Montpellier: so many bars and restaurants, so little time
Montpellier is not a major city break destination but I tell you what – it should be! The wonderful city is the capital of the Languedoc-Rousillon region and is often overlooked in favour of the larger Marseille and Nice, both of which are also on the Med. Non! Non! This must go on no more, for Montpellier combines the finest elements of both of those cities, offering an experience that is at once sophisticated and gritty, with a cool yet typically effortless edginess. Montpellier boasts fine architecture, a magnificent climate, fabulous food and is affordable…why are you still reading this and not trying to book a break there? Well, seeing as you are still reading, let me hit you with Montpellier’s top five highlights…
Le Jardin des Sens
Montpellier’s finest restaurant is the two-Michelin starred Jardin des Sens, a short walk from the city centre. This is French cuisine at its modern best and for the quality of produce and the depth of imagination it is sensational value. Service, even for those with only une petit peu Francais, was superb – friendly, efficient and welcoming and the dining room is a delight. Modernist and minimalist it is light and airy with the eponymous garden a small yet perfectly formed distraction beyond the large windows. The brothers Pourcel are the chef patrons and, despite being celebrities in these parts, they continue to push and strive to create better and more innovative food. At €49 including a glass of very drinkable wine the lunch menu is a bargain and the dessert will live long in the memory, an extravaganza of sweet delights that, including an extravagant selection of petit fours, must have comprised at least 15 different elements.
Montpellier is a delight, with the main “square”, the Place de la Comedie, a towering mass of splendour. The jewel in the crown is the opera house but on all sides it is easy to imagine the city in its mid-19th century pomp. More modern buildings are beautifully incorporated making walking around looking up a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.
With its studenty, bohemian feel Montpellier attracts a good range of street artists and performers in and around Place de la Comedie. From dancers to acrobats, musicians and mime, it is easy to pass time marvelling at the creativity on show.
Bars and restaurants
Montpellier is a student city, with three universities and youthful vibe that gives it its energetic edge. It also means there are numerous wonderful bars and reasonably priced restaurants where a bottle of wine and three course dinner will not set you back more than €25 a head. The warren of cobbled streets behind the opera house offers magnificent people watching – as do any of the restaurants in the Place de la Comedie – and idly stumbling around stopping here and there for a drink or dinner is a Montpellier must. La Cocotte was a personal favourite, with three courses costing €26 and a bottle of superb local red coming in at just €14. Delicate carpaccio, and veg “crumble” to start, a huge and wonderfully spiced lamb shank for main and tasty traditional desserts coupled with friendly service make this a top pick.
The Fabre museum is a stunning building, virtually a work of art in itself and home to almost 1,000 works including several masterpieces. Admission is free on the first Sunday of the month so time your break well and it makes a marvellous leisurely Sunday trip.