Notes from Herault Region of Southern France

There are 8 "Grand Sites" in France.

They take up to 10 years to develop and must balance:
(1) Environment
(2) Economy and
(3) People who live there.
They see this as the future of tourism in France. St Guillhem de Desert was designated last year - after 20 years! There is potential in the Herault Region for 3 additional "Grand Sites."

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By Yvonne (Bonnie) Wichtner-Zoia

Michigan State University Extension


Notes from Herault Region of Southern France
September 15-25, 2010
Arrival September 16th Montpellier

September 16th – late arrival

  »  Hotel was the Hotel des Arceaux.
     •  Located along an aqueduct. If one followed the aqueduct up steps, to promenade and statue, one can see the arch that leads to the city of Montpellier.
     •  Came upon a protest march down the center of town, heading toward us and the promenade – where there was a rally.
     •  Visited St. Anne’s church (built in 19th century), which was having an art show. Very vivid contrast between the art, displayed on white drywall – about 8 feet tall, to the ancient stone church walls.
     •  Window shopped
  »  Purchased bread, avocado and cheese at a local organic farm market – located in a building. Purchased wine at the hotel and had dinner in their garden (see garden pictures)

September 17, 2010

  »  Marathon taking place.
  »  Ate crepes at the center of Montpellier. Only place we had a waiter with an attitude!
  »  Observations – Issues for those with disabilities (stairs, uneven walkways, etc.)
  »  Walking Tour of the City –
     •  Population of 400,000 (65,000 to 75,000 students) – 8th largest city
     •  About 1,000 people/month immigrate to Montpellier
     •  Gothic style – not flamboyant
     •  Oldest school of medicine (since 1220) – Two statues outside of one school (which was originally a monastery built in the 14th century). One was of Peyronie, who was the private surgeon of Louis XIV (1678-1747)
     •  Several “Pilgrim’s Ways” through city
     •  Rhone River Valley – established as a Merchant Republic
     •  Extremely tolerant city – had Muslims, Christians and Jews living together
     •  Antigone – newer part of city, west of medieval Montpellier
     •  Arch was built in 1591, Aqueduct in 18th century, orange tile roofs are local, about 75 hotels of the rich – rich Parisian families who ruled after the religious wars
     •  Entryway (behind doors) showed wealth with decorative stairways and lobby
  »  Visited Antigone area – came across homeless under a bridge
  »  Shopped at store that sold local artisan products (learned cicadas important symbol)
  »  Met Jean-Francois Pouget (Tourism Director of Marketing and Communication and Deputy General Manager of the Tourism Development Agency for the region of Herault – and Daphine Laot (SupAgro) at an Italian restaurant ( for dinner
     •  Jean-Francois mentioned that Michigan should be the “Garden of Chicago and Toronto” – including local MI wines.
     •  Unemployment around 14%, with many being wives of professionals who are immigrating to the area.
     •  Largest industries – medical and law
     •  Spoke of how the wine industry is about relationships ( a change from 10-20 years ago). More female purchasers – who get to know wine managers/owners-talk to friends and friends buy too.

