Destination focus • April 2017
With more than 300 days of sunshine a year, proximity to stretches of sandy shores, and both medieval and modern design, it’s not hard to see why Montpellier – a new summer route for British Airways – has become one of France’s fastest-growing cities. Local writer and owner of boutique B&B Meze Maison, Robert Budden, uncloaks six convincing reasons to visit
Even in winter, you’ll find locals having lunch in one of the sun-drenched squares. Montpellier’s beating heart is the graceful Place de la Comédie, but head instead into the historic centre to Place Saint-Roch, with its open-air bars and restaurants. If you want calm, grab an espresso at Place de la Canourgue (above), the city’s oldest – and arguably prettiest – square.
This seductive city seamlessly blends medieval architecture with 21st-century design, from St Peter’s Cathedral and the medical school's Musée D’Anatomie, to Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill’s neoclassical structures in Antigone. Even public transport has style – a few trams had a colourful makeover by fashion designer Christian Lacroix in 2012.
Dozens of cafés and restaurants offer plats du jour for around €15 or less, but for a little more, sample some of the city’s finest fare at Les Bains, an upmarket bistro in a converted 18th-century bathhouse. Michelin-starred La Réserve Rimbaud (above) won’t disappoint either, if only for views over the River Lez. Don’t leave without trying the Languedoc-Roussillon region’s Bouzigues oysters at seafood restaurant L’Huitre Rieuse.
With a large student population, Montpellier boasts a vibrant nightlife. Evening starts with pre-dinner drinks, or apéritif, at 6pm. Take a seat at the cosy Times Café, where the owners will guide you through the region’s fine wines. Or try a Prohibition-style Autumn Glory cocktail – a mix of bourbon, lime juice, pecan nut syrup and pink cider (above) – at Willie Carter Sharpe.
You’ll find some of the south of France’s best beaches just a 30-minute drive from the city centre. Windswept Espiguette (above) offers miles of white sand, ensuring it’s never too crowded, even in summer. For cocktails on loungers, visit Le White Beach at La Grande Motte or l’ACD in nearby Sète.
In the heart of Montpellier’s historic centre, hidden behind a huge old wooden door, is Baudon-de-Mauny (above) an 18th-century mansion lovingly restored into a stylish boutique hotel. For unashamed luxury, head to Domaine de Verchant, a hotel and spa set in a 16th-century vineyard on the city’s outskirts.
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