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Sunday, October 27th, 2013

Montpellier – France

Getting sick on vacation is a major drag, but if you have to be under the weather, Montpellier is an ideal place to do it. People have studied medicine here for centuries—the Moors established medical schools in the 9th century, and the Université Montpellier’s school of medicine was founded in 1220. Once the local docs give you a clean bill of health, explore the cathedral, mansions and opera house.

Overview

Montpellier is, at any time, the most seductive city in the French south – elegant, cultured and tolerant, with Mediterranean blood coursing through its veins and dynamism to spare. Lacking industry, the place has majored on brains and bravura. World-class architects are forever turning up to add showpieces. The trams – designed latterly by Christian Lacroix as moving tableaux – have been called “the sexiest in the world”. It takes a startling city to make trams sexy.
In autumn, the light will likely still be unfiltered, the sun warm enough for sitting out on the Comédie, France’s most graceful central square (pack a cardigan all the same). Behind, the medieval squeeze of the old town scurries with a sense of conspiracy in which everyone can join. Before rise some of the country’s more enviable contemporary developments. And, beyond them, the sea is a 50-minute cycle ride.
Indoors, the Musée Fabre has a cracking Caravaggio-inspired show that ends on Sunday (museefabre.montpellier-agglo.com). The Montpellier orchestral season is truffled with highlights (orchestre-montpellier.com). And Les Internationales de la Guitare fest brings world-class pluckers to town, from September 29 to October 20 (internationalesdelaguitare.com). Elsewhere, bars throb to whatever sound you want, and restaurants cram in everyone – tots and grandparents may still be out at midnight. “The problem,” says a Montpellieraine friend, a bit sheepishly, “is that we have everything.” The problem is, she’s right.

Accommodation

It might not carry quite the same cachet as some of southern France’s cities, but in its own graceful, easy-going way, Montpellier is every bit the equal of Marseille and Nice. With its elegant buildings, grand hôtels particuliers (private mansions) and stately boulevards, it’s a quietly stylish metropolis with just a hint of Barcelona about its atmospheric old quarter, shady backstreets and leafy squares.
Unlike many other southern towns, Montpellier has no Roman heritage. Instead it was founded in the 10th century by the counts of Toulouse, and later became a prosperous trading port as well as a scholarly centre (Europe’s first medical school was founded here in the 12th century).
The population swelled in the 1960s when many French settlers left independent Algeria and settled here, and it’s now one of southern France’s most multicultural cities – and with students making up over a third of the population, it’s also a place that seems eternally young at heart.
Three high-speed tram routes circle around the old quarter before heading out into the suburbs.
Learn more about the best places to stay, eat, and play in Montpellier. Powered by first-hand advice from millions of travelers, TripAdvisor offers 19,293 reviews and 1,490 candid photos for 80 lodging options and 556 restaurants to help you plan the perfect trip to Montpellier.
Montpellier Star Rated Hotels :
• Hotel Kyriad Montpellier Centre-Antigone. A 3-Star hotel in the center of town, offering 69 rooms, free WIFI, flat screen & Canal+, bathroom. edit
• Hostel Montpellier, Rue des Ecoles Laiques. Lockout from 10AM – 3PM every day
• Pullman Montpellier Antigone, It is the privileged position this mirage of shimmering glass has overlooking the rooftops of 21st-century Montpellier that make it so special – and surreal. Not that anyone could miss the towering block with its flush of flags and luxury cars pulled up in front.
• Hôtel Royal, Hotel Royal is located in the centre of Montpellier a 5-minute walk from the train station and Place de la Comedie. It offers air-conditioned accommodation and free Wi-Fi. Rooms at Hotel Royal are equipped with a telephone, a private bathroom and a TV with Canal+ channels.

