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
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.
Labelled as one of France’s prettiest villages, it’s hard to disagree if you visit its tiny medieval streets and Benedictine Abbey. The village lies on the edge of a gorge that runs down to the Hérault river, its main street climbing up a steadily steepening hillside. There are numerous picturesque houses and it seems that a good number of the 250 or so residents are artists, judging by the amount of paintings and ceramics on sale. Towards the end of the main street you’ll encounter the Abbey, founded in 804 by Guilhem of Orange who later achieved sainthood.
Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert lies in the Gellon valley just North of Gignac, east of the new A75 motorway, about 30 kilometres Northwest of Montpellier
I know it’s not generally done to visit ‘Irish’ bars when abroad, but this one really is a bit of a gem. There are only a few such places in Montpellier as yet, and this one is tucked away in a small square about five minutes walk from Place de la Comèdie, so you have to search a bit to find it – meaning it’s unlikely to get mobbed by passing stag parties.
It has tables outside in the little shady square (adjacent to a promising looking restaurant) and very friendly staff inside who are more than happy to chat if you’re travelling solo and fancy a bit of evening company. There’s pool available in a separate room (a separate building in fact), various newspapers to read, TV for those who want to follow sports and some nice nooks and crannies if you want to tuck yourself away a bit.
The building sports the legend ‘Maison Justin Boch’ in large letters on the outside (a former business I assume), so you can’t mistake it.
5 Place Saint Côme
Here you can stroll or sit in some typical shady boulevards, take in panoramas of Montpellier and the surrounding area and marvel at the old 18th century aquaduct which ends with a flourish in the form of a pool under a celebratory Neo classical pavillion.
Place du Peyrou, near the Arc du Triomphe
Worth a visit even if only to see what first appears to be two large rockets attached to the huge entrance portal of this quite unusual construction. Its origins are in the 14th century and the other end of the cathedral is rather more conventional, though more picturesque with a small surrounding garden. The streets leading away up the hill provide some quite pleasing views of this old part of the city.
Place St Pierre
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