A sun-kissed city close to the Mediterranean with elegant buildings, spacious squares, and a cluster of art galleries and museums, it’s no wonder Montpellier has become a popular French holiday destination.
Here are a few tips for things to see and do in this pretty Languedoc city.
Where To Stay
For the sheer convenience of its downtown location as well as its cozy Old World charm, it’s hard to beat Hôtel Oceania Le Métropole as a top accommodation choice.
Located just 20 minutes from the airport and a 4-minute walk from the bustling Place de la Comédie and the city’s main train station, this 4-star hotel gives guests a home base from which to wander through Montpellier’s narrow winding streets and take in many of the sights by foot.
A renovated 19th-century building, with a classic wood and glass elevator in the main lobby, the hotel also features a glass roof and terrace, shaded garden, spa, hammam, and gym, as well as a hot tub, outdoor pool, and free covered parking.
There’s no shortage of cultural diversity in Montpellier.
Just off the main square, this contemporary exhibition space is open all year and is free to visit. It includes works by nationally and internationally acclaimed photographers. We enjoyed one such exhibit featuring scores of post–World War II images by celebrated French photographer Jean-Philippe Charbonnier.
Folie Divine by London architect, Farshid Moussavi. Photo by Columbia Hillen
One of the most popular cultural attractions in the city, this museum in a 19th-century building is Montpellier’s largest and home to a comprehensive collection of artwork. Paintings and sculptures on display span many centuries and many different artistic movements, with a particular emphasis on paintings by artists from the Languedoc-Roussillon region. One of the artists is local painter François-Xavier Fabre, who donated many of his own works and his name to the museum.
Philippe Starck’s latest creation, Le Nuage. Photo by Columbia Hillen
The latest addition to Montpellier’s cultural sites just opened in June 2019. The new MO.CO Hotel des Collections is housed in the former Hotel Montcalm with a spacious garden featuring a funky ‘watering cans’ sculpture around a fountain. The gallery doesn’t have its own permanent collection; instead, it devotes several floors to public and private collections. During our visit, the museum hosted a private collection of works from Catherine Petitgas focusing on contemporary Latin American art in Europe. More than 100 works from over 50 artists from the Amazonian basin were presented under the theme, Spirit of the Forest, emphasizing the relationship between the artists and their socio-economic environment. Such is the breadth of contemporary art, the exhibition even includes the replica of a hair-dressing salon.
L’Arbre Blanc by Sou Foukimoto. Photo by Columbia Hillen
Montpellier also presents an intriguing mix of contrasting old and new architecture, with leading contemporary designers such as Jean Nouvel, Zaha Hadid, and Massimiliano Fuksas leaving their imprint on buildings. For dramatic contrast, the tourism office can help schedule a guided tour to the top of the Arc du Triomph for splendid citywide views and a visit to the underground 12th-century ritual Jewish baths. Or, take one of the city trams, all featuring colorful designs by Christian Lacroix, to the suburbs to view Philippe Starck’s latest creation, Le Nuage, l’Arbre Blanc by Sou Foukimoto, and Folie Divine by London architect Farshid Moussavi.
There’s no shortage of dining choices in Montpellier and these three restaurants deserve special mention.
If you fancy an elegant dining experience in a historic, romantic setting, this is the restaurant for you.
Here, under 12th-century vaulted stone ceilings, you’ll be treated to pristine tablecloths, glittering tableware, and a choice of either diverse tapas or an a la carte menu. The former includes oysters, Bourgogne snails, hummus, Andalusian calamari, and sausage.
We opted for the menu, choosing two contrasting starters: carpaccio of scorpion fish with fruits brunoise and vanilla oil, and a local dish of slow-cooked kidney with salty and sweet turnips from Pardaihan and Port sauce.
Pierre Morel owner and sommelier is a friendly fellow, with a dry sense of humor who leaves you with the impression he could walk into the cellar blindfolded and locate the perfect accompaniment among the several hundred choices there.
A quirky tradition here is the restaurant’s presentation of their version of aligot, a sticky combination of mashed potato and melted cheese. To avoid spoiling the experience, suffice to say it’s served with a dramatic flourish.
To accompany this side dish, we chose Iberico porc fillets with truffles and beef fillet with Jerusalem artichoke, both prepared wonderfully by chef Thierry Marle.
In amenable weather, guests can also eat alfresco.
Named after a sea purslane plant, this contemporary restaurant is helmed by chef Laurent Cherchi, who opened his restaurant two years ago with the philosophy that food should reflect the nuances of the region.
The tasting menu best reflects his culinary skills and passion for regional produce: starters of wild mushroom tapenade with sea purslane on wild rice crackers, ceviche of sea bream with turnip shaves and grapefruit jus; followed by melt-in-your-mouth cod with multicolored carrots, parsnips, and drizzled with citrus butter; and delicate veal fillets with bluebell potatoes, sweet onion puree, and pearls of fermented mustard seeds. Cherchi’s star anise meringue with thyme oil is impossible to resist.
Energetic Anna Boisrenoult launched this bistro-style restaurant three years ago on a narrow street close to the central square. Its one-room coziness, simple seating, and red-and-white checkered tablecloths leave you with the feeling you’re in an Italian grandmother’s home, the aromatic smell of truffles permeating the air. At lunchtime on a Thursday, every table was taken, so advance booking is probably advisable. The menu chalked on a blackboard isn’t extensive, but it is more than adequate.
Our favorites were ravioli with basil pine nuts and tomatoes, shaped like small hearts, aptly named cuori ripieni (stuffed hearts), and pannacotta with pistachio nuts.
Boisrenoult has been so successful that she is opening a second restaurant, Mimosa, on the nearby coast.