Activities

It might not carry quite the same cachet as some of southern France’s cities, but in its own graceful, easy-going way, Montpellier is every bit the equal of Marseille and Nice. With its elegant buildings, grand hôtels particuliers (private mansions) and stately boulevards, it’s a quietly stylish metropolis with just a hint of Barcelona about its atmospheric old quarter, shady backstreets and leafy squares.
Unlike many other southern towns, Montpellier has no Roman heritage. Instead it was founded in the 10th century by the counts of Toulouse, and later became a prosperous trading port as well as a scholarly centre (Europe’s first medical school was founded here in the 12th century).
The population swelled in the 1960s when many French settlers left independent Algeria and settled here, and it’s now one of southern France’s most multicultural cities – and with students making up over a third of the population, it’s also a place that seems eternally young at heart.
Three high-speed tram routes circle around the old quarter before heading out into the suburbs.
Learn more about the best places to stay, eat, and play in Montpellier. Powered by first-hand advice from millions of travelers, TripAdvisor offers 19,293 reviews and 1,490 candid photos for 80 lodging options and 556 restaurants to help you plan the perfect trip to Montpellier.
Montpellier Star Rated Hotels :
• Hotel Kyriad Montpellier Centre-Antigone. A 3-Star hotel in the center of town, offering 69 rooms, free WIFI, flat screen & Canal+, bathroom. edit
• Hostel Montpellier, Rue des Ecoles Laiques. Lockout from 10AM – 3PM every day
• Pullman Montpellier Antigone, It is the privileged position this mirage of shimmering glass has overlooking the rooftops of 21st-century Montpellier that make it so special – and surreal. Not that anyone could miss the towering block with its flush of flags and luxury cars pulled up in front.
• Hôtel Royal, Hotel Royal is located in the centre of Montpellier a 5-minute walk from the train station and Place de la Comedie. It offers air-conditioned accommodation and free Wi-Fi. Rooms at Hotel Royal are equipped with a telephone, a private bathroom and a TV with Canal+ channels.

Airport, Bus, Train Station

By plane
Montpellier Méditerranée Airport (IATA : MPL), formerly Fréjorgues Airport, is situated on the outskirts, a bus service called Navette operates to the centre. Cost is €1.60 or €2.40 to add an etension bus / tramway ride.
The airport is fairly well connected by way of Air France’s central hub in Paris. Ryanair flies from Brussels-Charleroi (CRL), Frankfurt-Hahn (HHN), although on a reduced timetable over the winter months. There are also regular flights to Copenhagen with Sterling.
EasyJet runs a service from London Gatwick and seasonal departures from London Luton. Transavia.com also offers direct flights Amsterdam – Montpellier.
Beware that if you arrive in a busy period you may have to wait for up to 30 minutes for a taxi as they are often all taken when a flight arrives from Paris, also they only take up to four people so if you are a family of five or a small group you have to pay for two taxis.
There are chauffeured driven cars and vans available on the internet and if you book in advance you do not have to wait at the airport, they are less expensive than two taxis and there are several companies listed on the internet under chauffeur Montpellier. You can also request an english speaking chauffeur.
By train
Montpellier’s main train station is Montpellier St. Roch. It is serviced by a TGV connection from Paris, 3hr 15min, Lille, 4hr 50min and Lyon, 1hr 40 min, Valence 1h 45 min, Nice 4-5h. It is also serviced by the Talgo service to Barcelona. Most destinations in Southern France are also easily accessible by rail from Montpellier.
By Bus
There is a coach station situated in the city centre, less than 500m from the main train station.
By Car
From the A9 motorway, take any of the 5 exits that serve Montpellier:
• Vendargues
• Montpellier Est
• Montpellier Sud
• Montpellier Ouest
• Saint Jean de Vedas
The A75 is free of charge between Clermont-Ferrand and Montpellier. Park at a tramway station (eg Occitanie, Jacou) and take a tram: parking in the town centre can be hard, so be sure to have your licence
By Boat
The nearest sea port, situated in Sète has ferry crossings to the Balearic Islands, Mahgreb and Corsica.

