city by 36

montpellier, france city guide

All photos by Natalie

Today’s Montpellier, France City Guide comes from Natalie of The Haute Housewife. After six years in San Francisco, Natalie and her husband picked up and moved to Montpellier in April 2011, where she has spent the last year exploring, eating every pastry she sees and traveling Europe. Today she graciously shares some of her many finds in her new home. Thanks, Natalie, for this grand tour of Montpellier. — Stephanie

Read the full guide after the jump . . .

In moving to Montpellier sight unseen, my expectations were pretty limited. My husband traveled to Montpellier for his interview a few months before we moved and reported that it was “much warmer than Paris,” with a city center that was easy to get around and “very old school Euro.” Neither of us had ever been anywhere in France except for Paris, so really, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

My online research told me that Montpellier, just inland from the Mediterranean Sea, is the fastest growing city in France. It’s a young town, with 43% of the population under 30 years old, mostly due to its many universities, including Europe’s first medical school. I was happy to learn that Montpellier gets over 200 days of sun per year, an exciting concept for someone in the middle of San Francisco’s rainy season. I discovered that, similar to my life in California, the Languedoc-Roussillon region where Montpellier resides could also offer me city, mountains, beaches and wine country. I started to get very excited. Still, I was prepared for a drastic change from life in San Francisco. Away from city skyscrapers, gridlock traffic, and an outrageous cost of living, I was prepared for a simpler life. But what I wasn’t prepared for is how much I would grow to love the way of life in the south of France: the slow pace of the day; the long three-course lunches complete with wine, dessert, and coffee; the laissez-faire and stress-free attitude that says, there is nothing else more important than relaxing and enjoying the moment. I wasn’t prepared for the incredible amount of activity, culture, and town pride emanating from the Place de la Comédie, and I certainly wasn’t prepared for the simple, fresh, and elegant food that, in my opinion, is even better than what you can find in Paris. Montpellier is no village by the sea; it is a thriving, growing city that is finally starting to receive the recognition it deserves.

Visiting Montpellier means relaxing with food and cocktails out in the sun. It’s about strolling the tiny streets and getting lost, all while enjoying some fabulous shopping and stumbling upon 16th- through 18th-century buildings and sculptures. You’ll learn about the big, bold, and sometimes spicy reds of the Languedoc-Roussillon and the light and crisp rosés of the South, perfect for sipping on the long, hot days of summer. And when you’ve tired of the city life, you can take a short drive to the Mediterranean Sea, less than 10 miles away. You can visit wine country, hike along the Pic St. Loup mountain, explore medieval towns, or kayak on the Herault river. Montpellier is a town you can see in two days, but you’ll want to stay for weeks. For the time being, it’s my home. And I just love to show it off.

Check out the Google Map with all the below listings here.

CITY CENTER

At the heart of Montpellier, the historic city center is a beautiful maze of winding alleyways, tiny shops, and hidden squares. The main sights of Montpellier are located in this district, but you’ll also find a plethora of shops, restaurants, and bars along the way. You can walk through the entire downtown in a few hours, or spend months exploring every twist and turn.

See/Do
Place de la Comédie — Walking through the 18th-century town square, you can feel the sun on your shoulders and hear the hints of accordion music playing somewhere in the background. Cafés are full of people facing the center of the plaza so they can watch the activity unfold while sipping on their cold boissons. The square, lined with shops and restaurants, is host to a full calendar of events throughout the year, like the giant sand volleyball court in the early weeks of summer or the sprawling Marché de Noël in December. Standing in the center of the plaza, you can see several main sights of Montpellier: the Opera and the fountain of Trois Grâces are to the south, while the long Esplanade de Charles de Gaulle is to the north. A street market is set up on the Esplanade during the week, though it’s at its largest on Saturdays. Here you can find purses, clothing, rows of produce, boulangeries, linens, and used books.

Estivales — If you visit Montpellier from July to early September, don’t miss the huge weekly wine festival that takes place every Friday from 6:00pm to 11:30pm on the Esplanade de Charles de Gaulle. For only €4, you will get three tasting tickets and a free wine glass, which you can take to the various booths to try local wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon, meet the owners/sommeliers of the winery, and buy bottles to take home. The Esplanade is full of artisan craft and food vendors, so you can shop while you taste or pick up some food to enjoy on the grass while you listen to the live band performing that week.

Musée Fabre — Founded in 1825 by a Montpellier artist, this museum underwent a major renovation from 2003 to 2007. Housing 15th- through 19th-century painting and sculpture, Flemish and Dutch painting of the 17th century, European painting from the 14th to mid-18th century, and work from the Neoclassical period, Montpellier’s gem of an art museum is a welcome reprieve from the heat on a long summer day. The rotating exhibition space is scheduled to feature works by Caravaggio this summer.

Porte du Peyrou — The triumphal arch, completed in 1693 and designed by François Dorbay, signifies the end of the old city grounds and entrance to the Place Peyrou. Constructed as a model of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, the reliefs (which show four major events from the reign of King Louis XIV) were added in 1715.

Promenade du Peyrou — Not only is this gorgeous 16th-century square a spot for some of the best views in Montpellier, but it’s also a great place for a picnic lunch and bottle of wine. At the far end of the plaza, you’ll see the hexagonal water tower, Château d’Eau, which was fed from the River Lez via the 17th-century Aqueduc de Saint-Clément. A statue of King Louis XIV sits proudly in the center of the square, facing the Porte du Peyrou.

