We try a little French southern comfort
It’s easy to fall in love with a bustling French city like sunny Montpellier.
The first time I visited the beautiful capital of France’s Herault region, I was delighted by the outdoor cafés, the chic boutiques and the lovely walks along the river.
I was staying with my sister, who was a doctor in Montpellier at the time.
Just a short couple of hours’ away by plane, this is a city steeped in medical history. I returned there a few weeks ago, some ten years after my first visit, to explore a little more.
After checking out some of the lively bars on my arrival, including an Irish bar, and relishing the sunshine and the Friday evening atmosphere, I dined with friends at an absolutely gorgeous restaurant called Le Petit Jardin (petit-jardin.com).
As the name suggests, the tables were outside and it was so pleasant to sit under the trees and relax while enjoying great local wines and spectacular food.
Gentlemen, if you’re thinking of proposing any time soon, book a trip to Montpellier and dine in this fancy establishment. It’s so romantic, she’s bound to say yes.
My hotel room at Hotel d’Aragon was thankfully very near the centre of everything, and after a relaxing bath I put my head down for the night.
The next morning after the hotel breakfast, which included fresh butter croissants and pain-au-chocolat (well, there’s just no point dieting in France), I felt rested enough to enjoy taking in the city’s sights.
I was lucky enough to take a small tour through the pretty, cobbled streets with an entertaining local tour guide. He took me to see the interesting architecture of the town hall, showed me a fascinating underground Jewish mikvah – a ceremonial bath in the old town (you can organise a private visit with the tourist board), and told me a bit about the cathedral, a majestic building with twin turrets and magnificent detailing.
He also pointed out Montpellier’s anatomy museum where human dissections took place hundreds of years ago during the winter months, when bodies were slower to decay.
Marisa Mackle discovers the magic of Montpellier in the south of France
The only bodies that could be dissected were those of executed criminals. The museum was closed to the public for many years, but for those not-so-squeamish modern visitors, you may book a tour through the French tourist office. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if that eerie place were haunted.
Montpellier is a fairly small but vibrant city with a large student population, which makes it young and fun. Many of the streets are pedestrianised, so it is perfectly easy to stroll around at your leisure.
However, the trams are frequent if you prefer to give your feet a rest. The main square, large and vibrant, is called Place de la Comedie. This is a favourite meeting hub for people watchers to sit outside the bars and restaurants with a cool aperitif before dinner.
The nearby Champ de Mars is a truly splendid avenue with pretty trees and fountains and is the perfect place for either a morning or evening stroll.
This is where you will also find the Museé Fabre, a spectacular art gallery where I found myself spending an entire morning admiring the works of amazing French, Dutch, Flemish and Italian painters, spanning centuries. This place was an unexpected treasure and a highlight of my visit. If you appreciate wonderful art, make sure you don’t miss it.
Montpellier, as it’s so close to the Mediterranean, enjoys a lovely, mild climate, and can be particularly hot during the summer.
However, if you visit and it happens to be raining, I could definitely recommend whiling away a morning or an afternoon at the art gallery. Also, if you like a nice, popular outdoor restaurant, with to-die-for food and friendly staff, then you might check out Chez Boris (chezboris.com) for lunch, just near the gallery (look out for the red roof).
Now, after all that sightseeing and people-watching, you may just fancy a trip to the beach, and the region is blessed with magnificent strands within driving distance. You can also get a tram from the city during the summer months.
The beaches boast soft, white clean sand, and there is nothing like a dip in the Mediterranean to cool down after sunbathing.
I also cannot possibly mention the Languedoc region of France without mentioning the superb regional wines. We visited a gorgeous vineyard and enjoyed a wine tasting at Domaine Saint Jean de L’Arbousier (domainearbousier.fr).
You can stay here in one of the fabulous tree houses for a real sense of outdoors adventure. No wonder places book up fast, as it’s a novel way to spend a night or two.
There are scenic walks among the vineyards, farmyard animals that the kids will be happy to pet, and you can even go horse riding through the vineyards. I couldn’t wait to do this, only my biggest mistake was announcing that I had riding experience.
This meant I was given the biggest horse for the trek. He was twice the size of my mum’s little horse back home, and a rather intimidating fellow. Serves me right for boasting.
GETTING THERE: Aer Lingus flies twice weekly from Dublin to Montpellier on Monday and Friday as part of its summer schedule, operating until 12th September. One-way fares including taxes and charges start from €54.99. For further information visit aerlingus.com
For information on the city and the region visit: montpellier-france.com and herault-languedoc-presse.com