Agde was on my original list of southwestern French towns to see as I started considering where to live. It’s not that I’d heard much about it, or that it was recommended. It’s just one of the towns near the sea that, for location at least, seemed worth a look. It’s on the train line between Montpellier and Narbonne, it has a weekly food market, and it’s got the Hérault river running through it, joining with the Canal du Midi.

There’s also Cap d’Agde, right on the Mediterranean coast, which people – and maps – are quick to identify as the home of the main nudist beaches and some naturist resorts. In fact, that’s just an eastern part of the beaches. In any case, I haven’t gone out there. Why, follows.

When Kristian and I were arranging to meet up in France again, in September, he saw we could both have good cheap flights into Béziers with Ryanair. The Béziers airport is out of town to the southeast, and no town is closer to it than Agde. Quick to get to with the airport bus, and surely easier to navigate than Béziers, Agde would be an easy destination for our first night, before we’d move on to Montpellier.

I arrived first, and appreciated Kristian’s choice of a riverfront hotel just a few blocks from the station, not at all difficult to wheel my luggage to. Hotel Aruar‘s friendly owners let me choose between two rooms with a view of the Hérault. After using wifi in the lobby for a bit (no good in the room), I went to see what food I could find to share when Kristian arrived, too late for restaurants. It was just August 30, still high season price on the room, but clearly out of season around town. Several of the riverfront restaurants were closed, stores were closed or closing early; there was no place open to get a top-up to reactivate my French phone number. I got some drinks and food at a poorly-stocked, poorly-cleaned little Spar grocery, and a bit of carryout food from an indifferent restaurant on the plaza just past the bridge, and eventually we picnicked sitting quayside – where a couple of fellows cheerily offered to share their drinks, but did not persist or remain.

I was absolutely seduced by the Hérault. It’s beautiful here, wide enough even after this dry summer. There’s a bit of a park where the canal joins the river, pleasure boats docked along the quay, and restaurants at frequent intervals (though only two open the next day). But the town was terribly disappointing as we explored the historic center the next day. It had looked interesting at night, but in the daytime, searching for a bakery and for a place to sit and have coffee, what was most noticeable was how dirty and smelly it all was. We sat with pastries in a cement plaza, and eventually had coffee at a bar with a terrasse, but in both places, from the smelly trash cans and the filthy pavement, flies were unbearable. I can’t fathom such a bar and not hosing the pavement down every morning. What a difference it could make – if anyone cared. And that was part of our impression of Agde as well, indifference; the night before, the morning, and then later at lunch, the wait staff weren’t rude or bad, just indifferent. And so I decided I didn’t need to see Cap d’Agde, because I don’t think it would be nice to live in a satellite village of this town. It’s probably all great fun and very attractive in the height of summer, but I’m looking for a place that’s pleasant enough year ’round.

So, sadly, we were both disappointed by the first two coastal places we checked out – if I can count Agde as coastal, because it nearly is. The first was Le Grau de Roi. But before our days in France ran out, we did find beautiful beaches that are easy enough to get to. Coming soon, brief reports on Narbonne Plage and Carnon – Palavas les Flots.

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