Pomme de Reinette — Part toy store, part museum, visiting Pomme de Reinette (named after a popular French children’s song) is a truly unique experience. The long and narrow themed rooms of the shop keep going and going through jungle motifs, a game room, and a magician’s lair, until you reach a 1960s version of a space station complete with aliens, robots, and variations on outer space. Replicas of old toys, tarot cards featuring the great works of Klimt, and a surprising amount of accessories for doll houses are also on display throughout the store. The small, vintage toy museum is located near the entrance, up a steep staircase.

Eglise St. Roch — With a gorgeous, neo-Gothic façade, this 19th-century church (a stop along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage trail) is dedicated to St. Roch, the patron saint of Montpellier. Although the interior remains unfinished, it boasts gorgeous stained glass windows, statues, and artifacts for patrons to enjoy.

Carré Saint-Anne — A beautiful former church turned municipal showroom that now hosts various events from around the region and showcases contemporary art exhibits.

Cathédrale Saint-Pierre — This Roman Catholic Cathedral was originally connected to the Saint-Benoît monastery and earned the official title of “cathedrale” in 1536. Its two enormous towers can be seen from several points throughout the city, and inside you’ll find a single nave, intricate stained glass, and a giant organ that dates back to the late 1700s.

Jardin des Plantes de Montpellier — France’s oldest botanical garden and arboretum was founded in 1593 and is now maintained by the University of Montpellier. With free admission, it’s a lovely way to spend an afternoon browsing 2,680 plant species, 500 of which are native to the Mediterranean region.

Rockstore — A historic and renowned music venue in Montpellier, Rockstore has welcomed artists like Radiohead, Lenny Kravitz, and Faith No More during the course of its 26-year existence. The main entrance is easy to spot: just look for the iconic red Cadillac stuck in the side of the building. If you’re able to attend a show during your visit, you can go early and have a drink at Le Café Rock, the bar within the venue that opens at 6:00pm.

Shop
There are hundreds shops among the historic alleyways of the city center, ranging from France’s big box chains like C&A and the same trendy boutiques you see in Paris to local curiosity shops specializing in the most niche of products. The area with the most unique and trendiest boutiques is known as St. Roch, located in the southern half of the center. Here you can walk along Rue de l’Ancien Courrier and Rue du Petit Saint Jean for some of the best finds in the south of France. Below is a list of the most interesting places that can be found across the entire city center.

Hippy Market — Hands down the best thrift store in Montpellier. Organized by color, Hippie Market has beautiful leather handbags, briefcases, and luggage, trunks full of scarves, and rows of fur coats, long, flowy dresses and skirts, men’s suits, or leather jackets depending on the season.

La Vintage Gallery — Set in the back of a courtyard inside an old house, you have to follow the tapestry-lined hallways to get to the back rooms full of men’s and women’s vintage treasures. You can find clothing, purses, jewelry, accessories, and even old ice skates. This friperie is only open Wednesdays and Saturdays, so plan accordingly.

Le Dressing — Hermès, Dior, Chanel, Celine and YSL are just some of the top brands at this chichi consignment boutique. A word of caution: just because it’s consignment, doesn’t mean it’s cheap.

Square — A fun and unique concept store that is part fashion/home décor boutique, part gallery of rotating exhibits, and part café where they serve espresso, tea, and small treats.

Lolita Lorca — A lovely clothing boutique filled with über feminine, playful items like frilly dresses by Manoush and more everyday women’s wear by Bridget Bardot, Olive & Orange, and Madame à Paris.

Les Petites Choses — It’s fitting that the only store in Montpellier with a ramp is a children’s store, and the moms with strollers appreciate it! One of the most beautiful children’s boutiques around, the clothing and toys are from mostly British companies like Moulin Roty, Le Toy Van, and Jelly Kitten. Merchandise is a bit pricey, but made with a quality you can tell will last.

De La Luce — Housing a collection of interesting and contemporary objects from all over the world, De La Luce carries everything from Japanese tea sets and light fixtures from Denmark to wooden serving ware from India and porcelain dishes from Finland.

500° — Every handmade piece is unique in this shop full of ceramic tea and espresso sets, serving ware, and small wall hangings. Each item is decorated with a signature design of stripes, circles, and/or polka dots for a colorful and playful feel. The pieces make beautiful gifts, and if done in advance, you can order customized items with engravings (a last name, date, etc.) on the bottom. Everything is made right in the back room workshop or on Saturdays, weather permitting, on a potter’s wheel set up in the street!

Cubik — Lining the walls of this boutique/gallery are 48 different cubes, which local designers can rent out on a three-month basis to showcase and sell their pieces that are either one of a kind or part of a small series. The cubes are filled with delicate jewelry, stuffed animals, small handbags, ceramics, and more. Each time the exhibit rotates, the gallery hosts an opening apéro with wine and music.

Etat D’ame — As its name implies, this store is definitely a “State of Mind” that borders on the cusp of acid-trip-meets-tea-party. Walking in, you’re greeted by a long table that’s set with mismatched plates, cups, and bowls that are handmade in Poland and lined with vintage folding chairs imported from an old cinema house in India. The rest of the store is filled with colorful patchwork linens, delicate serving ware, chandeliers made from flattened bottle caps, vintage toys, and novelty items.