October 18, 2010

  »  Met Fatiha Fort from SupAgro at the train station. She took us to meet with persons representing the Board of Agriculture for the Department – Economy Division. Provided us some helpful literature.
     •  Terroir (terwaw) – related to emotion and feeling and “capitalizes on the natural characteristics of the area. Good to
     •  AB on product – means organic. AOP – European. AOC France
     •  Wine corbiarras – all French consumers know the wine (tradition, good climate, soil, what they think of the region, landscape, a way of life, a feeling)
     •  Challenge of overall agri-tourism is a fear of agriculture/farmers to stop producing
     •  Agri-tourism definition to them – (1) Welcoming to farm (2) Direct with stores on farm (3) Education on the farm and (4) Leisure activities (horseback riding, walking, discovery farms).
     •  One example is a rental on farm, tourist would do own cooking, etc. Camping, yurts and cabins becoming more popular.
     •  Competition is Spain, supermarkets and local open markets
     •  They have a website of events for consumers
     •  25% of producers are engaged in agri-tourism
     •  Dept. of Ag is managed by elected producers or farmers. In Herault there are forty-five elected farmers/producers, one president and 61 employees. Departments within Dept. of Ag are Viticulture, Vegetables, Management of environment, Forest, Economy (includes tourism), Communication (and marketing).
     •  Gov’t hierarchy is national to region to department
     •  Bienevue a la Ferme (see flyer) – Since 1988. In 2010 had 400 participants in department (1000 farms possible). Sets guidelines, which may include (1) Must be an active farm – farming must be the most important activity of the producer, (2) Must do ON the farm (3) Farm must be welcoming (nice and not dangerous), (4) Farmer must promote agriculture, and (5) Enhance the “brand” with Dept. of Ag guides/promotion info. Every 2 years there is a big national event for those involved in this program.
     •  Marketing Production Services – Short Sell Ways. The strategy included (1) Partnerships (2) Networks (Bienevue or Qualite Herault) (3) Supporting Individual Farm Products (literature, etc.) (4) Supporting collective projects (AOC, markets, etc.) and (5) Communication (chamber, radio, etc.)
     •  Support collective producer’s shops – like we visited with Jean. Producers take turns working in shop.
  »  Lunch at Abbey de Valmagne (near Villeveyrac)
     •  Wife of family recently opened restaurant. Had a 15 year old intern there. Restaurant currently closed except for special events (us). Lunch started with quiche and salad. Used herbs from her garden. Next course was rice, squash and local cheese.
     •  Valmagne was founded in 1139. In the early days Valmagne was one of the richest abbeys in the south of France.
     •  Positive observations – a lot of potential, historical, wine produced and grown on property, use of fresh herbs grown on property, local products not produced on property purchased, serene setting
     •  Least impressive observations – sooo much to take care of, cold, restaurant owner too talkative, unsure of what to expect, tour cost high.
  »  La Ferme Des Saveurs – goat products (cheese, milk, yogurt)
     •  Biodynamic farm (treats own water)
     •  Toured farm – sampled fresh goat milk. Music and “pleasant” scents piped in for goats
     •  Most impressive – passionate about their product, only 28% of sales through location, friendly people, clean selling area, water filtration, goats pampers (music, scent), taste of cheese
     •  Least impressive – Goat smell in tasting room, farm property messy

October 19, 2010

  »  Met with Jean-Francois at his office.
     •  Herault is 4th nationally in national regional tourism (1.5 B). Tourists are 80% French, followed by other Europeans
     •  Took a while for tourism to be recognized as a valuable industry
     •  Tourism is increasing around the shoulder seasons
     •  Tourism is double agriculture income for the area
     •  Development of coastal region in 1970’s was the “birth” of tourism for the region.
     •  Handicap (disability) guidelines must follow the EU specifications.
     •  EU laws/policies had huge impacts!
     •  Question now is how to manage tourism
     •  There are 8 “Grand Sites” in France. They take up to 10 years to develop and must balance (1) Environment (2) Economy and (3) People who live there. They see this as the future of tourism in France. St Guillhem de Desert was designated last year – after 20 years! There is potential in the Herault Region for 3 additional “Grand Sites”
     •  French planning laws stricter than US. Cannot do anything inside or outside without approval
     •  Strength of area – wine and olive growing, ocean, history, architecture, Mediterranean climate
     •  Obstacles – management of IT, quality of life, wine, open space, etc.
  »  Toured and ate lunch at Les Demoiselles Dupuy (owner name – Romain??)
     •  Toured oyster beds in a boat – owner has 9 areas (with many lines in each)
     •  Observed staff gluing oyster shells on lines.
     •  This is a farm restaurant – which has less regulation than a non-farm restaurant.
     •  Lunch included raw oyster, mussels, shrimp, local fish, sardines and anchovies. Also Roquefort and camembert cheeses. Ended with a berry tart
  »  Toured coastal town of Siet

