Montpellier is the second-largest city in the Occitanie region of Southern France and is the capital of the Hérault department. Situated 12km from the Mediterranean coast, it became a trading centre for spices in the 10th century. It became a university city in 1220, and it has the oldest and one of the top medical schools in the Western world today, this year (2020) celebrating its 800th anniversary. This modern city is a popular tourist destination with the historic old town and busy commercial centre on either side of the Place de Comédie.
Getting to Montpellier
Montpellier airport is a regional airport to the south-east of the city. Tram line 1 and an airport shuttle bus takes about 15 minutes to connect into the city centre. There are two main train stations, St Roch is in the city centre and is on the Bordeaux to Marseille line. Montpellier Sud de France is situated slightly further away and is the TGV connection to the rest of France. Within the city, there are 4 tramlines with 16 car parks linked to them as part of the park and ride system. Travel to the beach requires getting a tram (Line 3) at St Roch to Pérols, then a bus (Line 1).
I stayed at the Ibis Centre Comedie on Rue Baudin as it was both reasonably priced and only a two-minute walk to the Place de Comédie. The Place itself is bordered by cafés of every description and a few stalls selling crafts and clothing. To the left is the statue of the 3 Graces (a symbol of the city) and Opéra Comédie, one of two opera houses, the other being Opéra Berlioz located in the Corum.
The 3 Graces – Place de la Comédie
To the right of the Place is the Tourist Information office (with extremely helpful staff!) and the Esplanade Charles de Gaulle. The Corum building is at the end of this esplanade. On a hot day, the plane trees offer shade, and there are gardens nearby to take a seat. Again, there are plenty of places to eat and drink in this area.
One of my favourite bars is The White Cat as it had water vapour spraying inside the parasols to keep the customers cool. There is also a wide selection of drinks and tapas available.
Should your time be limited, or it is simply too hot to walk around the city, there is Le Petit Train de Montpellier which departs from the Place de la Comédie every 30 minutes during the peak season. The tour costs 8€ and takes about 45 minutes, and it transports you past the historical landmarks of the city and through the narrow streets of the Old Town, although how the driver manages to drive through the extremely narrow streets without damage is a mystery.
From the Place de la Comédie along Rue de la Loge, you come to the Prèfecture and Rue Foch. Turning right is the Arc de Triomphe and beyond in Place Royale du Peyrou is a statue of Louis the 14th.
Beyond the statue is the water tower and the Saint-Clément aqueduct at the highest part of the city. The aqueduct, which is closed, provided the drinking water to the city in the 18th century.
Leaving the Place Royale, a short walk down the hill to your left will bring you to the Jardin des Plantes, the oldest botanical gardens in France. It was created in 1593 for the study of plants that could be used for medicinal purposes.
Walking back through the narrow streets of the Old Town and into the Saint-Anne area with the old church that is now an art gallery and exhibition centre. This is probably my favourite part of the town as it is tranquil and shaded. The Bistrot Saint-Anne (7 Place du Petit Scel) is right beside the church and serves good food and a very refreshing local beer from Beziers.
Right beside it in the small square, is the usual Irish pub O Carolans (5 Rue du Petit Scel). Very well air conditioned and a variety of sports appearing soon on the TVs. You must order and pay for your drinks at the bar to take them out to a reasonably large outside seating area.
A little further down the narrow street is the Church of Saint-Roch, dedicated to the city’s patron saint. Again, there are bars and restaurants in abundance in this area. You will never go hungry or thirsty in this part of town!
I really enjoyed my visit to Montpellier. The people were very friendly and the city itself was very clean, I will definitely be returning soon.