Rue Privée — A small boutique/gallery of vintage Scandinavian furnishings from the 1950s to 1980s. Browse the gorgeous teak furniture, vintage and modern lamps, and iconic chairs from designers like Grete Jalk, Kai Kristiansen, Niels O Møller, and many more.

Madagasc’arts — Dedicated to fair trade practices, the staff works with local artisans in Madagascar to supply the tools and materials they need to create goods like the hand-woven baskets, intricate wall hangings, handmade jewelry, and wooden statues that you’ll find in the store.

Trésors de Samarkand — This shop displays elegant tea sets and place settings, lush pillows, carpets and throws, and handmade ceramics from the mystical Middle Eastern city of Samarkand.

Béatrice Collin Home — A large retail space filled with contemporary and quirky home décor, like dinner plates that, when put together, form an entire skeleton and throw pillows featuring bulldogs wearing motorcycle helmets.

RBC — This French furniture store of contemporary designers is currently focused on their Prouvé RAW collection. RBC worked with G-Star RAW to re-interpret the works of Jean Prouvé, a renowned French architect, engineer, and designer who was instrumental in the early modern design movement. The collaboration has given Prouvé’s ideas a fresh and edgy look.

Galerie du Peyrou — With furniture and art from the 17th–19th centuries, the shop is filled with ornate mirrors, marble tables, sculptures, paintings, chandeliers, and various chairs.

Carles II Bergada — A high-end antique dealer with larger pieces of gorgeous furniture such as armoires, buffets, and detailed dining sets that are in excellent condition.

Henri Tourneau — A well-organized antique shop can be difficult to find in Montpellier, but this small space is neat and tidy with stacks of plates, cabinets full of wine glasses and goblets, and precious stones, as well as a row of beautiful chairs outside on the curb.

Terres Anciennes — Filled with mostly French-made ceramics and garden and kitchen items from the 19th century, the store also carries some more recent home décor items.

Numismatique Antiquites — A different kind of antique coin shop, the shelves are not only filled Roman coins but also various war relics such as books, uniforms, documents, and weapons, mostly from revolutionary times.

Mir.A — Everything in this small, quirky store is made right in the tiny corner workshop. You’ll find colorful and functional clothing, funny hats, scarves, stuffed brooches, hand bags, and throw pillows.

Cimarosa — A small bijouterie filled with delicate silver pendants, chunky rings, leather belts, purses, and perfumes at affordable prices.

Carlita — The selection here includes a large array of scarves and eclectic, colorful jewelry made with feathers and bows, featuring designers like Clio Blue, Gas, and Uno de 50.

Images de Demain — It’s easy to miss this stationery and curiosity shop hidden in the maze of St. Roch alleyways. To make it more noticeable, the street in front of the store is lined with postcards, greeting cards, posters, and small, customizable music boxes. Inside you’ll find rows of more postcards filled with images and quotes, as well as a room of home décor and novelty items.

Black-Blue — One of the only music shops in town besides the Virgin Megastore, here you can find both CD and vinyl treasures spanning rock, blues, acid jazz, jungle, house, metal, hip-hop, and reggae genres. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, the staff will do its best to import it for you.

En Traits Libres — A workspace and showroom for various artists, you can stop by this tiny shop and watch the artisans at work, browse the merchandise, or request special commissions. Merchandise includes unique postcards, t-shirts, prints, buttons, and posters done through various mediums like photography, painting, and illustration.

La Cloche à Fromage — Even if the selection is overwhelming, don’t be intimidated by this large fromagerie. The staff is very friendly and will help you choose the proper cheese for your occasion, whether it is an apéro, to serve as dessert, or to pair with wine. You can also stock up on the necessary accompaniments like honey, nuts, dried fruits, jams, and crackers.

Les Halles Castellane — Open Monday–Saturday beginning at 7:30am, the early morning is the best time to visit this indoor market, before the vendors close up shop for the afternoon hours. Consisting of 26 different merchants, you can find local produce, cheese, meats, prepared dishes, and flowers. You can also sit down for a café.

L’Huilerie — Taste and bottle your own olive oil from olives grown in the Provence and Saint-Guilhem regions of France as well as Spain. This is a great place to stop if you need a gift to bring home, as you can also pick up some local wine, tapenades, or jars of confit.

Eat
Les Caves Jean Jaurès — If you want an authentic French restaurant experience, this is your place. The food is so fabulous, you won’t even notice that the staff isn’t exactly chomping at the bit to be at your beck and call. Their seasonal, country-style cuisine includes some traditional favorites like Os à Moelle, Coq au Vin, and Cassoulet de Canard. Each meal starts with a freshly made pâté and wine is (patiently) ordered from the busy sommelier, after he gives his council and blessing, bien sûr. Don’t miss the Assiette Autor du Canard (duck prepared five different ways) or the Camembert Rôti.

Le Carré — Tucked away in an adorable, secret corner of the city center called Place Ravy, this restaurant is always working hard to make tables available for the crowds of locals that flood the patio. The cocktails are fun, the food is consistently delicious, and you absolutely must save room for their special dessert: Kinder Beignets.

Chez Boris — Whether you’re in the mood for an apéro of wine and l’ardoise de fromage affinés or a full meal of entrée, plat, dessert, et café, Chez Boris’ summer patio is a great place to kick back and enjoy your evening.

