Take the TGV from Paris (or hop on less green but slightly quicker flight from Gatwick) to the capital of Languedoc-Roussillon - a city where eating well, drinking local wine and relaxing seem to take priority.
You'll want a good day or two to explore the dizzying warren of medieval streets, mostly car-free, in the miraculously preserved old town (known as 'l'Ecusson').
I lost count of the hidden squares complete with fountains, cafés, quirky boutiques and restaurants; you could spend hours just watching the world go by - or a small fortune on chic Christmas presents.
If you're after culture, there are plenty of churches to discover and the impressive and recently renovated Musée Fabre, as well as regular festivals (and Christmas market) in the nearby Place de la Comédie, the heart of the city that constantly teems with life.
For tea, the prettiest spots are around the Eglise Saint-Roch (pronounced "Saaa-Rock"), or the Place de La Canourgue, where a café/restaurant called Le Comptoir de l'Arc was peopled by the fashionable but (relatively) unpretentious.
For dinner, a great little Japanese restaurant called Mayumi Izakaya is tricky to find, but well worth it for simple, fresh sushi.
Best of all is the twice-weekly organic market (Marhcé des Arceaux), where the finest breads, cheeses, honey and other local produce made me wish for a portable fridge and a larger luggage allowance.
Few small cities have perfected the art of living quite like Montpellier: the inhabitants seem to know instinctively what's worth hanging on to, and yet nothing's preserved in aspic. An ancient town full of young, open-minded people, new shops, fast trams and that indefinable French knack of making everything look effortless.
Accommodation: Hôtel Le Guilhem
18 Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau
34000 Montpellier, France
+33(0)4 67 52 90 90
Google map: bit.ly/b3WOl4
Dinner: Mayumi Izakaya, 26 Rue Terral
+33(0)4 67 63 12 25
Google map: bit.ly/cdGZbY
Bar: Le Comptoir de l'Arc, 2 Rue Hôtel de Ville
Market: Tues & Sat 7am - 1pm, Place des Arceaux
On the banks of Lac Salagou in the sleepy village of Octon, an English doctor, Graeme Angus manages to find time to produce several gold award winning wines at his vineyard Les Trois Terres after tending to the locals in his medical practice. Visit him at home for a chance to taste this outstanding wine. Stay in nearby 'Clos de Fouscais' to buy some antiques or simply for some rustic ambience.
Rue de la Vialle, 34800 Octon
+33 4 67 44 71 22
Google map: tinyurl.com/y6c7dpv
Clos de Fouscais, Hameau de Fouscais, Clermont L'herault, 34800 France Tel: 00334467446548, www.francedirect.net/clos_de_fouscais_bnb
A magical day canoeing in the heart of the Herault enjoying beautiful scenery, a delight for nature lovers. We are fairly fit, up for it, 59-year- olds. We arranged things from the UK over phone and the English speaking organisers were very honest and helpful. When we met them in France, they couldn't do enough to check we'd chosen the correct river route etc and helped us travel from Montpellier, where we were staying. It was a wonderful experience.
Pézenas is a small town about 50 kilometres from Montpellier and is well worth a visit for its old town centre that encompasses Medieval, Rennaissance and 18th century architecture. The Medieval section includes a Jewish quarter and an old sign still indicates this above the slightly menacing and dark entrance archway. There are plenty of delightful little houses and tiny courtyards to explore here.
One of Pézenas’ most famous former residents was the playwright Molière who lived, wrote and performed here for a while in the mid 17th century. He is remembered now by a monument and a hotel named after him.
Car - take the RN113 towards Béziers. Trains and buses are also available following the same principle.
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