale/avenue de Vanières to the finish line at the Altrad stadium.

This map shows the route to the finish of Stage 11 in Montpellier:

Map showing the finish of Stage 11, Tour de France 2016, in Montpellier

What will happen on Stage 11? Those sprinters who made it through the Pyrenees will want to make the most of this opportunity - especially those who miss out on victory on Stage 10 in Revel. There aren't many more chances for the fast men after this, so the sprinters' teams will make sure to catch any breakaway riders, and deliver their leaders to the last kilometre near the front of the pack. Mark Cavendish and John Degenkolb are amongst the candidates for the win.

This is what Geraint Thomas thinks: 'With two big stages for the general classification riders following this one, I'm willing to put a lot of money on this being a day for the sprinters. The likes of Chris Froome, Alberto Contador [now out of the race], Nairo Quintana, and Fabio Aru will be sheltering in the peloton all day.' Who does the Welshman think will win? Mark Cavendish. 

Stage 12, Tour de France 2016

Mont Ventoux from Mazan

Stage 12 of the 2016 Tour de France is from Montpellier to Mont Ventoux. It goes through vineyards and past the Perrier mineral water source, then crosses the Rhône at Beaucaire. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is on the route, as is Cavaillon on the river Durance. The climbing starts with the Côte de Gordes and the Côte des Trois Termes, then Mont Ventoux looms large, and a summit finish at 1,912m. Read about Stage 12, Tour de France 2016

Stage 11, Tour de France 2016: sights and attractions on the route

Stage 11, Tour de France 2016: Carcassonne

View from la Cité, Carcassonne

View from la Cité, Carcassonne, by Andrew Gustar, Flickr, Licence CC BY-ND 2.0

Carcassonne is a town of 46,724 people in the département of the Aude, on the river Aude and the Canal du Midi. It's dominated by the Medieval château surrounded by ramparts, la Cité de Carcassonne.

According to legend, it got its name from Carcas, the wife of a Saracen king. The Saracens in the city were beseiged by Charlemagne. The king of the Saracens was captured and put to death. His wife, Carcas, continued to hold out. Her soldiers were dying of starvation, so she put scarecrows on the ramparts, and changed their hats ever 2 hours, to make it look as though the sentries were changing over. Then she killed the last remaining pig, stuffed its belly with the last of the corn, and threw it over the walls. When it landed, the belly burst open to reveal the corn. Charlemagne's soldiers were amazed. They thought that even after the long seige, the Saracens were feeding their pigs with corn. Defeated, they packed up and began to leave. Carcas had the victory trumpets sounded, and Charlmagne's soldiers said 'Ecoutez, Carcas sonne' (listen, Carcas is sounding [the trumpets]). So the town got its name. Probably.

Carcassonne started as a Roman camp in the C1st AD. The Visigoths captured it as the Roman Empire crumbled, and it became part of the Visigoth kingdom of Toulouse. In 725, the Saracens took it from the Visigoths, and in 759, the Saracens were defeated by the Franks, under Pepin the Short.

Carcassonne belonged to the Counts of Toulouse, within the Frankish Empire, from the 800s to the 1200s. Peace and prosperity was disrupted from 1208, with the Albigensian Crusades. Catharism was a dualistic form of Christianity - there was a spiritual world ruled by God, and a material world governed by Satan. Cathars were regarded as heretics by the Roman Catholic church. When a Papal legate was assassinated in 1208, the Pope began a Crusade against the Cathars in the south west of France. In 1209, the Viscount of Carcassonne was defeated by Simon de Montfort.

The King of France exiled the inhabitants of Carcassonne for 7 years, and at the end of this time, he allowed them to build a fortified new town, or ville bastide, known as the Ville Basse (to the west of the river Aude), and to repair and strengthen the original fortress (to the east of the Aude). The fortress to the east of the river is what is known as la Cité de Carcassonne, and is the largest Medieval fortress in Europe. It was restored by Viollet-le-Duc in the C19th.

La Cité has a double curtain wall, with 14 towers on the outer wall, and 24 towers on the inner wall. Inside is the C12th Château Comtal, which was the home of the viscounts of Carcassonne, and the Basilique Saint-Nazaire, begun in 1096 in a Romanesque style, and completed in the 1200s and 1300s in a Gothic style.

View of la Cité, Carcassonne

Carcassonne, by Poom!, Flickr, Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Il ne faut pas mourir sans avoir vu Carcassonne

Verse 1

Je me fais vieux, j'ai soixante ans;

J'ai travaillé toute ma vie,

Sans avoir, durant tout ce temps,

Pu satisfaire mon envie.

Je vois bien qu'il n'est ici bas

De bonheur complet pour personne.

Mon voeu ne s'accomplira pas:

Je n'ai jamais vu Carcassonne.

