‘I find it much better to go twise (sic) to Montpellier than once to the other world,’ wrote the 17th century poet John Locke, possibly after a glass or two of the excellent local wine. While Montpellier isn’t celestial enough to be heaven, it is one of the most vibrant spots in southern France and worthy competition to nearby Toulouse.With elegant boulevards, neat plazas and honey-gold buildings, its compact city centre is a stylish place for a stroll – made all the more so by the city’s uniquely fashionable Christian Lacroix designed trams. And not for nothing has Montpellier been described as the ‘sexiest city in the world’. Being French, excellent food and wine is plentiful, but with Mediterranean beaches a short hop away, staying sexy isn’t much of a challenge as the bikini clad hordes of beachgoers prove. Still not convinced? British expat Sarah Jamieson explains why Montpellier is a city worth visiting.
You should visit Montpellier because it really does have something for everyone! And with an average of 300 days of sunshine per year, Montpellier is the perfect destination anytime you fancy a getaway.
The best thing about Montpellier is sunny weekends spent cycling to the nearby beaches. A new flat cycle path runs from the centre of town past a river, fields full of beautiful white Camargue horses, and lagoons of flamingos, all the way to the beach. Treat yourself to a chilled glass (or bottle) of rosé at one of the many beach bars once you get there.
The worst thing about Montpellier is you may wake up with a slight wine-induced headache the morning after. This can be remedied with a fresh coffee and pain au chocolat on a sunny café terrace though!
Montpellier residents are welcoming and friendly. They definitely appreciate it when visitors make an effort to speak a little French; a simple Bonjour and a smile goes a long way!
My favourite district is the old town with its meandering medieval streets lined with quirky shops and squares with charming cafés. Forget the map, and just wander about the narrow streets – you’ll discover plenty of hidden treasures.
My favourite shop is the Pomme de Reinette toy shop on rue de l’Aiguillerie – a wonderland for anyone who’s young at heart. You’ll find beautiful traditional games and vintage toys that take you back to your childhood. Or if you fancy some slightly more risqué retail therapy, visit Lilou Plaisir; an upmarket sex shop with a wide range of accessories, books and lingerie, where you’re sure to find something to tickle your fancy.
My favourite places to eat are Chez Regis on Place Jean Jaurès, which does the best moules-frites (mussels) in town. Le Chat Perché on rue de l’Aiguillerie serves delicious traditional French fare with a modern twist and the service always comes with a smile. Le Morceau de Lune on rue du Pila Saint Gély offers fantastic fresh seasonal cuisine, and a varied wine selection. Bon appétit!
When you’re in Montpellier be sure to try a guided tour of the city aboard the petit train. The little tourist train takes you on a 40-minute journey around town, hitting all the major sights and has audio guides available in several languages.
Start your night out on the terrace of the Esprit Vin wine bar and indulge in a spot of people-watching and a glass of whatever takes your fancy from their impressive carte. Or if wine isn’t your tipple of choice, head to Place Saint Anne and have a drink at O’Carolans Irish pub, situated on one of the prettiest squares in town.
The best parties take place at Le Huit – a bar with cool music, delicious cocktails, and friendly barmen. Drink, dance and be merry, especially if you get there before 10pm in time for happy hour. If you and your dancing shoes still want more when the bars close, head to Le Fizz nightclub to continue the party.
Montpellier’s fashion scene has grown significantly in recent years, and you can now find many chic boutiques and trendy clothes and shoe shops. Try The Kooples (29 rue de l’Argenterie) or head to the Majestic boutique (2 rue des Etuves) for cool clothes from all over Europe.
The most overrated sight in the city is the Saint Pierre Cathedral. Yes, the façade with its massive stone pillars is impressive but the interior is rather underwhelming. Instead, try the nearby Jardin des Plantes, France’s oldest botanical garden, the promenade du Peyrou (a park full of 100-year-old plane trees) and Montpellier’s very own Arc de Triomphe.
To experience Montpellier like a local, visit the marché des arceaux food market where you will find plenty of fresh local cheese, bread, fruit and vegetables. Then walk to the tree-lined esplanade Charles de Gaulle and visit the Pavillon Populaire, an exhibition space which puts on free photography exhibitions.
Something you won’t find anywhere else is the colourful trams that connect all areas of the city. The most recent line which goes to the beach was designed by Christian Lacroix and will take you to the sea in style.
Take home some artisanal chocolates and traditional Montpellier confectionaries from Le Diamant Noir on Rue Saint Guilhem. With more than 100 varieties of pralines, chocolates, marshmallows, chocolate-covered fruit and other handmade delights to choose from, you might be in there for quite a while!