Boulangerie L’Aguilliere — The lunchtime line that winds down the street from this bustling and well-stocked boulangerie says that it is the place to grab a fresh baguette sandwich or pastry. They also serve hot sandwiches, breads with hidden figs and cherries, and decadent tarts to be enjoyed at their sidewalk tables.

Pizzeria Sicilia — Reservations are essential to getting a table here, the best pizza spot in town. Though the restaurant is deceptively large inside, the coveted spots in the summertime are the streetside tables, away from the hot, woodfired oven. Enjoy a pizza (most served with an egg on top!) or pasta dish with a large bottle of red wine.

Wasabi — Finding good sushi in Montpellier can be a little tough, as there are quite a few less-than-mediocre options. Wasabi is a delightful hole in the wall that serves beautiful, fresh sashimi, prepared very simply. Best for a lunchtime option, this small space only has one indoor table and two small outdoor tables. Take out and delivery are also available.

Burger’N’Co. — Quite possibly the coolest rock & roll burger place in Europe where the slogan is “I know it’s only Burger but I like it.” This newly expanded restaurant offers clever monikers for their artisan burgers like “Highway to Hell,” “Smoke on the Water,” and “Sympathy for the Devil.” You can enjoy your burger at the restaurant or take it to their bar next door, La Distillerie.

Ô Plaisir des Mets — Deviating from traditional French cuisine can be difficult down here, but this place does it well, delving into a fusion of sorts with appetizers like a Pizza Tart with Mushrooms and Bacon, an interpretation of a Shrimp Kebab with Raita, and Foie Gras with Mango Chutney. The main dishes like Rabbit served Provençale style and Scallop and Vegetable Casserole are just as creative.

Restaurant Andromaque — A great outdoor lunch spot in the heart of the trendy St. Roch neighborhood with a variety of very creative salads and fresh seafood, including an abundance of shellfish.

Le Prince de Minorque — Set in a windy alleyway, this small space is covered with portraits of musicians like Mick Jagger, Bob Marley, Jim Morrison, and Prince. The typical lunchtime special of plat et dessert is tempting, but their enormous salads with both a hot and cold component (like mixed greens, a poached egg, and chèvre chaud covered in honey) are what set this lunch spot apart from the others.

Le Vieux Four — A highly recommended dinner spot in Montpellier that has been around since 1976, “The Old Oven” is known for their variety of woodfire-grilled meats and fish à la plancha. Each dish is served with vegetables and a baked potato. Make sure to start your meal right with Moules Gratinées and finish with their mouth-watering Profiteroles.

Chez Toto — With a pescatarian-focused menu consisting mostly of fresh shellfish platters with mussels, oysters, and prawns, don’t forget to check out the list of daily specials ranging from Halibut Ceviche to Prawns with Basil Tapenade.

Le Snack Artist — Kebab shops are a dime a dozen in Montpellier, but this one is the freshest with the crispiest fries. Order your gallette with both Harissa (spicy) sauce and the house “sauce blanche.”

Drink
The Egg — named after the Place de la Comédie’s long-standing nickname, L’Œuf, this hotspot is one of the few bars in town with a long list of Belgian beers. The bartenders spin tunes off a laptop and host weekly “pub quiz” nights.

Àl-Andalus — A small space with an array of prepared tapas, live music, and the best sangria this side of the Spanish border.

Wine Note Bar — Walking into this underground wine bar is like stepping into a David Lynch movie. Your ambiance includes giant ferns and mismatched furniture, vaulted ceilings with open umbrellas and hammocks hanging from the eaves, glowing Buddha statues, and black lights. The long wine list does not mess around, and there’s even a small selection of food if you’re hungry.

Mezzanine — Plants, comics, jewelry, trinkets, and live piano music fill this tiny coffee and tea shop smack in the middle of the busy Rue Aiguilliere.

Cafe Jules — A popular daytime spot, the patio is always packed with students from the nearby university. Pop in for a café, Perrier, or glass of wine before hitting up the Jardin des Plantes, located just down the street.

La Distillerie — Sitting next to Burger & Co., La Distillerie is a typical bar with a variety of beers on tap and specializing in rum cocktails.

Barberousse — Walking down the stairs and into a ship’s hold transports you to a world of rum-swilling pirates. With drums serving as tables and over 60 different flavors of infused rum available, like Rhubarb-Caramel and Coconut-Ginger, this hotspot gets extremely crowded as locals party into the wee hours of the night.

Art Mango Café — A funky, Thai-inspired bar/resto (located just behind the medieval tower, Tour de la Babotte) that serves a variety of punch-like concoctions, alcohol-focused milkshakes, and an extensive list of teas. The best seats are outside in the courtyard on the wide, wooden furniture. If you’re hungry, they offer crêpes and small Thai entrees.

Le Comptoir de l’Arc — With a lovely garden patio and long list of mojitos (as well as other traditional cocktails), this is the ideal place for an apéro before dinner.

Fairview Coffee — Owned by two British gents, Fairview is the only place in Montpellier where you can get a decent-sized cup of coffee. The fact that it’s rich, hot, and fresh is a pleasant bonus. Settle in with your laptop (free wifi!) or curl up with one of their books on display and enjoy your morning cup and pastry.

O’Carolans Irish Pub — The patio of this Irish bar is in a perfect location to soak up the late afternoon sun, making it a great place to go for a drink after a full day of traipsing around the city.

