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YOU WOULDN'T think this was the south of France, would you? Yes, all right, the sun's there, and brilliant blue skies, but where are the poolside loungers, the shady terrace with the pastis asking to be poured, the shorts and the T-shirts and the straw hats, the table under the mulberry tree with the daily baguette, the camembert and roquefort cheese, the local sun-warmed tomatoes and peaches, the glass or two of local rosé?

ALONG THE road early to St Pons de Thomières, a place of 2353 inhabitants, according to the 2007 census. One of the curiosities of St Pons - as it's called for short - is that there's a cathedral in the middle of it. If hosting a cathedral promotes a place to the rank of city, St Pons must be the smallest cathedral city in France, if not Europe. It's a peculiar cathedral, too. For one thing it's the wrong way round. For the early church builders it was imperative for the altar end to face east, towards Jerusalem.