Food & Beverages

Montpellier is very cosmopolitan for a city of its size and has a wide variety of ethnic cuisines available, in addition to traditional French food. The centre features a plethora of over-the-counter sandwich shops and similar places specializing in kebabs (nearly as many of these as there are hair salons and real estate agencies). If you’re looking for the classic French cafe experience, try any one of the many bistros near La Place de la Comedie. For a good coffee in a more relaxed atmosphere, there’s also a nice cafe near the Louis Blanc tramway stop.
“Le To-ly” (Rue Henri René) is a Vietnamese restaurant that is cheap and delicious. The ambiance is bright, clean and welcoming. The food is fresh, typically Vietnamese and pretty cheap. Highly recommended.
Montpellier is dotted with eateries ranging from very touristy to truly authentic. Geography plays a large role here: the matrix of restaurants in the town square generally cater to visitors who are optimizing for convenience, but not for price or quality so much. Head away from the city center–north, south, west, but generally not east–for a more genuine experience.
Restaurants in Montpellier :
Tamarillos
‘A cuisine of fruit and flowers’ is the motto of this creative restaurant, and everything on the menu is indeed laced with something fruity or floral: duck in a sauce of acidic fruits, or scallops flavoured with a sprig of violet. Chef Philippe Chapon has twice been named champion de France de dessert and taught a young Gordon Ramsay his pastry cooking, so be sure to leave space for the third course – especially if you’re ordering the menus , which are served by the table, not by the person.
Jardin des Sens
Loosen that belt buckle: the Jardins des Sens has acquired a mythical status among French foodies. Twice Michelin-starred, it’s run by brothers Jacques and Laurent Pourcel, whose passion for contemporary art is mirrored both in their choice of decor and their food, with culinary creations that are as much scuptural as gastronomical. Whether it justifies the stratospheric prices depends on your point of view – but either way, it’s an eating experience you won’t forget in a hurry.
Les Vignes
Thierry Germain is passionate about two things: local produce and Provençal cooking, and both come to the fore at his smart restaurant in central Montpellier. Cévennes lamb, Mediterranean seafood and bull meat from the Camargue are just some of the ingredients you might find on the menu. The interior is suitably chic – white tablecoths, table lamps, Provençal colours – but the little terrace is the place on a warm summer’s night.

