After taking you to Sweden, Canada or Cape Verde, this week we want to show you around Montpellier, our hometown. What, you haven’t heard about this expanding city in the South of France with its 300 days of sunshine a year, close to the sea, dynamic and cosmopolitan? Well it’s time you do! Come on, we’ll take you for a walk in Montpellier!
Let’s start with the Promenade du Peyrou which is accessed through beautiful golden metal doors. This big garden located in the heart of the city is made of long perfect tree-lined walks. Located at 52 meters (60 yards) above sea level, it’s the highest point in the city. This is precisely why the statue of Louis XIV sits right in center of the Promenade, proudly and majesticly riding a horse. This place is also known as the Place Royale. It was forbidden to build higher than the Sun King at the time and this tradition has mostly lasted. Therefore, it’s an ideal spot to observe and appreciate the breadth and diversity of Montpellier. You’ll have to go to the western end of the park, near the beautiful 18th century Château d’Eau (Water Tower), to enjoy a clear and impregnable view on Montpellier and around. The place regularly comes alive for cultural events, such as the Festival of Gastronomy in September or even outdoor concerts during the Fête de la Musique in June. It’s also a prime location to enjoy the sunset! Now let’s turn back and move towards the Arc de Triomphe which marks the entrance of the historical center of the city. Like many Montpellier people, we aren’t fond of its current flashy appearance, which has taken away any historical charm after recent renovations. However, it still remains one of the key monuments of the city and it’s even possible to climb it through the visit of the historical center with the Tourist Office. Yes, the climb isn’t easy but it’s nothing compared to the countless steps of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the 360° view on the roofs and the Promenade du Peyrou from up there is superb!
Now let’s walk down the chic Avenue Foch (our smaller version of the famous Champs Elysées!). Eventually, branch off to the right, through rue du Petit Scel for instance, and get lost in the small streets of the charming historical center called the Écusson. You should know that the historical center of Montpellier is the biggest pedestrian area of France. So it’s a pleasure to stroll among shops and charming buildings full of History. After walking for about 5 minutes, you should get to the Place Sainte-Anne where you’ll find the Carré Sainte Anne. This old church was deconsecrated in 1980 and renovated in a contemporary art space. Throughout the year, many artists exhibit their work there. The entrance is free, it’s a real good tip in a rather unusual place! Right now and until November 1st, the works of the New York artist JonOne are displayed there. It’s very colorful with some street art influences, we loved it!
And if after all the walking you begin to get hungry, you’re already in the good neighborhood! The historical center is full of good places all tastier than the other and sometimes very affordable! Since we’re from Montpellier, we obviously have a lot of places to recommand like “Ma première cantine” on place Jean Jaurès for traditional french cuisine and a friendly vibe, “le Wok” on rue de l’Herberie for a cheap tasty and copious Asian dish or “Gasoline Wine & Burger” on rue de Candolle for a great burger with a good local wine. But of course we’ve also had our share of disappointment and setbacks like at King George on Place Jean Jaurès last summer. Knowing it’s a very touristy place we usually avoid eating there as well as on the place de la Comédie. Prices are generally high and the quality isn’t always there. But when passing by this new restaurant that day, we got seduced by the idea of enjoying a good burger on one of the liveliest place of the city by a bright sunny day. We got curious, so we tried it out and have bitterly regretted it after the meal! Although good, the burgers are pretty expensive for a service that’s clearly unsatisfactory! Our waiter, who was on his first day, was very nice and managed to somehow hide his stress. But we frankly had a bad surprise when he brought us two plastic cups to drink and our burgers served on slate-alike plastic boards! We weren’t even upset about the plastic cutlery itself but because we had the unpleasant feeling of being scammed. The place poses as a gourmet burgers restaurant (their burgers can go up to €20, $22!) and not as a fast food restaurant. And they can’t even get you a proper glass! It’s definitely a place we would not recommend!
It’s now time to get back to exploring Montpellier and we offer you this time to make your way towards the Place de la Canourgue, one of the most beautiful places in the city. On the road, don’t forget to look around you and above all, look up! There are many street art pieces all around the city like the pixilated Space Invaders that are sometimes found above panels or these broken bikes that are embedded in walls. It’s part of the charm of Montpellier. Brilliantly mixing old and new, History and modernity. You’ll see, place de la Canourgue doesn’t lack any charm and it’s a great pleasure to hang there, by summer or winter, at a terrace or in the warmth of a cozy bar. This is one of our favorite spots in the area and Seb has spent a lot of time there while he was a Medicine student. By the way, did you know that Montpellier is home to the oldest medical university in operation in the world? It dates back from the 12th century and several big Medicine names such as François Gigot de la Peyronie or François Rabelais studied there. Today it’s one of the city’s pride. You’ll find its historical buildings a bit further via rue Saint Pierre, adjoining the majestic Cathédrale Saint Pierre, which is from the 14th century. After a troubled and tumultuous past linked to rivalries, historical and violent confrontations between Catholics and Protestants in Montpellier, this former monastery is now nothing more than a beautiful and huge cathedral. We took great pleasure in visiting it!
Now time to go to the iconic city square, the Place de la Comédie, which is located at the edge of the historical center. Passing through the rue de la Loge, you’ll certainly have the opportunity to see one of the many street artists that work here every day. That day, we were amazed by the larger than life makeup and costume of this Golden Angel who remained motionless for several minutes, waiting for a coin. Although very touristy, this beautiful square is also lively and has many assets and attractions. First, the Opéra Comédie is an architectural gem in itself. And even if we have trouble seeing the resemblance with the Opéra Garnier which it’s supposed to be a replica of, it remains stunning. The Statue of the 3 Graces, which dates from the 18th century, is also one of the city’s symbol. It served as a water relay from the Aqueduct which joined the Peyrou’s Château d’Eau back in the day. Nowadays, it’s a place of rendezvous as the square itself which is the nerve center of the city. The fine Haussmann buildings that are lined there quietly bear witness to the magnificent past of Montpellier through the many carvings on their facades. So, if you observe the facade of the building to the left of Gaumont cinema, at the top, just below the roof that looks like the helmet of a deep-sea diver, you’ll see carvings of cherubs happily playing with grapes. It symbolizes a time when the city was among the richest in the region through the cultivation of the vine and wine. To keep on with the observation process, don’t hesitate to enjoy a drink at the friendly Yam’s bar, located at the foot of the Opera, where you can observe the incessant dance of many Montpellier people pressing, strolling or just hanging around.
Now let’s walk through the Place de la Comédie towards the Polygone, the local mall. Not to have a shopping stop but to go through the building from side to side to find ourself on the other side, projected at a different time in the Antigone district. Designed in the 70s by the Catalan architect Ricardo Bofil, this neighborhood is supposed to be some kind of a mirror of the Ecusson. You’ll see, the contrast with the historical center is striking. All along the promenade which will take you straight to the Lez banks, you will see many buildings and statues influenced by Ancient Greece. Many green spaces, benches, fountains, you wouldn’t believe to be in the heart of the town but in a quiet suburb neighborhood, it’s very nice! Our tour ends in front of the majestic Hôtel de Région, this building with glazed facades with an architecture that reminds of the Arc de Triomphe. One symbolizes a door to history and the old while the other is like a door to the revival and modernity.
This article was written as part of a partnership with the Montpellier Tourist Office. Nevertheless, any opinion expressed here is our own and has not been subjected to any influence. Some of the places from this itinerary have been visited through a guided city tour set up by the Tourist Office.