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What To Do In Montpellier: A Vibrant French City

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Thinking of going to France for your next holiday but want to avoid the madness of Paris or simply want to discover another part of the wine-and-cheese country? Head to Montpellier!

Perfectly located, 7 miles from the Mediterranean Sea, in the heart of the Occitanie region of Southern France, Montpellier is the ideal holiday destination. It is a historic effervescent city with many attractions that rank among the best in France.

From its medieval narrow streets to the new districts designed by some of the greatest architects of our time, it is a must see city. Get ready to fall in love!

Comedie Square

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We will start off our journey from La Place de la Comedie where the modern tramway will drop you off to reach Montpellier’s downtown.

As soon as you step on the main square you will be overwhelmed by the magnificence of it. It is the biggest pedestrian plaza in France.

It is surrounded by restaurants and cafés from which you can admire the Opera house (1888), the Grand Hotel, the Trois Graces fountain, and the Haussmannien buildings: a type of architecture that gives Montpellier its 1800’s Parisian movie feel.

Local tip: If you come to Montpellier by car, stay at a hotel near Prèsd’arènes right off the highway next to the tramway stop Garcia Lorca. This way you go downtown with the practical tramway and go to the beach or any other city by car. If you arrive by train, a downtown hotel will be your best option.

Fabre Museum

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On the edge of the Comedie Square sits the Fabre Museum. It is one of the most important museums in the South.

Opened in 1928, it holds a large collection of French and European paintings from the 17th to the 19th century. The top floor, on the other hand, carries modern art paintings including some from the great Pierre Soulagesthat are worth the detour.

The Fabre museum is also known for the beauty of its architecture, majestic staircases, the columns room, and the grandiose open space are what make this museum gorgeous.

Local Tip: Don’t forget to visit L’Hôtel de Cabrières-Sabatier d’Espeyran located outside on the left of the Fabre museum.

The 19th century mansion offers visitors the possibility to travel back in time and discover the French lifestyle of the 18th and 19th century aristocrats with authentic luxurious furniture from the Cabrières-Sabatier d’Espeyran family.

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St Pierre Cathedral

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Our next stop is the St Pierre Cathedral, also called Montpellier’s fortress for its two enormous defense towers on the front porch.

Located 0.4 Miles behind the Fabre Museum, the 14th century buildinghidden in the narrow medieval streets is almost impossible to spot until you actually get to the front. Attached to the cathedral is Montpellier’s Medical University.

The University was built during the 13th Century and is the world’s oldest medical school still running today. Walk around the buildings, step in the church and admire the beauty of these sites rich with history and secrets.

Local Tip: On your way to the Cathedral stop for lunch at thebest Crepe restaurant in town called Casserole enFolie. For a couple of euros you will get an appetizer salad, a salty crepe, a sweet crepe and either a glass of wine or cider. Don’t forget to make a reservation!

Peyrou Promenade

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A few steps away from St Pierre Cathedral is the La Promenade du Peyrou (The walk of Peyrou) park which is the highest point of Montpellier and has the best view of the city.

The park is dedicated to the glory of Louis the 14th and shows off 4 perfectly aligned monuments: the Arc de Triumph (1691), St Louis statue, the water tower (1768) and the aqueduct. This location used to be the meeting spot of wealthy ladies and gentlemen who came and strolled in the shade of long rows of plane trees.

It is still a popular location today where the locals like to meet and play music, walk their dogs or simply enjoy a game of Petanque (French Bocci).

Local Tip: Visit the park at sunset when the sun sets right behind the monuments. You will for sure get the best pictures of the Peyrou Park.

Extra Tip: Right next to the park is the oldest Botanical Garden of France (1593) that you can see well from the heights of Peyrou.

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St Roch Square

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After strolling around the heights of Montpellier, slowly walk back toward the St Roch Square. You may want to walk through the St Anne Square to see the St Anne Church and then keep going down until you reach the square.

The square is named after the St Roch Church that stands in the middle of this hot spot of Montpellier. There are many little cafes where the locals sit and relax all day long while enjoying the sun of the South, reading and chitchatting with friends.

Another point of interest is the Trompe l’oeil painted on one of the houses. Sit on the church’s steps and enjoy trying to find out which windows are actually real on the wall and which are painted. It is hard to tell!

Local Tip: Some of the best restaurants (L’endroit, La cocotte and more…) are in the St Roch area. However many are closed on Sunday and Monday.

You should plan on eating out on one of the other days of the week. Note that Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays get really crowded at night in this neighborhood as the locals enjoy getting together to eat dinner or have a drink. A perfect way to mix in with the crowd.

Extra Tip: Don’t get confused with the train station called Gare St Roch.

Rue de la Vieille (Street La Vieille)

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The Rue de la Vieille (street of the Old Woman), filled with postcards shops, is one of the cutest streets of Montpellier.

Whether you want to find something artsy, colourful, funny, or vintage, you will be sure to find the perfect postcard to send to your dear friend or keep as a souvenir. This, along with many other narrow winding medieval streets, is what gives Montpellier’s downtown its charm. They are fun to explore and great for shopping!

Local Tip: If you are on the go and don’t really want to sit at a restaurant for lunch, stop by a bakery and order whatever looks delicious. If you order a quiche ask the baker to warm it up, he would gladly do it and quiche is always better warm.

Recommended bakery: Des Rêves et du Pain, located 10 rue Eugène Lisbonne, Montpellier.

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Antigone

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From the river banks of Le Lez to the Polygone Mall stands the Antigone neighborhood. Built in the ’80s by the Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill, the Antigone district buildings, as the name claims, are inspired by the style of Ancient Greek architecture.

Antigone is a fun neighborhood to walk through just ashort distance away from the historical center.With its relaxing river banks andthe Greek styled buildings, statues and fountains, the modern district is a must see.

Local Tip: Every Sunday morning you can stroll around the Antigone Farmer’s market a fun activity on the day where pretty much everything is closed in France.

About the author

Julia Girard-Gervois: French expat, living near Washington D.C. USA. Julia makes a living out of her passion for traveling. She is the owner of the USA based French travel company TripUSAFrance and goes back to France on a regular basis to lead her small group tours of Southern France with her family. During her free time, the former tour guide does what she likes the most: traveling the world!

This article has 1 comment

  1. The Dime Travelers

    This article makes me want to visit Montpellier next time I’m in France. After all, you’re right, France is so much more than the busy tourist filled attractions of Paris! It’s just a shame so many travelers don’t get to discover other regions of this beautiful country.

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