Getting Around

By bike
The tourist information office has a map Montpellier à vélo, which shows you where the best places to go by bike are and places where it is dangerous to cycle. The city has an extensive network of cycle paths, often separated from traffic for added safety. There is also a bike path running all the way to the beaches at Palavas-les-Flots and Carnon. The ride from the city to the beach takes about an hour.
Bikes may be rented at machines in various places in the city centre including Virgin, the tourist office on the place de la comedie and the main TAM velo office, located adjacent to the train station. The price is 2€ for one day. Just remember, if you are cycling in the old centre, that there are streets which are actually staircases and although they are a sight to behold (the rue du bras de fer), a glorified shopper bike will not tackle them as well as a fully suspended Cannondale.
Be advised that whereas a smart card allows a 24h/day use, only a small subset of the Velo Magg kiosks operate on Sundays, in which case it may be better to visit one of the manned offices, either adjacent to the train station or near l’Opéra.
By bus
Montpellier has a comprehensive public bus system. Many buses leave from stops in front of the train station. Buses use the same tickets as the tram; you can purchase tickets from the automatic machines located at each tram stop, or you may purchase tickets from the driver. If you purchase a ticket from a machine, be sure to validate it in the machine when boarding. One-way tickets cost €1.40 and can be reused for transfers up to one hour from the first validation. Round-trip (aller-retour) tickets are €2.50. A 24-hour bus and tram ticket is €3.80. Also, be warned that bus service is limited on notably on Sundays and the last buses run before 9:00 all week except for a handful of lines.
From the Perols-Etang d’Or tram terminus:
• The “Navette des Plages” bus runs non-stop to the “Face a la Plage” beach (between Palavas les Flots and La Grande Motte). There are a couple of cafes on the beach. TaM tickets allow travel on the bus at no extra charge.
• Bus 1 of Transp’Or runs to Palavas
From Garcia Lorca tram stop:
• Bus 131 runs to Palavas-les-Flots.
L’Amigo is a night bus service which runs from the main bus stop in front of the train station to the nightclubs on the outskirts of town.
By car
There are several parking lots in the city centre. However, it is inadvisable to travel in the city centre by car as it gets busy, you will get stuck in traffic, and it’s not very well signposted. The city centre is also a traffic-free zone! Your best bet is to park by a tram station at the end of a line such as Odysseum on line 1 or Sabines on line 2, but if you do insist on driving, parking in the Polygone shopping centre will save you a lot of your precious spending money! Chauffeur driven minivans 7 passengers provide an alternative to taxis which are mostly saloon cars 3/4 passengers max. They are competitively priced and can be hired by the day or half day for tours of the region surrounding Montpellier. This also can be a solution if there are more than four in your group, for your airport transfers as a minivan is less expensive than two taxis. Often when you arrive at Montpellier airport there are no taxis available and you have to wait for up to thirthy minutes in the baking hot sun. I used Méditerranée Transfers for my transfer Montpellier to Marseille was very pleased with the service and price.
By tram
The Montpellier tram service features four lines: line 1 from West to East(Mosson<->Odysseum) line 2 from South-West to North-East(Saint-Jean-de-Vedas<->Jacou) line 3 from West to South-East (Juvignac<->Perols/Lattes) line 4 circle line (Albert 1er<->Saint-Denis). A fifth is currently being built.
The trams tend to be very pleasant way of travelling across the city, they are clean and comfortable, offering a better view of the city as a whole than traveling on buses. Trams arrive every 3-5min at peak hours but less frequently at night, once every 15min. One major advantage of the tram is that it operates until midnight (1am during the weekends), making much more of the city easily accessible after dark. Ticket prices are the same as for the buses and the tickets are interchangeable.
Purchase tickets before boarding – there are multi-lingual ticket machines at each tram stop. A day pass is available and is recommended for anyone who plans to see anything outside of the centre. Longer-term passes are available as well from the TaM office situated across from the train station. Be sure to validate your ticket in the machines, as being found without a valid ticket will result in an on-the-spot fine of around 30 euros). Not speaking French or being a traveller will not be accepted as an excuse.

