Despite being a two hour drive from where we were staying, our guide book proclaimed ‘Montpellier is a great city’ in the very first sentence so we felt compelled to go. Apparently Montpellier is the fastest growing city in France and I can understand why. It’s close to the Mediterranean, seems to have good transport links and is a truly delightful place to walk around.
We parked smack in the centre, underneath the Place de la Comedie and emerging like cautious moles, we tried quickly and unsuccessfully to blend in with the locals. After our drive we were hungry and thirsty so we did the most tourist-like thing and had a coffee and croissant at the Opera Café at the end of the square. Service is a bit slow but the views are good - or would have been if construction hadn’t been going on around the Three Graces Fountain.
From here, we wandered up and down the shopping streets of Montpellier, of which there are many. We started with Rue des Etuves and Grand Rue Jean Moulin but quickly found ourselves in the narrow backstreets where independent retailers and fancy boutiques can be found. Amongst these lanes we stumbled upon numerous small plazas, home to cosy restaurants, colourful cafes and towering churches. We walked northwest to the churches of Saint-Roch, Sainte-Anne and onwards to Montpellier’s own Arc de Triomphe and La Promenade du Peyrou. The arch was erected in 1691 in honour of Louis XIV and provided the inspiration for its Parisian counterpart. It stands at the east end of the Peyrou promenade, which is the highest point in the city and therefore affords great views over the rooftops.
Just to the north of Rue Foch (which runs into la Promenade) are more alleyways and shaded plazas along which we found numerous dusty shops crammed with exorbitantly priced antiques. It’s worth continuing a little further north here to the impressive Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Montpellier. We didn’t go in but the unusual pointed towers, described in one article as looking like ‘rockets’, are worth the detour.
We turned back and found a lunch spot at the Sisters Café, one of three restaurants located on yet another plaza at the intersection of Rue de Vallat and Rue des Soeurs Noires.
Lunch al fresco seems to be mandatory for residents and visitors alike. Sisters Café jostles for outside space with its neighbours but serves up some great summers salads, pastas and attractive desserts.
After a lazy lunch in the sun we reluctantly got back on our feet and walked slowly back towards the Place de la Comedie. We walked up to Jardin du Champ de Mars but only skirted the southern edge of it before having to return to our car. Old timers played chess while young children raced around on the grass. I can only assume that people here are powered by solar energy. In my post-lunch state, the heat of the sun was starting to wear me out but the locals looked rather too fresh and lively for my liking. Sadly our time in the city had come to an end and I felt like we had barely scratched the surface.
Montpellier, the capital of the Languedoc Roussillon region, is a great city. The guidebook didn’t lie and I for one cannot recommend it enough.