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…
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 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 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.
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
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…
Located in the far north of France, the department of Pas-de-Calais is the closest to the UK. It’s a land of rolling countryside, forests and rivers. Dotted with pretty villages, there are historic cities, elegant seaside resorts and fabulous beaches.
Here are some of the best things to do in Pas de Calais:
120 kilometres of varied coastline boasting golden sandy beaches, dunes, cliffs and wild beaches dotted with seaside resorts makes up the shoreline of the Opal Coast. A place with a rich heritage going back thousands of years where Julius Caesar stood and contemplated the invasion of England and centuries later Napoleon did the same.
The Opal Coast earned its name thanks to the special quality of light that artists tried to capture here in days gone by. Painters have flocked here for centuries, it was a favourite place of JM Turner who adored the light. The view across the English Channel from the cliff tops along by Cap Blanc Nez and Cap Gris Nez is stunning…
There are dozens of great beaches to stop off at all along the Opal Coast, here are a few of our favourites:
Hardelot: Golden sands, a chic little town and never crowded. Charles Dickens lived here in the 1800s and loved the area.
Berck-sur-Mer Great for families, clean, safe and the perfect kite flying beach plus the little beach huts are so pretty!
Merlimont: Another family favourite with its long expanse of golden sands
Le Touquet: Town and seaside combine in this swish little resort which is a Paris secret and was once THE jet set place to go, nicknamed the “Monaco of the north”. The beach at Le Touquet was voted as one of the top ten in France by Trip Advisor users. (Photo above at sunset on a sunny day).
St Cecile Plage: Empty beaches with beautiful views, huge dunes to run up and down and a tranquil little town.
Arras: Historic and charming Arras is a place to walk and wonder. Incredibly much of the old town was re-built after being destroyed in WWI, but you would never know. With its tall Flemish style houses, cobbled stone squares it is a beauty…
Boulogne-sur-Mer: If you’ve never visited the old town you’ll be very surprised to go through the vast stone gateways and discover you’ve stepped back in time. Pretty, quirky, little shops and charming restaurants in the rue de Lille.
Montreuil-sur-Mer: Victor Hugo visited this town in 1847 and never forgot it. The history of this place goes back millennia. Today it is a pretty place of cobble stones squares, narrow alleys, ancient houses and a lovely walkway all around the town on the ramparts giving magnificent views over the surrounding countryside.
Saint Omer: the quintessential rural French town with a history. A lovely town square, little shops, great restaurants, brilliant boulangeries and a great ambience. Take a boat tide on the Marais, the marshlands of St Omer, to spot wildlife galore.
Wimereux: This small town is an off the beaten-track seaside resort that people can’t help falling in love with. Colourful and elegant with lots of Belle Epoque style villas, plus quirky shops and plenty of cafés and bars. You won’t only go there once!
Basilica Notre Dame
La Chartreuse de Neuville: The Charterhouse at Neuville sous Montreuil (near Montreuil-sur-Mer) was founded in the 14th Century. An incredible monument with a long and rich history. Open from April to November, visit the beautiful gardens and take a guided tour to see the stunning interior and cloisters… www.lachartreusedeneuville.org
The Basilica of Notre Dame in Boulogne-sur-Mer: The crypt of the church has been carefully restored and is the biggest in France. Dating back to Roman times, it is astoundingly beautiful and houses many precious treasures. The Basilica is a beautiful building, famous for the many miracles said to have come from it’s most previous relic, a slither of wood from a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Musée de Beaux Arts Arras: A great museum in an ancient Abbey. There’s a super collection of paintings, sculpture and porcelain plus an exhibition about the history of Arras.
Agincourt centre: The Medieval Historical Center of Agincourt (revamped in 2019) reveals the history of the legendary battle of the Hundred Years' War.
Sound and Light Show of Les Miserables in Montreuil-sur-Mer. Shows take place on the town’s ramparts in July and August. A brilliant night out for the whole family as hundreds of local people present a musical show in the town that inspired Victor Hugo to write the story. See the tourist office website for details.
Market Le Touquet
Nausicaa: The National Sea Centre is the biggest aquarium in Europe. More than 36,000 animals including sea lions, penguins, giant tortoises, shark and an incredible array of fish. Book a backstage tour and meet the animals in the nursery, take in a show, gaze in awe at the colour and size of the many forms of sea life and watch as sea lions swim under your feet in a glass tunnel. www.nausicaa.co.uk
Markets: There are street markets in almost every town but a few you shouldn’t miss are: Le Touquet – Saturday morning the listed art deco market is a hive of activity and there are some great stalls selling such diverse items as wicker baskets and second-hand hotel linen.
St Omer – Saturday morning, lovely market in front of the Renaissance style town hall, great atmosphere and the best vegetables anywhere in the area – straight from the marshes where they’re grown close by…
Hesdin – Thursday morning, vibrant, buzzing, fun market that sprawls out into the streets around the church in the centre of town – great for people watching!