October 20, 2010

  »  Fatiha took us to visit Regional Tourism office (Angelika Sauermost – Development from Languedoc Roussillon – Comite Regional du Tourisma,
     •  This office makes strategies but does not implement. Provides (1) communication (2) Subsidies (3) Training.
     •  Sud de France – promotes wines and specialties of the region. Started in 2006. Tourism a 16M industry for region. Participants must promote locate products. Funds available for upgrades (i.e. toilets)
     •  Two-thirds are French, German second highest. US spending in region (68,000). Average of 2,848 spent per stay. July 15 to August 15 – French vacation (creates 75,000 jobs)
     •  Working on their image. Many want to visit seaside – but, also historical.
     •  They do customer perception surveys
     •  Tourists making choices to go to restaurant by where they are staying or visit another area – not both!
     •  Tourists visit one site – then picnic and recreate
     •  Slower life style in area – those tourists who like that slower lifestyle return
     •  Strengths – wines, vegetables, fruit, history, environmental preservation, ancient passageways
     •  Collaborative efforts – provide regional tourism input, work with Chambers of Agriculture (to help winegrowers learn to sell their products, bring people to the area)
     •  Weaknesses –
    —  Said “they have NO image – Not bad and not good”
    —  Cleanliness or toilet availability (working on this by developing it within the national plan)
     •  Obstacles –
    —  Language – French not always willing to speak other languages. One requirement will be at least 2 languages at Sud de France locations and one must be English.
    —  French not always welcoming
     •  Future plans –
    —  Work on quality
     •  Organize more wine tours – make them more organized

  »  SupAgro – agriculture college of southern France
     •  Had lunch at SupAgro – met Jean Luc Bosio (Direction of International Relations), Stephane Fornier (Ag Prof) and Phillip??
     •  Stephen talked about his research involving short supply chains (products moving direct from producer to customer)
    —  PDO – Product of designated origin, SP, etc were developed to convince customers of the quality of a product
    —  Why developed? (1) Supermarket too huge (2) local producers in crisis and trying to find a new way to market products
    —  Questioning why short supply chains develop easier than others
    —  40-50 researchers working on this project
    —  Collaborative efforts with EU, many schools and surveys will be compiled within communities as part of the project
     •  Terrior (Phillip Prevost and Patrice Lallemand) – see handout
    —  Interaction between environment and human factors
    —  Protects the product and product name
    —  Farmers helped develop these guidelines
    —  Three examples of Terrior (1) Pic Saint Loup – wine (2) Nord Lozere Mende – national park, and (3) Poitour – cereal
    —  Terrior is (1) known, (2) linked to agriculture and (3) Represents a system
    —  Think global and act local (“sense of place”)
     •  Jean-Luc gave us a background on SupAgro (see handout)
  »  Walked into Montpellier and purchased local food, brought back to hotel for dinner

October 21, 2010

  »  Visit to Chateau de Flaugergue (
     •  Had a tour of the chateau and gardens by the Count Henri DeColbert
    —  Stated the purpose of chateau (and winery) is to give “good and beautiful” to the people. His house is “our” house. It is a museum and also the place he lives.
    —  20 employees, 40,000 people cross the door a year, 15,000 visit the gardens, 10,000 visit the castle
    —  It is a national monument – owned by monks 2000 years ag0
    —  Has received high rankings in Wine Spectator magazine
    —  Had a wonderful lunch, also at this facility
  »  Met with Jean Poudevigne
     •  Visited Domaine D’Oulivie – near St Gely du Fesc
    —  Originated in the 18th centry
    —  Long road going up to orchard – signage limited
    —  These trees have been growing since 1956 – fired destroyed previous orchard
    —  32 hectres, 20,000 kilo produced
    —  Two types of olives (1) Picholine – oval in shape and (2) Lucques – half oval in shape – offered olive oil testing
    —  Offer 2 day visit in December, which includes picking, expressing oil and dinner
    —  Packaging is superb!
     •  Visited Pelardon cheese producer – Jean Poudevigne is part owner of Chevre des Garigues
    —  Three friends started biz 25 years ago – currently 3 employees, 160 goats
    —  8000 to 11,000 cheeses produced per week
    —  Pigs are fed the whey
    —  Only a couple customers purchase on farm – rest sold at markets, cheese shops or direct to restaurants
    —  Used to operate a restaurant at the facility – new rules made it uneconomical to continue
  »  Checked into new hotel – Domaine de Blancardy
     •  Located in rural area.
     •  Had dinner and met owner. She verified that government money comes with many hoops and not always worth it. She chose to not use gov’t funds.

