We didn’t expect much from Montpellier while we planned our month long trip from the Alps through Western Europe. The only thing we knew was that it was a bit of a hub for students and not too far from the Mediterranean.
After a long struggle with French train strikes and a lot of waiting around we finally got to the city centre where we had rented another Air BnB for 5 nights from a student who was away for the week so we had a studio flat to ourselves.
Though tired and a bit sluggish when we arrived we knew instantly that this city was a bit of us!
In a city so full of life, art and character – you really will find something to love, especially if you’re a bit of a Francophile.
Place de la Comédie
We had an apartment situated in the historic quarter close to the Place de la Comédie, a pedestrianised square in the city centre with numerous cafes and lots of hustle and bustle about it. If you’re looking to catch the tram, grab some lunch, see a movie, go to the theatre/opera house or go shopping this is the place to come.
Fun fact: it’s also known as l’OEuf (the Egg) because of its original oval shape. Impress the locals with that one!
Just around the corner from the Place de la Comédie is Allée Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, a beautiful avenue of trees with a bit of park space and magnificent fountains in typical French fashion.
On this pedestrian friendly road you will find the Pavillion Populaire, a modern photography museum exhibiting current and international artists. It looks a little like a gardener’s cottage but it is worth venturing into!
This summer until September 23rd you will find a exhibition of Heinrich Hoffmann which shows German propaganda photos of ghettos from World War 2 juxtaposed with images from Jewish photographers of Eastern European ghettos.
Price: Admission is free
Museums and Art Galleries
This is of course the ‘eating, drinking and art tour of Europe’ which wouldn’t be complete without a visit to some art museums/galleries.
The Fabre Museum is again close to the l’Oeuf and is one of France’s biggest museums. It holds Flemish, Dutch, Italian, Spanish and French collections, painters of the great European schools of the 16th to the 18th centuries and of the French schools (Greuze, Ingres, Delacroix, Courbet, Bazille etc), ceramics and sculptures, contemporary paintings.
Price: It costs between 7.00 to 10.00€ for adults
Another popular site is the Faculty of Medicine which was originally the site of the former St Benoît and St Germain monasteries which the Convention had confiscated from the diocese. It is a magnificent building to behold. Interestingly this became the university building for medical students after the revolution but for some time before this students were taught in their master’s homes.
Price: Visits can be arranged through the tourist office for 14.00€ where you can get an individual guided tour or group tours on request!
For something a bit more contemporary then La Panaceé is the art gallery to go to. Situated in the historic city centre this is an art gallery which also houses the Montpellier School of Fine Arts and Montcalm Hotel (opening June 2019). Find some thought provoking social commentary and lots of creative types hanging about its chic cafe and its lovely central garden.
Price: Admission costs vary but we went to a free exhibition when we visited!
Porte du Peyrou
In the opposite direction from the l’Ouef is Rue Foch, which yes does sound a bit rude but it’s truly exquisite. It can easily be compared to the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Designer shops, expensive eateries and baroque French architecture.
At the bottom of this street is also an Arc de Triomph – the Porte du Peyrou. A structure completed in 1693 by François Dorbay. It’s situated in a paved city square with a statue of Louis XIV & views of the city can be seen from the Promenade du Peyrou.
Also around this square we found a marvelous market with all kinds of antiques, vintage clothing and knick knacks plus some delicious food and wine – perfect for a sunny afternoon!
Also to be found next to the promenade is the Saint-Clément Aqueduct an imposing, bi-level arched aqueduct dating to 1766 & currently supplying the city’s fountains.
Parks and Recreation
The lovely thing about Montpellier is the amount of city parks and green space not far from the city centre.
Just down the road from the Promenade de Peyrou is the city’s botanical gardens which are free to get in and is called the Jardin des Plantes. It is one of the oldest of its kind in Europe and contains an arboretum and a landscaped park.
Inside we discovered a scheme to give the stray cats of the city protection, keeping them in the park to keep down rodent populations, a pond with terrapins and lots of little hidden walkways.