Horse riding: Romantic rides in the forest, exciting rides along the cliff tops, up and down dunes or on the beach – there are lots of opportunities in the area with equestrian centres in Le Touquet.
La Coupole: A visit to this enormous bunker left over from World War II, located 5 km from Saint-Omer, is sobering and astounding. It is among the most impressive remnants of the Second World War in Europe. It was from La Coupole that the V2 rocket was to take off, the ancestor of all modern rockets. It is now a History and Memory Centre and today, on the launch site, there is a spectacular Planetarium which offers an unforgettable journey into space. www.lacoupole-france.co.uk
France is easy to reach by train, plane and boat – and for 2020, more flights than ever are planned. Plus, there are some great, green initiatives.
London Stansted – Bergerac, from 23/05/2020 until 19/09/2020, summer only
London Stansted – La Rochelle, from 23/05/2020 until 19/09/2020, summer only
Birmingham – Nice, from 09/03/2020 until 30/10/2020, all year
East Midlands – Grenoble-Alpes-Isère, from December 2019 to April 2020
Jet2 flights to France from UK: www.jet2.com/en/flights/france/
Bristol – Lyon, from 12/12/2019 until 28/03/2020, winter only
Easyjet flights to France from UK: www.easyjet.com/en/cheap-flights/france
London Gatwick – Chambéry, winter only
Bristol – Toulouse, from 29/12/2019 to 08/03/2020, winter only
TUI flights to France from UK: https://www.tuifly.fr/en/destinations/france
Dublin – Marseille, summer only, five per week
Dublin – Toulouse, summer only, daily
Bristol – Grenoble-Alpes-Isère, from December 2019 to April 2020
Ryan Air flights to France from UK: www.ryanair.com/flights/gb/en/flights-to-france
Cork Airport – Paris-Charles de Gaulle, addition of a new early morning flight from Cork and a late evening service from Paris, complement the existing daily schedule, from April to October 2020.
Air France flights to France from UK: www.airfrance.co.uk
Named after the picturesque port on the Seine estuary, the Honfleur will arrive in the spring of 2020 and serve Brittany Ferries’ most popular route from Portsmouth to Caen-Ouistreham. This LNG-powered ship will carry up to 1,680 passengers, has 261 cabins, two cinemas, several restaurants, passenger lounges and boutique shopping. Honfleur is the future of sustainable ferry transport and will soon be the greenest vessel regularly operating on the English Channel. Details: www.destinationhonfleur.com/en
Air France says it will proactively offset 100% of CO2 emissions from domestic flights starting in 2020 as part of its environmental objectives. Labelled ‘Air France Horizon
2030’, the airline’s sustainability roadmap will see it voluntarily offset emissions on all flights within mainland France starting on 1st January, through participation in environmental projects. According to Air France, this represents an average of over 450 flights per day and in excess of 57,000 customers. Details: corporate.airfrance.com/en
There’s always loads to do when you visit Normandy, this is a region that loves to put on a show and to celebrate. And in 2020, there’s even more to enjoy from the famous Impressionist Festival to a brand new cycle route and more…
Here are just some of the great events coming up in Normandy for 2020:
The Normandy Impressionist Festival takes place every three years. It’s a five-month programme with more than 450 events happening across the region. It will feature 20 Impressionist art exhibitions and 30 contemporary art exhibitions, dance performances, live entertainment, sound and light shows, street art, conferences, workshops and more. Takes place: 3 April-6 September 2020. Details: normandie-impressionniste.fr
Named after the oh-so-pretty port on the Seine estuary, the ‘Honfleur’ will enter into service in March 2020. She’ll serve Brittany Ferries’ most popular route from Portsmouth to Caen/Ouistreham. The LNG-powered ship will carry up to 1,680 passengers, and boast 261 cabins, two cinemas, several restaurants, passenger lounges and boutique shopping. Honfleur is the future of sustainable ferry transport and will soon be the greenest ship regularly operating on the English Channel. Details: destinationhonfleur.com/en
Did you know that France is the world’s second most popular cycling destination (after Germany)? The appeal of France for cyclists is growing year by year and a brand new 430km cycle route linking Paris to Le Havre and Deauville is a real winner. La Seine à Vélo opens in spring 2020. Following the course of the River Seine, the cycle route will pass through gorgeous Giverny, giving you the perfect excuse to take a wander in Monet’s garden. It will also run by lovely Les Andelys, historic Rouen, Jumièges and Honfleur. What’s more it’s suitable for all levels of cyclist from beginners to experts. Details: axeseine.fr
Normandy’s beautiful Alabaster Coast will welcome its first maritime festival in 2020, the Fécamp Grand’Escale. It will take place between the Kiel Regatta (20-28 June) and Brest International Maritime Festival (10-16 July 2020) meaning sail ship fans could enjoy a salty hat trick! Sailing boats, yachts and steamboats will now be able to stop off en route (from Germany to Brittany) in the fishing port of Fécamp which has a long maritime history. Visitors to the festival can enjoy sea excursions, concerts, live entertainment and tours of the visiting sailing boats. Takes place: 1-5 July. Details: fecampgrandescale.com
The British Normandy Memorial will open to the public from 5 September. It is the first memorial to honour the 22,000 soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who died fighting under British command on D Day and in the Battle of Normandy. Designed by architect Liam O’Connor, it will stand just outside the village of Ver-sur-Mer overlooking Gold Beach, where British and Allied troops landed on 6 June 1944. Details: normandymemorialtrust.org/the-memorial
Find out more about what’s on and what to see and do in Normandy: en.normandie-tourisme.fr
Jazz a Juan photo: JAJ-AMBIANCE © G. Lefrancq
With a record number of more than 90 million international visitors, France was the most visited destination in the world in 2018, representing a whopping increase of 4.3 million visitors since 2017.