Verse 2

On voit la ville de là-haut,

Derrière les montagnes bleues:

Mais pour y parvenir il faut, 

Il faut faire cinq grandes lieues;

En faire autant pour revenir!

Ah! si la vendange était bonne!

Le raisin ne veut pas jaunir:

Je ne verrai pas Carcassonne. 

Verse 3

On dit qu'on y voit tous les jours,

Ni plus ni moins que les dimanches,

Des gens s'en aller sur les tours,

En habits neuf, en robes blanches,

On dit qu'on y voit des châteaux

Grands comme ceux de Babylone,

Un évêque et deux généraux!

Je ne connais pas Carcassonne!

Verse 4

Le vicaire a cent fois raison.

C'est des imprudents que nous sommes,

Il disait dans son oraison

Que l'ambition perd les hommes.

Si je pouvais trouver pourtant

Deux jours sur la fin de l'automne...

Mon Dieu que je mourrai content,

Après avoir vu Carcassonne!

Verse 5

Mon Dieu, mon Dieu, pardonnez-moi

Si ma prière vous offense;

On voit toujours plus haut que soi,

En vieillesse comme en enfance.

Ma femme avec mon fils Aignan,

A voyagé jusqu'à Narbonne:

Mon filleul a vu Perpignan.

Et je n'ai pas vu Carcassonne!

Verse 6

Ainsi chantait, près de Limoux,

Un paysan courbé par l'âge.

Je lui dis: 'Ami, levez-vous,

Nous allons faire le voyage'

Nous partîmes le lendemain;

Mais - que le Bon Dieu lui pardonne -

Il mourut à moitié chemin.

Il n'a jamais vu Carcassonne.

Il ne verra pas Carcassonne.

Gustave Nadaud

Stage 11, Tour de France 2016: Caunes-Minervois

Abbey of St Peter & St Paul, Caunes-Minervois

Abbey of St Peter & St Paul, Caunes-Minervois, by Mike Prince, Licence CC BY 2.0

Caunes-Minervois is a village of 1,672 people known for its Abbey and its pink marble quarry. 

Caunes-Minervois is at the foot of the Montagne Noire, and just above the Minervois plain. A little river called l'Argent Double runs through it. The village is on a slight south-facing incline, which helps grapes to grow; it's in the midst of vineyards, and wine is the staple of the local economy.

The name Caunes means cave in the local Occitan dialect, and probably refers to a local cave which was inhabited at one time.

The Benedictine Abbey here was founded in 780. During the Albigensian Crusades, the Abbot received Papal representatives several times. A Cathar bishop was burned at Caunes in 1226. The Abbey was dissolved in 1791, at the time of the French Revolution, and the church became the property of the commune. The church and abbey buildings are listed as historic monuments.

Marble has been quarried since Roman times, and there are still working quarries. Caunes marble is to be found in the Petit Trianon at Versailles, and the Opéra Charles Garnier in Paris.

Marble quarry at Caunes-Minervois

Marble quarry at Caunes-Minervois, by luiyo, Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Stage 11, Tour de France 2016: Minerve

Minerve & the river Cesse

Minverve, by Christine & Hagen Graf, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

Minerve is a village at the confluence of a stream called le Brian with the Cesse river. It's in the Hérault département of France. It produces wine, and attracts many visitors - more than 300,000 a year, whereas the permanent population is 132.

Minerve's name comes from the goddess Minerva. It's perched on a rocky spur above the two rivers.

The area saw human habitation in prehistoric times. The Aldène cave (4km from Minerve) has traces of occupation from 30,000 years ago - the same period as the earliest art in the Chauvet cave, on the route of Stage 13. There are also dolmens in the area, from the Bronze Age.

The site of Minerve itself was occupied in the Bronze Age, then again from the C5th/6th, at the time of the Visigoths.

At the time of the Albigensian Crusade led by Simon de Montfort, when thousands of cavaliers from the north of France came to the south to eradicate Catharism and enforce the respect of the orthodox Catholic doctrine, Minerve was a fortified village associated with a château. It was beseiged in 1210, with trébuchets, and obliged to surrender partly because of lack of water. 140 Cathars who had taken refuge in Minerve were burnt at the stake.

The château was dismantled in 1636, but some ruins remain.

View of Minerve

Minerve, by Stephen Colebourne, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

Stage 11, Tour de France: Cessenon-sur-Orb

Cessenon-sur-Orb

Cessenon-sur-Orb, by John Nuttall, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

Cessenon-sur-Orb is a village of 2,160 people. The name Cessenon probably comes from the Gallo-Roman period, and means 'the domain of a person called Cincinius'.

The Medieval château was dismantled in 1633 on the orders of Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu, and only the Tour Carrée, or square tower, remains.