A tram ride or a cycle away was the Chateau de Flaugergues, a winery with an impressive garden. The vines here have been cultivated since Roman times and the gardens are made up of five areas – the vines, an olive tree avenue, classical gardens, terraced flowerbed and a park.
We booked this through a website we came across which allows you to book vineyard visits in France called Rue Des Vignerons which was a fantastic tool because other than just rocking up to a vineyard we had no idea how to book a tour around a vineyard!
We paid ten euros each for a tour of the old house with some really interesting bits of architecture and art, a self guided tour of the gardens which includes a lovely orangery and a bamboo garden before finally finishing with a wine tasting!
🚋 We got here on the tram which we got on at Place de la Comédie and walked from the Odysseum shopping centre for about twenty minutes.
Wander down the exquisite streets of Rue Foch for designer wear or in our case a lot of window shopping. In the historic quarter get lost in the beautiful back streets and find lots of high street shops and independent stores including vintage wear shops and indoor markets which is perfect for those able to make their own meals.
Just outside the city centre is the Odysseum which has a brewery with its own bar, an aquarium centre, trampolining, cinema and more shops to enjoy. If you have a family this a good place to find something for everyone. Get here on the tram – you can’t get lost as it’s the final stop!
🚋 The Odysseum is on Line 1 (Line 1 Mosson/Odysseum), it takes 23 mins and costs 3.80 euros for a day ticket.
Food and Drink
For brunch there are a couple of options we really recommend. Firstly go back to the cultural hub that is La Panaceé on a Sunday for their amazing all you can eat brunch. Hands down the best buffet we’ve ever encountered.
The price is 20 euros but you can get unlimited coffee/tea, orange juice, breakfast items including pastries, lunch food which is all made in their kitchen, healthy and delicious… there was also a lot of cheese.
For a casual coffee or Aussie style brunch (think smashed avocado on toast) is the Coffee Club. We have to say that France really only do espressos and we found the coffee in France is not all that moreish. This place is where you go for a Flat White and it was the best coffee of our entire trip. We even met a fellow Scot behind the counter!
For us having lived in France for 5 months at that point we were happy to find a place that did Fish and Chips in the traditional British way at Fish and Ship. We got beer battered fish, chocolate stout to drink and a Scottish dessert – the famous deep fried Mars Bar! It was exactly what we were looking for, the batter light and crispy and homemade chips with mushy peas.
🍽️ There’s so much choice here, any kind of food you can find and for us being in a self catered Air BnB there are countless supermarkets and markets.
Do a day by the seaside.
The city is really close the Mediterranean Sea and places such as La Grande Motte, Carnon Plage or Palavas Les Flots. You can get here on the tram and a bus which one day ticket on public transport will cover. Find the best beaches on La Grande Motte with it’s quirky 60s architecture!
⛱️ Take a picnic for the beach or hang out in the beach front bars!
The main train station is in the city centre so we also decided to do a day trip to the city of Carcassonne. This is a Medieval walled city with an impressive castle which deserves its own write up so we will say more on this place next week!
🚉 Day trips to neighbouring cities is pretty easy – Sète, Carcassonne and Narbonne are all just a short train ride away.
Again we opted for an Air BnB as we found it to be the cheapest and most convenient option and we arrived by train straight to the city centre. There are some hostels to choose from but mostly accommodation consists of BnB’s and hotels but you can find cheaper options.
How To Get Here
So if you’re not arriving by train or driving into the city then Montpellier does have an airport!
Around 8km from the city, the airport has flights connecting to London, Amsterdam, Dublin, Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich. You can get public transport on the tram or train to and from the airport.
The train station Montpellier Sud-de-France TGV station was designed by French architect Marc Mimram. Trains also run from Montpellier to Barcelona (from €41) and on to Madrid (from €102) up to four times daily and you can day trips to places such as Sète which has been described as the Venice of France.
✈️ EasyJet flies to Montpellier from the UK so it can be done cheaply but the only direct flights are from London so you would have to change if flying from elsewhere
We adored Montpellier. It’s stylish, vibrant and has an edge we weren’t expecting.
Stay classy Montpellier!