Montpellier, the capital city of Herault, Occitanie was once a tranquil fishing village. Now it’s a cool city with a hip vibe.
Here’s some of our favourite things to do in this sun-baked city…
Place de la Comédie and historic Montpellier
Start your visit at Place la Comedie. This oval shaped square (known as place de l’Oeuf to the locals, is the beating heart of the city and a popular meeting point. Take a break at Café Riche, a favourite ren
dezvous for locals, with 300 days of sunshine a year, sitting outside is de rigeur!
The old city is a labyrinth of hilly cobbled streets, festooned with bunting and lined with chic boutiques, art galleries, bars, cafés and restaurants. Book a guided tour with the Tourist Office to discover the secrets of the city and explore it’s most beautiful streets and street art. Don’t miss the optical illusion trompe l’oeil at Place Saint Roche which reflects the church opposite and plays tricks with your eyes. There are secret places too, like rue Rocher where proud locals have decorated the street. Get your walking shoes on and explore…
St Pierre Church
Deconsecrated in the 1980s, the church of Carré Sainte Anne is now a spectacular setting for contemporary art exhibitions and installations.
Musée Fabre has a fabulous collection of more than 800 works spanning several centuries. Don’t miss the monumental and provocative works by Pierre Soulages, one of France’s greatest living artists. You can easily spend half a day browsing at this museum and on a hot day, it’s lovely and cool inside!
MoCo – an art ecosystem
MOCO is a contemporary art centre which opened in June 2019, showing temporary exhibitions from international collectors. It’s an art “ecosystem” which pulls three major venues together to bring a diverse and enormous range of contemporary art to the city. There are two exhibition centres and an art school: the Hôtel des collections, in the former Montcalm hotel, a 19th century mansion, with exhibitions of international collections (public or private); La Panacée, free contemporary art centre located in the former historic Royal College of Medicine and a fabulous restaurant; and the ESBA (Montpellier Superior Fine Arts School).
The new districts of Montpellier
The Antigone neighbourhood, named after the ancient Greek play, was erected principally during the 1970s and 1980s. It has plenty of grand neo-classical style buildings and wide-open boulevards, including the central axis, nicknamed the Champs-Elysées by locals. The most innovative architects in the world have designed buildings here but it’s happened in a very organised way. It’s not a messy hotchpotch of looks, there’s a consistent theme being woven through this new part of Montpellier. Wide open spaces, building height restrictions, even the look has to a certain extent been controlled although architects have been given a free hand overall. The New York Times listed Montpellier in its top 100 architectural cities to see before you die.
There are several superb markets in Montpellier. Don’t miss the wonderful Marché des Arceaux in the Peyroux district, west of the old town under the arches of the town’s Romanesque style aqueduct. At Les Halles Laissac, in the old town you can buy fresh produce and enjoy it straight away at a table beneath the vibrant stained-glass dome designed by a student and teacher team from the MoCo Ecole Supérieure des Beaux-Arts.
From the city to the Beaches
A visit to the seaside is an essential part of the Montpellier experience. Hop on tram line 3 in the city centre for an 8km, 20 minute city centre to Pérols, the stop is a mere 800m from the Mediterranean Sea.
In this lively city, there’s no shortage of bars and restaurants to choose from. If you’re looking for a bar with a relaxed vibe and great wine list, L’Atelier Bar a Vin in the Place de la Canourgue is hard to beat. Locals love it but visitors rarely find this romantic square, the oldest in Montpellier, from where you have a wonderful view over the St Pierre Cathedral. For sheer glamour, the terrace of the Hotel Mercure is perfect for an aperitif in its lush green courtyard (you don’t have to be resident to enjoy it).
See our Foodies guide to Montpellier for more great recommendations
What to see close by
Montpellier is a great base for seeing the surrounding area. Nimes is close by, and home to one of the best preserved Roman arenas in the world, it’s well worth a visit. Not far from Nimes is one of the most famous Roman monuments of the area, the Roman Aqueduct Pont du Gard. Just 20km north is the Pic Saint-Loup mountain. Go kayaking in Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert (bus 308 if you don’t have a car). Take the train to Séte and explore the lovely town that’s famous for its oyster production…The tourist office offers a wide range of day trips to local areas. https://www.montpellier-france.com/
French Connections has a great range of holiday homes in the Herault department – take a look to discover your perfect French holiday home…