Charlie’s Beer — A typical pub where many students gather on the weekends to kick back with pints of German and Belgian beer, most of which is on tap, and listen to classic rock tunes.

Stay
The location of these two hotels can’t be beat, but thanks to Montpellier’s underground maze of streets, driving can be tough. Arriving by train is a better idea, as both hotels are within walking distance of the Gare St. Roch.

New Hotel du Midi — After undergoing a complete renovation, this now contemporary and comfortable hotel often has great web deals and is in an excellent location, just a few minute’s walk from the train station. Be sure to ask for a room overlooking the Place de la Comédie!

Hotel Ibis — Part of the AccorHotel group, Ibis is a no-nonsense, affordable option that is perfectly situated between the Place de la Comédie and the Polygone Shopping center. The rooms are small (particularly the bathroom, which has a standard European design) but clean. There’s a breakfast buffet and a bar open 24 hours.

ANTIGONE

Construction of the Antigone neighborhood, just outside the historic city center, was the first step in a major expansion project for the city of Montpellier. Development of the Antigone began in the 1980s, after the city acquired the land from the French Army, and was completed in early 2000 with three main facilities: the Olympic pool, Emile Zola Library, and the first tram line.

See
When you tire of the crowds in the city center, stroll along the central, tree-lined pathway of the Antigone to take in the modern architecture (a scandal in its inception for long-term residents) and the series of large fountains, arches, and Greek-Roman statues that reside in this 900-meter pedestrian promenade that leads all the way to the River Lez. If you start at the Polygone, you’ll see replicas of Poseidon, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, and the Venus of Arles.

Shop
Wednesday Street Market — Set in the center of the Antigone promenade, this weekly market consists mostly of clothing and other goods like soaps, accessories, herbal remedies, and shoes. You can find the produce, fresh olives, and dried fruit toward the end of the line closer to the Rue Léon Blum. If you’re hungry, there are vendors with whole roast chickens and fries, or others selling African snacks like Yassa Gannarr and Tiebou Dieune.

Sunday Street Market — Hands down the best, although maybe the smallest, street market in Montpellier. Located on the Avenue Samuel Champlain between the Rue de Montréal and the Rue Léon Blum, it’s best to arrive around 10am when all the stands have finished setting up but the large crowds are still at home. Focused heavily on food and produce, the market is filled with seasonal fruits and vegetables, foraged mushrooms, fresh shellfish, homemade fougasse, and several boucheries, poissoneries, fromageries, and patisseries set up curbside. You can also find local wine (with free tastings!), various elixirs, and one stand of high quality leather wallets and belts. Stop by the pop-up cafe near the Rue de Montréal for a café et crêpe, take home some freshly fried falafel, pick up a carton of paella made on the street in an enormous paellera, and gather fresh flowers at the far end of the market at the Rue de Léon Blum. For a real local experience, find the truckbed-turned-temporary aquarium where your fish can be chosen personally and then killed and gutted on the spot.

Aux Grands Vins de France — The staff at this local wine shop are all trained sommeliers, which is a huge help when picking the perfect bottle to pair with your meal or to bring home as a gift. There are many options from the Languedoc-Roussillon and surrounding AOCs in a very reasonable price range. Pick up a bottle and head over to the nearby Esplanade de L’Europe to soak in the sun and imbibe while you people watch.

Polygone — Essentially the mall of Montpellier, the Polygone separates the Antigone from the city center and also serves as a walkway between the two neighborhoods. On its three floors you can find many international chains such as Sephora, BCBG, Zara, and Habitat, as well French chains like Etam, Monoprix, and the chic Galeries LaFayette.

Eat/Drink
Brasserie La Suite — Perfect for lunch, and one of the only happening evening spots in the Antigone, La Suite offers a variety of elegant French fusion dishes like the fresh Shrimp-Avocado-Grapefriut Verrine, Coconut-Curry Shrimp and Scallops, and slow-cooked Lamb Tagine with Lemon-Ginger rice and raisins.

Le Vent d’ages — The tiny counter and few streetside tables are always packed to the brim at lunchtime with folks enjoying tartines heaped with jambon and fromage, large salads, and mouth-watering brochettes. Others are just taking in the scene with un verre de vin.

L’Oracle — The seasonal, Mediterranean-influenced dinner menu comes at a great price with a beautiful presentation. You can order an entrée, plat, et dessert for €25 to €29.

Le Sud — After a walk through the Antigone, this is the perfect place to grab a drink while you take in the magnificent view of the glistening batiment, Conseil Régional Languedoc Roussillon, and the river Lez.

Les Halles Jacques Cœur — Another indoor food market consisting of meat, cheese, and seafood vendors, as well as take-away counters. There are several tables outside where you can enjoy a quick lunch in the sun. Stop by L’authenticité Créole for some crispy veggie rolls and Asian-influenced noodle dishes. If a hot panini is what you’re after, don’t miss Croq’coeur. Check out Coeur d’Orient to satisfy your Lebanese food cravings with creamy hummus, fresh tabouleh, and buttery sweets.

Stay
Staying in the Antigone is a great option if you are looking for a hotel away from the city center or you plan to arrive by car.

Hotel Pullman — Considered the swankiest hotel in Montpellier, the recently renovated Hotel Pullman offers a true upscale boutique-hotel experience. Known for its rooftop pool and restaurant, it also has modern, comfortable rooms and an excellent cocktail lounge in the lobby.