October 22, 2010

  »  Oignons Doux des Cevennes (Sweet Saint Andre onions, chestnuts, apples and some value-added products) – see handouts
     •  Met Bruno Ruas who explained the cooperative and provided a tour of the facilities and his farm
    —  Eleven employees, 100 farmers and 3 people designated to make decisions (president, Bruno and one other man)
    —  Before cooperative they had a different and more flexible structure – the farmers formed this cooperative without outside help
    —  The producer cleans, boxes and brings the product to the facility for packaging. Twenty-five percent goes to cooperative for upkeep of building and employees.
    —  Strengths of area – wine region, hilly, rivers, catholic vs protestant history, growing process eliminates disease and bug problems, hundreds of years of onion production – much grown on terraces, traditional chestnut area
    —  First product is onions – grown in mountains, then apples – grown in valleys and finally chestnuts. One to two percent of products are value-added.
    —  Problems and obstacles
      »  Onion production is at its max
      »  Have planted apples, to supplement sales
      »  Tried green houses for seeds, but didn’t work because plants developed too quickly
    —  Future plans – increase apple production, getting bank loans to help with this
    —  Main markets are in large cities
    —  Bruno’s farm was located in hills, very clean!
  »  Lunch (with Jean, Jean-Luc and Bruno)
     •  Jean mentioned several times that his biz has been good. Allowed him a good life with time off for travel and to spend with his family
     •  Said that short supply chains may be what can help farmers have more time to do other things. It makes them go out and talk to people or find a way to take products to closer markets. Develops different skills.
     •  Also said the problem is people do not know how to manage their lives – “Business may need something, but personal life needs more. May not manage either well and could use help.”
     •  Suggested it may be nice to have 3 or 4 famers of similar background to get help to build their biz and their personal life.
     •  Jean discussed briefly the NGO he developed 25 years ago to help communities in Brazil. Would work together with teachers, educators and local government to build “productive” communities.
     •  Spoke of issues they have about farm transition (like us) – children don’t want to take over farms
  »  Visited farm farm of Jean-Luc Hebard (apples and onions)
     •  Used to be farmer in onion cooperative but found he enjoyed selling directly to the customer more (20% sold in shops, 80% customer direct)
     •  Toured his apple orchard and home shop – tasted various apple juices with his family (wife and great granddaughter Kenza)
  »  Grange Store with local produce – cooperatively run
     •  Sells local products including fruit, vegetables, honey, meat, candy, bread, etc.
     •  Operated one year ago with 20% profits going to store. Exceeded their goal last year and this year went down to 15%. Expect to go down further to 10% next year. Producers must work 1.5 days per month in store.
  »  Dinner at Blancardy

October 23, 2010

  »  St. Gullian de Desert – Grand Site!!
     •  Seven million, 400,000 Euro to build
     •  650,000 visitors/year – 250 population (of which 70% is over 65 and some families have lived here since the 13th century
     •  Huge facility which costs lots of money to build. Includes car park, local products store and snack shop, walkways, bridges, native olive orchards, etc. Environmentally and disability friendly.
     •  Lower level of housing often rented for shops (may cost between 1000 to 2000/month to rent)
     •  Other activities in the region include art, pottery, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, caving, history, camping and architecture

October 24, 2010

  »  Went to the Camargue Region famous for its horses and bulls
     •  Viewed the bull arena, where people in the arena dodge the bull and its horns by jumping over the full or out of the way. Serious injury had occurred earlier in the day.
     •  Town is completely surrounded by an ancient wall
     •  On Rhone River – many cruises occur here

October 25, 2010

  »  Left early for flight home

Other tidbits

  »  Niche – means small dog house
  »  Idea – provide case studies (use student intern data – but much more detailed) to show various value-added or agri-tourism businesses using some of the main learning objectives of the online course. Include what strengths/opportunities of their region, weaknesses, obstacles overcome, collaborations, government involvement, etc. and lessons learned
  »  Idea – Similarities and differences between places we visited and similar businesses in MI – how can this help others to learn more about value-added ag?
  »  Idea – Investigate/observe advantages and disadvantages of short supply chains (maybe use some of SupAgro Stephan Fourniers work?!?!?) and make a connection back to MI
  »  Idioms
     •  Buerre et l’argent du beurre (“you want butter and the money it gives you too!”) Like “wanting ones cake and eating it too”
     •  “The butter and the spinach” or “the cherry on the cake”