The UK remained the main source market for inbound travellers to France in 2018 with 13 million tourist arrivals, representing a 2.4% increase on 2017.
We love it for so many reasons, from the diverse landscape, wonderful beaches, mountains, countryside and cities – to the famous French cuisine. Who can resist a crispy baguette, a just baked golden croissant, a piquant cheese or a cake that looks like a jewel box?!
We also love France for the sheer number of things to do. Here’s a peak at just a few of the fabulous new events coming up in 2020…
In 2020 don’t miss the ‘Dragon of Calais’ a magnificent creation conceived by La Machine de Nantes and built by La Machine Company. The giant dragon will carry visitors through the town and along the seafront. By 2023, other fantastic creatures will arrive in Calais to create a unique urban universe. A permanent creation, the dragon is 15 metres high and can carry up to 60 passengers at a time. Book your ticket to ride a dragon here: compagniedudragon.com
Four years after closing for renovation, Paris’ Palais Galliera fashion museum will reopen in April. It will be home to the first permanent fashion exhibition in France, exclusively sponsored by Chanel. Located in the basement of the Palais Galliera, the 670-square-metre area is dedicated to the history of fashion from the 18th century to the present day. The project also includes the creation of a learning workshop and a bookshop. The ground floor of the museum will be dedicated to temporary exhibitions.
After huge success with the Atelier des Lumières digital art museum in Paris, the city of Bordeaux will open Bassins de Lumières within its famous submarine base, a remnant of the Second World War. This enormous bunker is five times larger than the Atelier des Lumières in Paris – covering 11,000 square metres. Opening in April, it will become one of the world’s largest multimedia installations. Details: www.culturespaces.com/en/bassins-lumieres
French billionaire and art collector François Pinault is due to take over a new hot Parisian spot to display his art collection. Located at the heart of Paris, the Bourse de Commerce (Stock Exchange) will open in June to house the new exhibition space for the Pinault Collection. The historic building has been fully restored and transformed into a museum by famous Japanese architect Tadao Ando, including an auditorium and 3,000 square metres of contemporary art exhibition. Details: www.collectionpinaultparis.com/en/
A new museum of modern art will open at Fontevraud Abbey in May/June 2020 following a vast donation by private collectors Martine and Léon Cligman. It includes 19th and 20th century works by renowned artists Corot, Dubuffet, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Derain and Delaunay. The museum will open in the former stables. Fontevraud is the largest collection of monastic buildings in France, burial place of three English royals – Henry II, Richard the Lionheart and Eleanor of Aquitaine – and a world famous cultural centre. The on-site hotel has a Michelin-starred restaurant and hotel guests have access to the abbey all night long. Details: www.fontevraud.fr/en/
Frank Gehry’s vertiginous, twisting tower at LUMA Arles is taking shape on its 16-acre site in Provence. Due to be 56 metres high when completed in summer 2020, the tower will support a variety of functions including research facilities, workshops and seminar rooms, and artists’ studios. Details: www.luma-arles.org/en
From 19 September to 4 October 2020, in partnership with the Pompidou Centre, the Centre des Monuments Nationaux (CMN) will be creating a temporary exhibition entitled ‘The Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped’. The work will be created by Christo, who famously ‘wrapped’ the Pont-Neuf in Paris, the Reichstag in Berlin and the Gates of Central Park in New York. Details: www.paris-arc-de-triomphe.fr/en/News/The-Arc-de-Triomphe-Wrapped
Opening in Autumn 2020, the Narbo Via museum will be the new landmark of the city of Narbonne in Southern France, once an important Roman port. It has been designed by Norman Foster who also created the Musée de la Romanité in Nîmes, which opened in June 2018 and the Millau Bridge. The new 8,000-square-metre antique museum will house the town’s remarkable archaeological collection, charting its antique heritage and displaying as many as 25,000 individual exhibits. It is one of France’s most important ongoing contemporary architectural projects.