Citadines — Situated between the central walkway of the Antigone and Les Halles Jacques Cœur, this “apart’hotel” is a great choice for a longer stay, as it offers studios and one- or two-bedroom apartments. The rooms come with small kitchenettes, usually featuring a sink, two-burner stove, small refrigerator, dishwasher, and kitchen supplies. The Léon Blum tram stop on the 1 line is located just outside, but walking into the city center only takes about 10 minutes.

Hotel Mercure — A nice, affordable option outside the hustle and bustle of the city center but still within a 15-minute walk of the action. The rooms are comfortable, and the Place de L’Europe tram stop, which carries both the 1 and the 2 tram lines, is located just across the street. It’s also easy access to the A9 highway, which leads to several wineries, nearby towns, beaches, and the airport.

PORT MARIANNE

Port Marianne is considered by many to be the future of Montpellier. Stretching from the east bank of the River Lez to the sprawling outdoor shopping and entertainment plaza known as the Odysseum, developing the area has been the next phase in the city’s expansion project. New housing developments and retail complexes are being built, and a large center of recreation and culture is under construction. Now a quiet and relaxing neighborhood with some lovely parks and fabulous restaurants, in a few years Port Marianne could be the new center for Montpellier’s locals.

See
Mairie de Montpellier/Hôtel de Ville — Situated between the historic city center and the developing eastern part of Montpellier, the new City Hall provides the growing population of Montpellier with various administrative services. Affectionately referred to as the “new Mairie,” it represents a bridge between the old and new parts of the city. The construction of the modern building, designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel, is another part of the 30-year-long urban development project that also brought Montpellier the Antigone and the Polygone. Opened in 2011, the building is a sight to behold. In accordance with sustainable practices, it uses renewable energy and is part of a four-hectare landscaped park that runs along the River Lez.

Parc Richter — One of Montpellier’s lovely parks, still close to the center of town, Parc Richter offers a quiet respite in which to lounge in the sun, ride a bike, or walk along the River Lez. Throughout the park’s pathways you’ll notice signs alerting you to the different birds seen in the area, like Martin-pêcheur d’Europe and Gallinule Poule d’eau.

Place de la Révolution Française — Walk among the bronze busts of lawyers, journalists and other activists during the French Revolution who were guillotined for their actions.

Eat/Drink
W Bar and Restaurant — With a few tables set up outside the Place de la Révolution Française, this is a nice place to grab a drink or café while taking in the scenery of the Parc Richter.

L’Improbable — A hotspot for lunch or drinks, the terrace is the place to enjoy a martini, signature champagne cocktail, or cold beer. You can also sit on the lounge chairs, surrounded by palm trees and overlooking the Bassin Jacques Cœur, making you feel as though you’re relaxing poolside. L’Improbable offers great lunch formules: an entré du jour, plat du jour, et dessert du jour for only €12.50. For something lighter on the hot summer days, try one of their large salads.

Trinque Fougasse — If you’re not in the mood for a full meal, you can stop here after a day at the Parc Richter for some small plates and drinks. Weekly tapas specials are served “planche” style at lunchtime for €16. Sit outside or dine inside the elegant full-service restaurant, where live music is featured nightly. You can also sign up for wine tasting classes, which take place every Saturday afternoon, or sample some locally brewed beer from Brasserie des Garrigues.

AOC — A new restaurant, set back in the growing part of Port Marianne, with high ceilings, a sleek interior, and extensive wine list. Read from the large chalkboard on the back wall to pick your meal of seasonal, French cuisine. Beef from the famed Limousin region of France is always an option.

Le Site — Another tasty, traditional French restaurant of grilled meat and fish along the Bassin Jacques Cœur that offers a tempting lunch deal: a plat du jour and glass of wine for only €10.90.

Irish Corner — A spacious pub with a large outdoor terrace, this is a great place to gather with a group of friends to watch a game or attend one of the bar’s numerous soirées.

Stay
Courtyard Marriott — A newly built, modern four-star hotel located next to the new Mairie and across from the Parc Richter. It’s a bit of a walk to the city center, but the Moularés tram stop on the 1 line is located just a few steps away.

LES BEAUX ARTS

The bohemian neighborhood of Les Beaux Arts is a quiet area with a few shops, making it a pleasant spot to stroll and have lunch at one of the many welcoming restaurants. The sunny main square, Place des Beaux Arts, is teeming with life, especially at lunchtime, as locals leisurely enjoy their meals.

Shop
Chic & Boheme — If all you do in Beaux Arts is browse this antique shop/salon de thé/used bookstore, then the trip was worth it. A truly unique place, Chic & Boheme is a store you can get lost in for hours. Set up in an old house, you’ll find all sorts of new and used treasures like vintage glass bottles and radios, old postcards, ancient texts, antique furniture, and handmade jewelry and bags. There’s a small garden all the way in the back and a modest café in the front serving savory tarts, desserts, and hot drinks. Next door is a separate space where the larger furniture pieces and chandeliers are kept.

Léon le Caméléon — A lovely workshop and boutique offering “Léon’s” (the alias for owner Thierry Carriere) signature-made furniture and objects as well as home décor items by well-known designers.

