Montpellier: The Golden Town
Most of you know that in my day job I’m a fierce PR girl working with clients in digital media, and one of the perks of my profession is that I get to travel a lot. And even though traveling for work is not as much fun as exploring the world on your own, but hey, whatever keeps the travel bug satisfied works!
In November, I had a chance to revisit one of the most romantic cities in the world – Paris – as well as get acquainted with the hidden gem of southern France – Montpellier.
When I thought about South of France, some of the first things that came to mind were the French Riviera, luxury, posh lifestyle and European glitterati. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Montpellier and its surroundings had nothing to do with those associations. And don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing bad with la dolce vita, and I definitely love me some expensive champagne and oysters, and the whole St. Tropez’s chic. But South of France is very versatile, and I found myself rather fond of its simple yet elegant Montpellier region.
Located not so far from the Spanish border, the first thing you notice about Montpellier is how prominent the Spanish influence is, especially when it comes to food. The old town has hundreds of tapas bars to offer, with small plates varying from traditional Spanish delicacies such as albondigas y croquetas, to authentic French dishes such as foie gras and chèvre. Note that locals tend to dine really late – they take their time drinking wine and picking at tapas, then proceeding to dinner at around nine.
The food that I had there was outstanding – from charcuterie and cheese plates to traditional French entrées to decadent desserts, every dish was inspired by and crafted with classic French character. For food connoisseurs, Montpellier even boasts a Michelin-star restaurant.
Most of the places we visited were located in the Old Town Montpellier, a medieval labyrinth of narrow cobblestoned streets, so intricate and so mysterious. Surrounded by a fortified wall and lit up with numerous streetlights, the historic quarter left an impression of the golden town. It was nice to wander in the maze of its tiny streets and discover new sites every night. It has a mini Arc de Triumph, an antique university and beautiful churches. One pleasant surprise was discovering the Papa Doble bar, a tribute to one of my favorite writers, Ernest Hemingway. Featured in the top 50 bars of 2011, Papa Doble is famous for its crafty cocktails and is definitely worth checking out.
Like Boston, Montpellier is a very young city, probably because it’s home to the University of Montpellier, one of the most famous and oldest universities in the world, dating back to the 12th century. Every Thursday night is student night, which is a fun yet dangerous experience, mostly because of the amount of shots it normally involves.
If I had a little more time, I would have taken a train to Sète, which is only 45 minutes away. I was told it’s a wonderful town spreading from the top of the hill to the beautiful marina at its base.
Marseilles and Aux-en-Provence are also not that far away, so if you decided to visit this part of southern France, there are plenty of places to explore.
Place de la Comédie with the Opera Comédie built in 1888
The Porte du Peyrou, a triumphal arc
The historic Old Town
The Jardin des plantes de Montpellier, a historic botanical garden
The University of Montpellier
La Réserve Rimbaud