Antibes-Juan-les-Pins' iconic jazz festival will celebrate its 60th anniversary from 5 to 23 July 2020 Listening to jazz in the Pinède Gould overlooking the Mediterranean is a unique and unforgettable experience. This year's special edition will last even longer than usual to celebrate the anniversary. Details: www.jazzajuan.com/en-us/home.aspx
Every summer, around 700,000 people from all over the world invade the Celtic town of Lorient for the Festival Interceltique. From Galicia to Scotland, the best of Celtic music can be found here and there’s a fabulously festive atmosphere. 200 events and shows and 5,000 performers will take part and celebrate this 50th year. Takes place: 7 to 16 August 2020. www.brittanytourism.com
Discover more events at: https://uk.france.fr/en
Montpellier, southern France, is a dynamic city with a rich heritage. An expanding new town is famous for its innovative architecture, and it’s just a tram ride from the gorgeous beaches. But the old town of Montpellier is where most visitors head.
Here’s our head’s up on some of the best foodie experiences in Montpellier…
In this lively city, there’s no shortage of bars to choose from. If you’re looking for somewhere with a relaxed vibe and great wine list, L’Atelier Bar a Vin in Place de la Canourgue is pretty 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).
Any visit to Montpellier must include the Place de la Comédie, the beating heart of the city nicknamed L’Oeuf (the egg) thanks to its oval shape. Here you’ll find Café Riche, an institution as much for locals as for tourists, and for people watching – it’s perfect.
Market fans will adore the covered market Halles Laissac which opened at the end of 2018. With its vibrant stained glass dome designed by a student and teacher team from the MoCo (Montpellier Contemporary Art ecosystem) Ecole Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, this emporium of food is open daily. You’ll find a delicious array of food including macarons made by a master pâtissier, cheeses, Corsican specialities, charcuterie and fresh baked bread. There’s a bar here and one of the best things about Halles Laissac is that you can buy your food and then dine at the tables and chairs provided inside and out - the perfect market picnic.
Café Joseph on Place Jean Jaurès in the heart of Montpellier is the place to go. The locals know it as Café Jo and it’s open seven days a week (many restaurants close on Sunday and Monday in Montpellier). Waiters dash about deftly managing trays of food wafting the sort of fragrance that induces nostril quivering anticipation. It’s good for lunch and even better for dinner when lights twinkle overhead and buskers perform in the animated square and the air is filled with the sound of happy chatter. Here you get that special feeling you only get when you’re on holiday and totally relaxed. Great for people watching and the menu is terrific - dishes that are perfect for summer days and nights (the tapas and salads are especially delicious), and the cocktail list is irresistible.
In a tiny square hidden in the backstreets of Montpellier, Place Saint-Ravy is a magnet for locals in the know. Once the Palace of the Kings of Majorca who, many hundreds of years ago were also Lords of Montpellier, stood here but now the medieval buildings have been converted to restaurants including La Place. Dine outside at tables placed around a tinkling fountain - it’s the ideal place to get a feel for ancient Montpellier whilst enjoying truly scrumptious dishes. Dine inside and enjoy the cool stone and vaulted ceilings in an intimate dining area.
If you only have time to go to one restaurant in Montpellier, then make it Le Grillardin in the little Place de Chappelle Neuve. In a shady square surrounded by beautiful old buildings with pastel blue shutters of a shade of the most perfect blue, faded over decades, perhaps centuries. It’s a divine setting which nourishes the soul as much as the delicious dishes satisfy your inner gourmet. Tables spill out from the restaurant onto the square. Servers dash about explaining (in English if required) what’s on the menu. Tables fill quickly here so book in advance or get there for 7.30 when service starts. It’s loved by the locals and no wonder…
Montpellier tourism: www.montpellier-france.com
Find out more about what’s on and where to visit in France: https://uk.france.fr/en
Happy New Year from all of us at French Connections.
We love to make your holiday dreams come true, to help you create unforgettable holidays and take you to new destinations as well as old favourites in France. And we’re looking forward to assisting you next year.
Whether you’re seeking a chateau break, a gorgeous villa, romantic cottage, B&B with style or a great value holiday – we’ve got thousands of holiday home listings right across the whole of France.
If you’re looking for a holiday for two or for twenty-two – or more, we’re here to help
New year – new holiday! Ski resorts, seaside resorts, city or countryside breaks - browse our huge list of holiday homes, chat to us on Facebook, feel free to contact us for help.
Wishing you a very Happy New Year, from all of us at French Connections:
Laura, Izzy, Donna, Julie and Janine