Eat/Drink
Le Spot — In the heart of the bustling Place des Beaux Arts, a cozy lounge and large terrace welcome you for a lunch in the sun, an apéro of tapas and wine, or a full evening meal. Serving dishes like Pork and Sesame Brochettes with Gratin Dauphinois, Lamb Tajine, and a tasting flight fully dedicated to ham, you’ll see traditional French food with a Mediterranean flair.

Restaurant Puja — This tall, narrow two-story restaurant serves hearty traditional Indian dishes at a very affordable price. Instead of regular basmati rice, go for the rice Puja, which is cooked with saffron, spices, nuts, and fruit. The décor has an inexplicably special focus on the tropical island of Mauritius, which is known as the native home of the dodo bird.

La Réserve Rimbaud — A short walk from Les Beaux Arts, you’ll find one of the finest gastronomique experiences in all of Montpellier. With dedicated service, beautiful presentation, an abundance of fresh seafood, and a stellar wine list, you won’t mind the fact that the price of a meal here can add up quickly. Although a great choice for a romantic dinner, the best time to go is actually during lunch when, weather permitting, you can sit outside on the cliffside patio — a little oasis surrounded by trees and overlooking the River Lez.

Ban Thai — Offering a very authentic Thai experience, you can enjoy your meal sitting on the colorful pillows that adorn the floor. Unlike many supposedly “Thai” restaurants in France that tend to offer pan-Asian cuisine, Ban Thai is serving up traditional favorites like Tom Yum Soup, Panang Curry, and Pad Krapow.

The Black Sheep — Newly opened and sister bar to The Egg, The Black Sheep has a roomy interior where you can kick back and relax with one of the over 300 (mostly) Belgian beers on the menu. Downstairs is a small concert space where bands play Thursday–Saturday nights.

La Guingnette — A no-frills, traditional French restaurant that is perfect for lunch as you dine on red and white checkered tablecloths dotting the Place des Beaux Arts. The typically meat-focused plat du jour may consist of a pièce de bœuf or tartare, but your options also include large salads for something a bit healthier. Do not forget to order their version of Café Gourmand for dessert: coffee with a big waffle macaron that is served with a 10 lb. tub of Nutella for your enjoyment!

Art Café — The hottest spot on the Place des Beaux Arts (Literally. Most of the tables are in the sun!) offering typical French fare for lunch and dinner.

Irish Tavern — A convivial sports bar where you can stop in to watch the game (whatever is on!) and enjoy a pint.

Pin It
Categories
city / guides

36 Comments

Teresa

France, and more specifically, Paris, has never been on my tourist radar, but I can honestly say you have convinced me: Montpellier it is! Thanks Natalie. You wrote an excellent piece that is wonderfully descriptive!

Julia

AH-MAZING! I am visiting late summer and this guide is a dream!

Damia

A wonderful, in-depth look at Montpellier! The Google Map link is especially awesome! Now where are my plane tickets?!?! :)

Alexis from Texas

Montpellier is my favorite part of France. I fell in love with nearby Sete and hope to return someday. Your descriptions and photographs make me wish that day will happen soon.

Ben

Was in Montpellier in November a couple of years ago – is such a beautiful place! Damn cold, though – hope you get the weather for it…!

Kathleen

My research on Montpellier is now complete. Hope to see it in May! Thanks Natalie:-)

Amanda

One of the most beautiful cities in France, as well as my husband’s hometown!
Montpellier is a fabulous place to visit. It’s only 3 hours away from Paris by TGV, too.

Natalie’s guide is wonderfully thorough, but I would also like to recommend one of my favorite tearooms, L’Heure Bleue at 1 rue de la Carbonnerie; and the very fancy Michelin-starred restaurant Le Jardin des Sens.

Thanks, Natalie!

Brett Bara

Great post! I studied abroad in Montpellier and this was such a nice treat to get a little glimpse of it today! You’re making me miss it and inspiring me to save up for a trip to France sometime soon. :)

christina

thank you so much for this. having spent eight months studying in montpellier five years ago, this brought back so many lovely memories. i have not been back since and upon reading this, i might just go.

Gina @ Oaxacaborn

Was there for a couples hours in 2008, while on the train layover from Paris to Barcelona. It stood out to me and I’d love to go back! What a great guide!

Nickie

Sold! This means my list of must-see destinations just got longer. Now the questions remain, will Natalie ever return to her beloved San Francisco and where will she go next? Every must-see town needs a guide as exquisitely written as this one!

Tess

I lived in Montpellier in college back in 2005 and fell in love with the city. You captured all of the best restaurants/bars/sights! Is l’Oxymore still around? We spent wayyy too many late nights there!

Mel

I grew up in Montpellier and left in 2008. Except for the shops wich have changed (a lot were about to open when I left), I felt like walking there by reading your post. Your description is very accurate. I have spent sooooo many nights on the Peyrou and the St Pierre Catheral porch. Near the Cathedral is the place Candolle, wich was very full of life when I left, is it still so ?
Thank you for that piece of memories !

Natalie {the haute housewife}

So glad you have all enjoyed the guide – I had so much fun putting it together!

Tess – I had never heard of l’Oxymore, but I just looked it up and it is still there so I will check it out! Thank you for the recommendation.

Mel – yes! The Place Candolle is a lovely place!