As well as agriculture (sheep, goats, cherries, olives, and grapes), cloth was manufactured in Cessenon from the early 1700s, marble was quarried, and clay was turned into tiles. Today the main parts of the local economy are tourism (including canoeing and kayaking) and wine.

Stage 11, Tour de France 2016: Murviel-les-Béziers

Murviel-lès-Béziers

Murviel-lès-Béziers, by gardiole, Flickr, Licence CC BY-ND 2.0

Murviel-lès-Béziers is a village of 2,979 people. Murviel means vieux murs, or old walls.

There was a Roman castrum here. 

Part of Murviel's château is now the Town Hall. The château has been altered many times, and not much of the Medieval castle remains.

Murviel is known for its pigeon-houses.

Stage 11, Tour de France 2016: Puissalicon

Puissalicon

Puissalicon, by Yvan Galtié, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

Puissalicon is a perched village, with a Medieval château at the centre. The population is 1,245.

It developed in the C11th, and the original form of the name Puissalicon was Podio Salicone, which roughly translates as 'salty hill', and refers to salt deposits on the hill where the village is built.

The most striking building at Puissalicon is the Romanesque bell tower which is all that remains of a now-demolished church. It is 26m high, and dates from the C10th.

Tour Romane, Puissalicon

Tour Romane, Puissalicon, by EmDee, Licence CC BY-SA 4.0

The main château is from the C12th, and is in the centre of the village. The streets are in circulades around it - ever wider concentric circles. This is a feature of around 90 villages in this area, all dating from the C11th and C12th.

Puissalicon is a wine village, and the seven vineyards here produce Côtes de Thongue wine.

Stage 11, Tour de France 2016: Pézenas

Pézenas

Pézenas, by Peter, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

Pézenas is a town of 8,244 people, on the river Peyne, near its confluence with the Hérault.

Pézenas may have existed in Roman times, but it then sunk into obscurity until the C9th. There was an Abbey church of Saint-Peter, and a château (destroyed on the orders of Richelieu in 1633). 

From 1262, Pézenas belonged to the French King, and was given the right to hold annual fairs, where wool and cloth was sold. It became an important commercial town.

Dramatist Molière (1622-1673) visited Pézenas on more than one occasion. The local theatre is called l'Illustre Théâtre, after Molière's acting company.

There are artists and antique sellers at Pézenas. It also has a popular market.

The foal is the symbol of Pézenas (le poulain de Pézenas). It parades through the streets at Carnival time, the day before Mardi Gras.

Pézenas is twinned with Market Drayton (UK).

View of Pézenas

View of Pézenas, by Christian Ferrer, Licence CC BY-SA 3.0

Stage 11, Tour de France 2016: Montpellier

Place de la Comédie, Montpellier

Place de la Comédie, Montpellier, by Peter, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

Montpellier is the capital of the Hérault département, and the 8th largest city in France, with a population of 272,084 in the city, and more in the greater metropolitan area. It's on the river Lez, and 6 miles inland from the coast. A third of the population is students, and Montpellier has the second-highest student population as a percentage of total population of any French town, after Poitiers.

The name Montpellier comes from Monspessulanus, meaning naked hill (because the vegetation was poor), or the mount of the hill, or the hill where woad (pastellum) grows.

It was never a Roman settlement. It developed around 985AD, when pirate raids on the adjacent coastal town of Maguelone forced people to move further inland. It became a trading centre in the C12th.

The University was founded in 1160, and was given a Charter by Cardinal Conrad van Urach in 1220. The law and medecine faculties were important from the early days of the University. Francois Rabelais (a major French Rennaissance writer) took his medical degrees at Montpellier.

Tour de la Babotte, Montpellier

Tour de la Babotte, Montpellier, by Sebjarod, Licence CC BY-SA 3.0

The historic centre of Montpellier is known as l'Ecusson, and dates largely from the C13th. The Tour de la Babotte is a Medieval tower which was modified in the C18th to become an Observatory. The city walls no longer exist, as they were taken down on the orders of Cardinal Richelieu in 1622. There are now circular boulevards instead.

Arc de Triomphe, Montpellier

Arc de Triomphe de Montpellier, by Salvatore Freni Jr, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

There was a big increase in Montpellier's population in the 1960s when French Algerian settlers came here after Algeria's independence.

Montpellier's economy is diverse. IBM has been here since the 1950s, and employs over 1,000 people. There's also employment in biotechnologies and pharmaceutical products, and Bausch & Lomb (opthalmology) has a plant here. Wine-making has been going on for centuries, and continues today.

Tram in Montpellier

Tram, Montpellier, by Isabelle Blanchemain, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

Montpellier is twinned with Louisville (US).

CarcassonneAbbaye de ValmagneArc de Triomphe de Montpellier

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