Safety

By bike
The tourist information office has a map Montpellier à vélo, which shows you where the best places to go by bike are and places where it is dangerous to cycle. The city has an extensive network of cycle paths, often separated from traffic for added safety. There is also a bike path running all the way to the beaches at Palavas-les-Flots and Carnon. The ride from the city to the beach takes about an hour.
Bikes may be rented at machines in various places in the city centre including Virgin, the tourist office on the place de la comedie and the main TAM velo office, located adjacent to the train station. The price is 2€ for one day. Just remember, if you are cycling in the old centre, that there are streets which are actually staircases and although they are a sight to behold (the rue du bras de fer), a glorified shopper bike will not tackle them as well as a fully suspended Cannondale.
Be advised that whereas a smart card allows a 24h/day use, only a small subset of the Velo Magg kiosks operate on Sundays, in which case it may be better to visit one of the manned offices, either adjacent to the train station or near l’Opéra.
By bus
Montpellier has a comprehensive public bus system. Many buses leave from stops in front of the train station. Buses use the same tickets as the tram; you can purchase tickets from the automatic machines located at each tram stop, or you may purchase tickets from the driver. If you purchase a ticket from a machine, be sure to validate it in the machine when boarding. One-way tickets cost €1.40 and can be reused for transfers up to one hour from the first validation. Round-trip (aller-retour) tickets are €2.50. A 24-hour bus and tram ticket is €3.80. Also, be warned that bus service is limited on notably on Sundays and the last buses run before 9:00 all week except for a handful of lines.
From the Perols-Etang d’Or tram terminus:
• The “Navette des Plages” bus runs non-stop to the “Face a la Plage” beach (between Palavas les Flots and La Grande Motte). There are a couple of cafes on the beach. TaM tickets allow travel on the bus at no extra charge.
• Bus 1 of Transp’Or runs to Palavas
From Garcia Lorca tram stop:
• Bus 131 runs to Palavas-les-Flots.
L’Amigo is a night bus service which runs from the main bus stop in front of the train station to the nightclubs on the outskirts of town.
By car
There are several parking lots in the city centre. However, it is inadvisable to travel in the city centre by car as it gets busy, you will get stuck in traffic, and it’s not very well signposted. The city centre is also a traffic-free zone! Your best bet is to park by a tram station at the end of a line such as Odysseum on line 1 or Sabines on line 2, but if you do insist on driving, parking in the Polygone shopping centre will save you a lot of your precious spending money! Chauffeur driven minivans 7 passengers provide an alternative to taxis which are mostly saloon cars 3/4 passengers max. They are competitively priced and can be hired by the day or half day for tours of the region surrounding Montpellier. This also can be a solution if there are more than four in your group, for your airport transfers as a minivan is less expensive than two taxis. Often when you arrive at Montpellier airport there are no taxis available and you have to wait for up to thirthy minutes in the baking hot sun. I used Méditerranée Transfers for my transfer Montpellier to Marseille was very pleased with the service and price.
By tram
The Montpellier tram service features four lines: line 1 from West to East(Mosson<->Odysseum) line 2 from South-West to North-East(Saint-Jean-de-Vedas<->Jacou) line 3 from West to South-East (Juvignac<->Perols/Lattes) line 4 circle line (Albert 1er<->Saint-Denis). A fifth is currently being built.
The trams tend to be very pleasant way of travelling across the city, they are clean and comfortable, offering a better view of the city as a whole than traveling on buses. Trams arrive every 3-5min at peak hours but less frequently at night, once every 15min. One major advantage of the tram is that it operates until midnight (1am during the weekends), making much more of the city easily accessible after dark. Ticket prices are the same as for the buses and the tickets are interchangeable.
Purchase tickets before boarding – there are multi-lingual ticket machines at each tram stop. A day pass is available and is recommended for anyone who plans to see anything outside of the centre. Longer-term passes are available as well from the TaM office situated across from the train station. Be sure to validate your ticket in the machines, as being found without a valid ticket will result in an on-the-spot fine of around 30 euros). Not speaking French or being a traveller will not be accepted as an excuse.

Shopping

For upscale shoppers, the best bet is in centre-ville. There is an abundance of clothing stores, the most high-end being found on the main streets leading away from the Place de la Comedie and on the rue Foch. For those with a more modest budget, the Polygone shopping center, also near La Comedie, contains a large variety of stores, including major French chains such as Inno and FNAC. There is also a small area in the centre where most of the ‘offbeat’ shops have typically clustered together, along with plenty of kebab shops and sandwicheries.
If you like to haggle and want a different experience, there is an enormous flea market every Sunday morning. Take the blue line tram all the way to the last stop at Mosson, and then just follow the crowd of people. The market sells just about everything under the sun, including brand-name clothing, movies (mostly pirated), and the usual assortment of household odds and ends. Haggling is the norm but the prices are generally reasonable to start with. The market (marche aux puces) is particularly well-known as a place to buy bicycles, although be sure of the quality before you buy. There have been ‘some’ reports of stolen bikes turning up at the market as well.
Visit Sauramps bookstore (Le Triangle, at one end of la Comedie) and the Gibert Joseph bookstore (at the Place de la Prefecture). These independent bookstores are real treasure for the city and offer a wide variety of topics and languages.
Numerous specialized shops may be found in the vicinity of Rue Saint-Guilhem and Rue de l’Ancien Courrier, including comics (Azimuts), gaming (Excalibur, Lud’m, Games Workshop), japanese arcade and takoyaki in Rue de la Friperie, and medieval crafts and goods in Rue des Soeurs Noires (Le Prince de Saint Gilles).
Shopping in Montpellier :
• Le Bookshop
• Book in Bar
• Les Cinq Continents
• Bookshop
• Farmers’ Market
• Le Village
• Halles Castellane
• Castellane Market
• Halles Laissac

Montpellier, France


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