Montpellier: A Guide to France's sunniest city
The medieval city of Montpellier is the perfect spot for a long-weekend break. Located in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in south France, it’s known as one of France’s sunniest cities, apparently enjoying around 2500 hours of sunshine per year. It’s an elegant but really laid-back city with a young vibe, loads of great places to eat and drink, plenty of cultural attractions to keep you busy, and is only a mere 10 kilometres from the sea. The people were also some of the friendliest we’ve ever encountered in France. Described by the one of my favourite travel writers Anthony Peregrine as ‘the most seductive city in the French south at any time’, I’d have to agree.
Montpellier is a small city and really easy to get around on foot. However, if the walking gets too much for you, they have a fantastic tram network with the prettiest trams I’ve ever seen. There are four tram lines and all have a different design including one with white swallows another chaneling the 60s with some serious flower-power vibes.
The city is accessible from the airport using the bus number 120 to Place de l’Europe.
Things to do:
Well if you’re in Languedoc-Roussillon, one of the greatest wine regions in France, it would be rude not to sample the local produce. And where better to start than l’Atelier de la Canourgue on the beautiful Place de la Canourgue, my favourite square in the city. It has a huge variety of wines by the glass and it's worth noting that the rosé wines in this region are sublime: pale pink in colour, crisp and dry to taste and perfect on a hot summer’s day.
L’Atelier de la Canourgue is both a wine shop and a wine bar so you can pick up some really excellent regional wines here for a reasonable price. The manager Emmanuel was chatty and friendly and recommended some great places for us to eat in the evenings. We weren’t disappointed – all his suggestions were great and feature here further down.
Musée Fabre: This is a terrific museum with an excellent permanent collection. It has also played host to some great temporary exhibitions such as the Frédéric Bazille show we were lucky enough to catch in 2016. Definitely worth spending a few hours here.
Place de Peyrou:
Located on the outskirts, this park is where you go for panoramic views of the city. It’s also one of the inhabitants’ favourite spots for walking, jogging, chatting or simply sitting and watching the world go by. Housing a statue of Louis XIV on horseback and the Chateau d’Eau (water tower), it’s the epitome of classical beauty and is very peaceful to boot. Then to top it off, as you exit the park onto Rue Foch you are greeted by the majestic Arc de Triomphe. Very pretty at night too.
Food and drink:
Montpellier is a foodie’s dream and they have really embraced the tapas culture here, though with a French twist. We had some really excellent food in this city. The first two were on recommendation from Emmanuel in l’Atelier de la Canourgue.
l’Endroit, Rue du Petit Saint-Jean Our first dinner in Montpellier. It’s a pretty hip spot with an innovative menu and a huge variety of wines by the glass and bottle. The risotto de Saint Jacques was really good, as were the cod fish cakes. It’s quite meat-oriented though so not the best spot for vegetarians.
Comme un dimanche sous le figuier, Rue du Petit Saint-Jean This place deserves a mention for its name alone which translates as ‘like a Sunday under the fig tree’. Vegetarians beware – this place prides itself on its BBQ fare: lots of grilled meats (and fish) so Martin was très contente. I opted for the Buffala Mozzarella salad, grilled fish and some mac ‘n’ cheese which were all on the money. It’s a wine bar too so they have a fantastic selection of by the bottle and glass, all at reasonable prices too. Ask the staff for their advice – they really know their stuff. Like most places in Montpellier, it’s a really relaxed and informal eating experience. Fun too.
Le Petit Jardin, rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau And the award for most beautiful restaurant in Montpellier goes to….
First things first: when booking (and you must reserve in advance) ask for a table outside on the terrace. It’s an absolute oasis of tranquility, surrounded by trees and overhanging plants. It’s pricier than your average restaurant in Montpellier with two set menus on offer: Menu de Saison for €39 and Menu de Petit Jardin for €55. We opted for the first option which was great. I had the cod carpaccio to start, followed by ravioli, with a variety of all things citron for dessert. Wine is also a little pricier here, but still reasonable, especially coming from Dublin. It’s a more formal dining experience here too, but sometimes it’s nice to get your glad rags on and take it up a notch.
Burger et Blanquette, Boulevard Sarail
Funnily enough, this casual little burger place was one of my favourite dining experiences in Montpellier, one of a number of cool little spots along boulevard Sarail, opposite the park. It's hard to miss the cool 1960s bubblegum décor which makes this place stand out along the promenade, and the overall vibe is quirky and fun. If you're planning on visiting the Musée Fabre, it's just a few minutes' walk from here.
Service is friendly and the food is terrific - one of the best chicken burgers I've had to date, served in in a crusty bun with a chive sauce that still makes me drool to think about it today. It was early in the afternoon so we just had sparkling water but they had a really nice wine list with lots of reasonably priced options by the glass. Great coffee too.
Le Vinarium, rue en Gondeau
We stopped off here to have a night-cap on our last night in Montpellier. It’s a gorgeous little wine bar run by a friendly young man who took time to chat to us about the wines on offer, and to suggest a brandy to finish off the evening. Really reasonable prices too. We sat outside and savoured our last night in this wonderful city.