Mira @ NingboNights

I lived in Montpellier for a year after high school… wow, how I loved it! The Place de la Comedie, the little alleyways, vibrant bars, the small restaurants each serving only one 3-course set menu (for 10euro and the food was amazing), the blue sky, the beach in the summer. As poor students my friends and I lived in weird, quirky ramshackle loft apartments and at night we drunk wine sitting on our rooftops. I also loved going to the Moroccan tea rooms, stuffing my face with pistaccio and honey-drenched pastry pieces and sweet peppermint tea.
That was over 10 years ago, but no doubt I would still love the city. Right, I’m going back for a visit this summer!

Genevieve

I lived and worked in Montpellier for a year in the early 90′s. We used to hang out at Charlie’s Bar a lot! If you have a car you should venture out to La Roque sur Seze (spelling?), Aigue Morte and Le Pont du Diable. Worth the trip!

Madeleine

I am living and working in Montpellier and the way of life here is so good…
I am happy !

Devon

Montpellier has been on my list of places to visit, but it just moved to the number one spot! Can’t wait to experience all the wonderful places described!

Ghostcat

I’m a Montpellier native, now living in a small village nearby called Prades le Lez and I really enjoyed your review.
It’s amazing to see that I don’t know about some of the shops you described, as you said it, there’s so many little streets here that even if I’ve been living there for 35 years, I still discover new things every day ;)
Since you seem to like good restaurants, you should try my favorite one, L’Alchimiste, rue Roucher in the historic centre. Speciality is delightful sucré/salé food with adorable owners:
http://www.cityvox.fr/restaurants_montpellier/l-alchimiste_34868/Avis-Lieu
(I suggest you to book before you go, it is often full especially on week-ends)

Did you visit already the Salagou lake site? It is beautiful and unique.
Keep enjoying your life in the South of France were life is peaceful ^.^

Adam

thank you for the mention and nice comments about Fairview Coffee.

John R.

I studied at the University at Montpellier eons ago but still love the place. Thanks for this wonderful view of how she has changed. I would very much like to return one day.

Alex

I did a study abroad in Montpellier and loved it so much. This was such a great post, I’ll need to visit again soon to see all of these places I missed and check out some of my old favorites. Thanks for a fun trip down memory lane. =D

Cyndi

Natalie – I stumbled upon your wonderful and inviting description of Montpellier completely by accident. Once I started reading it, I could not stop. I’ve only been to France a couple of times, but never to Montpellier. The language and the country has always called to me – I’ve studied French during three separate periods of my life – never mastering it, but feel that I could survive (and maybe even flourish) if dropped in-country, so-to-speak. My fiance and I currently live in the Ft. Lauderdale area with the idea of moving to San Francisco after he retires. However, maybe I could talk him into Montpellier. Your beautifully written post makes me yearn for an experience I have yet to enjoy. Thank you for it.

Cyndi

jennifer barnaby

OMG, Why don’t I live in Montpellier instead of Monaco? This article is really helpful and perfectly timed so I can plan our trip in advance of our expat blogger’s get together in a few weeks. where to begin? I think I’ll need to extend our 3 night stay to 7.

Ashley

I stumbled upon your blog while searching for a local’s perspective of Montpellier, as my partner and I are in town for a video game industry conference. Tonight we were invited to a party at Cafe Joseph, and while walking from Le Corum through the Historic Centre, I spotted Les Caves Jean Jaures and realised it was just around the corner from our destination. I insisted that if the entrees at Cafe Joseph weren’t enough we should go to dinner at Les Caves as per your suggestion. However the menu of Les Caves no longer resembles the Les Caves you wrote about, and I was advised by locals that ownership changed rather recently. All they serve now, explained the still-aloof waitstaff, is plates of charcuterie. Le sigh.

Caroline

What thorough and insightful information! Now it is a dream of mine to visit Montpellier. You have described heaven to me in the sights, shopping and food. Thanks for a great guide.

Sophie

Natalie what a wonderful guide, I can’t wait to visit Montpellier! I have the difficult task of organising my sister’s Hen Do which will take place there from 25-27th May. I hasten to add this won’t be your usual ‘Hen Do’, there will be 6 of us just wanting to explore the best of Montpellier in a very classy and sophisticated way. My dilemma is that I have never been and everything in your guide sounds so tempting I don’t know how to choose the best bits for us to do. I want to make it very special for my sister but our budget is moderate. We are staying at Hotel Pullman but that’s as far as I have got with it all. So if anyone has any ideas of where we could go and what we could do to make this a weekend my sister will never forget I would be so grateful! Her wedding theme is vintage glam and I was hoping to bring a little bit of that into her Hen Do. Many thanks for any tips and advice you are able to offer!

Linda

Fantastic guide! I´m here to visit a french love and now I know what to do when he is at work ;) Thank you!

warm regards
Linda, Stockholm/Sweden

Cynthia

I’ve just arrived in Montpellier and I’m going to stay here for one month. Thank you for the lovely guide! I’m ready to explore the city!

Aaron Hubart

The more I travel, the more I see that there are limited places in the world as privileged as the north coast of the Mediterranean arc and the preserved place is Montpellier. A place with pleasent weather and awsome for staying as long as u want your vacations to extend for the leisure. The place I like the most!

web page

Hey There. I found your weblog using msn. This is a really well written article.

I’ll make sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your
useful info. Thanks for the post. I’ll definitely comeback.

Leave a Comment

Design*Sponge reserves the right to restrict comments that do not contribute constructively to the conversation at hand, contain profanity, personal attacks or seek to promote a personal or unrelated business.