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Montpellier - France

The beauty of Montpellier may lie in its historic town and medieval streets, but the city’s recently developed new districts are where its future lies, says Keya Modessa.

Travel Time 1hrs 20min

Why go?

The capital of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, Montpellier is sandwiched between vineyards, mountains and the Mediterranean. Its historical centre is made up of a cluster of limestone buildings and narrow streets that offer a stark contrast to the new district, where the likes of Jean Nouvel and Zaha Hadid have helped create a modern mix of architecture. The city is still growing, too, with a new piece of the jigsaw puzzle being added every year. While it would be easy to spend half the day perusing its art, just remember that, beyond, there is so much more to experience, including lively neighbourhoods, historical sights and fantastic food.

What to do

The heart of Montpellier, and its oldest part, is known as l’Ecusson. Here, the renovated Musée Fabre (museefabre.montpellieragglo.com) is where art buffs should head to see work by the likes of Rubens, Delacroix and Bazille. The main square, the Place de la Comédie, connects the old town with the new. In its centre is the Three Graces Fountain, which dates to 1790 and is especially dramatic at night, when it is lit up. It is worth just strolling carefree through the labyrinth of medieval streets to see where they take you. Here, crumbling buildings are home to hip fashion boutiques, cafés, bistros, and you’ll pass the church of Saint-Roch, built to honour the patron saint of the city. Continue through the muddle of streets, passing private mansions and twisting alleyways, until you reach the Cathedral of St Pierre, a former Benedictine chapel, built in the 14th century. France’s oldest botanical gardens are nearby – created in 1593, they feature canals, grottos, tropical greenhouses, a bamboo garden and several ancient trees. A lesser-known fact is that Paris is not the only French city where you can see the Arc de Triomphe – Montpellier also has one, albeit rather smaller. Just beyond it, you can see the Place Royale du Peyrou, a wide, tree-lined square that is dominated by a huge statue of Louis XIV on horseback and the end of the 18th-century St Clement aqueduct. Leaving the historical quarter behind, head for the Antigone district. It’s hard to believe that, just over 30 years ago, this was just empty land owned by the French army. Today, it’s replete with restaurants and modern apartments built in a neoclassical style. Paddle a canoe down the River Lez for another view of Montpellier before ending your day at the modern Port Marianne, where you’ll see the future of the city in buildings such as the contemporary blue-cubed town hall created by François Fontès and the aforementioned Nouvel.

Where to stay

The Mercure (00 33 4 67 99 89 89, mercure.accorhotels.com) has standard rooms and friendly service. It might not be your first choice, but its location between the old town and the Antigone district makes it a perfect base for visitors.  Centrally located, Hotel D’Aragon (00 33 4 67 10 70 00, en.hotelaragon.fr) has nine rooms with balconies that overlook the atmospheric bustle of the city below.

Where to eat and drink

A few minutes from the Musée Fabre, Le Bistrot Gourmand (00 33 4 67 66 08 09) is a lively Parisian-style bistro that serves specialities such as foie gras burgers and fried pig’s trotters accompanied by regional wine. Close to the cathedral, Le Petit Jardin (04 67 60 78 78, petitjardin.com), as the name suggests, is a pretty little garden restaurant. Expect the likes of duxelle of mushrooms, asparagus and pancetta and freshly made ice cream for dessert.

Time running out?

Every Friday in August and September, the night market at Esplanade Charles de Gaulle showcases the best of local artisan produce and wine

Map

Travel Information

Travel Information

Currency is the euro. Montpellier is an hour ahead of GMT and a 1 hour 20 minute flight from London or a 6 hour 40 minute train journey from London.

Getting There

Easy Jet (easyjet.com) flies direct from London Gatwick.
Rail Europe (raileurope.co.uk) arranges train transport from London to Montpellier.

Resources

Montpellier Tourist Board (montpellierfrance.com) has an extensive directory covering events, accommodation, attractions, dining, nightlife and shopping.

Average daily temperatures and rainfall

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Min Temp11571013161613952
Max Temp101215172125282724201511
mm212221000223

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