Though Elise Pioch Balzac, the founder of high-end Australian homewares brand Maison Balzac, now lives in Sydney, she grew up in France. As such, she’s the perfect person to ask for recommendations for where to go there.
Her answer to where in France to go that’s beautiful, but only locals know—the seaside resort area of Portiragnes Plage. Also known as La Grande Maire, it’s located in the South of France, bordered by the Canal du Midi and tucked between hills and vineyards.
It’s home to a population of roughly 3,000 and, aside from its beautiful coastline, is known for its ancient architecture.
The best way to get here is by flying to Béziers airport and then driving 20 minutes to Portiragnes Plage. It’s also a little over an hour’s drive from Montpellier, which has an airport.
As Pioch Balzac describes it, it’s a tiny, authentic beach hidden from the crowds with a view stretching from Sete on the left to Spain on the right.
“There is only one restaurant, Les Voiles, which means The Sails in English,” says Pioch Balzac. “It’s only open during summer and is set directly on the sand a few metres from the water’s edge. It serves freshly caught seafood and fish, as well as local wine. They grill sardines around 6 pm each day, and the smell is irresistible. It’s a real paradise.”
Pioch Balzac recommends you buy white and yellow peaches, which you can get from wooden trays by the side of the road. “You have never had a good peach until you try the local ones,” she says.
In terms of clothing, homewares and souvenirs to take home, Pioch Balzac says her favourites in the area are in Béziers, including Galerie de la Madeleine, which she says offers the best antiques sourced from surrounding castles or manor houses.
“The food hall, called Les Halles de Beziers, is also a must to buy the finest of French ingredients and food,” she says. “They can vacuum seal cheeses and pates, so it’s safe to transport your selection all the way back to Australia.
“The last store I recommend is Librairie Clareton, a small library with a creaky wooden staircase that takes you downstairs to the children book section. It is like stepping back in time and being transported into the imagination of thousands of writers. It’s impossible to visit without buying a book.”