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The Agde Triangle

An ancient market town, a seaside fishing port, and the world's largest nudist colony -- these three distinctly different entities make up the towns of Agde, Le Grau d'Agde, and Cap d'Agde, respectively. Between the three, there's something for everyone.

Agde, which sits where the Canal du Midi crosses the Hérault River, was founded in Phoenician times. Its 12th-century St-Etienne cathedral looks more like a fortress than a church, with defensive walls 3m (10ft) thick. A walk up the belltower rewards you with views of the town and the surrounding vineyards. Agde is a relatively quiet place, with pleasant riverside cafes and an enormous market that takes over much of the town every Thursday. Its Musée Agathois, rue de la Fraternité (tel. 04-67-94-82-51), recreates life in the town from prehistoric days to the present, and demonstrates the major role played by its long fishing tradition.

A few minutes' drive south along the Hérault River -- or an even more enjoyable bicycle journey along the riverside path -- takes you to Le Grau d'Agde. In contrast to the summertime madness that descends on its Cap d'Agde neighbor, Le Grau d'Agde is an old-fashioned fishing village with its own decent-size Mediterranean beach on one side and boats that offer leisurely cruises along the Hérault River. A little ferry takes you across the river to Plage de la Tamarissière, a wide stretch of beach in a protected area backed by pine groves.

In comparison with the simpler charms of Agde and Le Grau d'Agde, Cap d'Agde can look a little soulless. This modern resort's architecture is quite bland, lifted somewhat by the profusion of palm trees and brightly colored flowers. Contrary to what many people believe, its status as the world's largest nudist colony has little bearing on day-to-day life beyond the designated Quartier Naturiste Cap d'Agde (tel. 04-67-26-00-26; www.agdenaturisme.com). In this clearly signposted area at the northeastern side of the resort, nudity is required on the beach and expected in the shops and restaurants. Those who arrive on foot at the compound's gate pay 5€ for entrance; motorists pay 10€. In the other three-quarters of Cap d'Agde, life goes on as in other French beach resorts, with marinas filled with sleek boats, watersports, beaches, and children's play areas, which include the Aqualand water theme park.

The Office de Tourisme in Agde is in rue Jean Roger (tel. 04-67-62-91-99; www.ville-agde.fr). The office in Cap d'Agde is at Rond-point Bon Accueil (tel. 04-67-01-04-04; www.capdagde.com).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.