travel postcards, practical advice, images and snippets of randomness

If I’m honest, I only came here because there was a miserable, rainy bank holiday weekend in prospect for England, and I got a return flight for under £50. However, Montpellier turned out to be delightful…

Montpellier - windows

Montpellier - windows

Montpellier is a medium sized city in the south west of France (8th largest in France), about halfway between the Pyrenees and Marseille. Its about 10 miles inland and apparently the beaches are good; but I didn’t make it there this time.
With a population of about half a million, its big enough to entertain, without being too big to get around on a quick break, its also one of the fastest growing cities in France; adding a few thousand people per year. Many of these might be stay ons from the university, as almost half the population is under 35.

Montpellier - Tram

Montpellier - Tram

The town center is compact and easily walkable, something made even easier as much of the city is car free, and even where permitted they take second place to pedestrians; this makes for a very relaxed and calm feel. There are a couple of tram lines crossing the city (with more planned), if you are staying centrally you won’t even need these much, but you will see them gliding gracefully through the streets, with a charmingly retro warning bell.

Place de la Comedie

Place de la Comedie

The main square – and heart of the town – is La Place de la Comedie, all the usual cafes are here, and despite warnings about price there is not much of a premium, better food can be found elsewhere though. Comedie is a great place for people watching and there will be a collection of entertainers doing the rounds: from mobile jazz bands to giant bubble blowers; there is a reasonable size community of piss heads too – give them a wide berth.

Place de la Comedie Opera

Place de la Comedie Opera

Tip: the fastest way to annoy a French waiter is to move a chair from the preordained layout to a better vantage position, it seems to upset their sense of balance and order, but I digress…

Montpellier - worse for wear

Montpellier - worse for wear

The older parts of town are north and west of Comedie, and you will find lots of bars and eating places at all price ranges from kebab shops to full on restaurant fayre, Montpellier is quite a cosmopolitan place so the range of food is wide.
The main shopping shopping street leads north off Comedie (Rue de la Loge) and following this will lead you to another square on the right after a few hundred meters (Place Jean Jaures), with more cafes; these are a bit cheaper, more laid back and less formal than Comedie. Directly opposite, behind Les Halles market another small square offers further options. Leading off here, look for Rue Tresories de la Bourse (in the corner, by the green English bar – no more than an alleyway), following this downhill for about 200m will bring you to a tiny square on the left with 3 very good restaurants. This is the heart of the old town and wandering further downhill will bring you to Pl St Roch and Pl St Comb; quite a few bars around here.

Montpellier - window

Montpellier - window

Back on La Loge, another 20m uphill brings you in front of La Prefecture; veer right here and you will come to another square (Place du Marche aux Fleurs) with more cafes, and some quite good restaurants, although some of them try a bit too hard; one of gave me Sea Bass with a Parmesan crust on a plate artistically swiped with strawberry jam, just vile…

A good recommendation for an ‘off centre’ sit down and a cup of tea is ‘Bleu Tea’, at 6 Croix d’Or – second alley on the left as you walk up  la Loge from Comedie. They also specialise in crepes, savoury and sweet.

To the east of Comedie, and accessed via the Polygone shopping center is an area called Antigone. This is worth a walk through to look at the architecture, but doesn’t have much going on apart from a few cafes and restaurants, it is nevertheless an attractive devlopment of flats and offices with a Neo Classical feel.

Montpellier - Antigone

Montpellier - Antigone

Many other cities have attempted areas like this and failed, I think this works because its built with natural stone, good finishes and attractive planting. Speaking of failure; the Polygone Shopping Center is quite horrible; but may contain the chain stores you need and there is a supermarket on the lower floor.

Montpellier - Arc de Triomphe

Montpellier - Arc de Triomphe

On the west side of town is the Place Royale du Peyrou, with a formal garden next to it – the views from here are excellent and on a clear day you can see the Pyrenees, the aqueduct is at the back.

Montpellier - Its over there

Montpellier - Park Royale du Peyrou

Aquaduct Montpellier

Aquaduct Montpellier

So, 72 hours up and only scraped the surface. Definitely worth a revisit, very easy place to like and prices not as mad as either Paris or other parts of the south of France.

Practicalities:

Stay as central as you can, then everywhere will be walkable.

There is a bus service to and from the airport – details here – but the service is not as frequent as it might be. Current price €1.50 for the bus alone, or €2.40 including a tram ride – which you may need as the airport bus will drop you at Pl de Europe, at the bottom end of the Antigone complex. Bus stop at the airport is just outside the arrivals hall, on the left. Taxi to center will be about €30.

The airport is new and quite small, there is a paper shop and 2 cafes in the main section downstairs, but only one small cafe bar after security, duty free shop is tiny. The staff throughout the airport are very chatty and helpful. friendliest airport I have used in recent memory.

Tram tickets can be bought at the stops, for one or multiple journeys, make sure you validate your ticket when you get on.

One final observation: a lot of people smoke here, more even than in Spain. Since we made it practically illegal in the UK it seems more noticeable.

Montpellier - Coffee and Cigarettes

Montpellier - Coffee and Cigarettes

Accommodation

See the accommodation page, but this is an alternative:

Apartments in Montpellier – Smart Living

Apartments in the region Village Center

 

May 2012

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