Montpellier, also known as ‘The Gifted City’, offers a variety of cultural tastes for architecture and food lovers.
3 years after I have first set foot in Montpellier, I was eager to return, savouring even more its provincial cuisine, exploring even more its 19th century ochre streets and seeking further fresh air experiences.
Early morning at the sleepy Place de la Comédie; Montpellier comes to life. The smell of fresh coffee and hot croissants waft from the terraces. Sitting in front of a strong steaming americano, leaning back on a wicker-made chair, nothing seems more important than these radiant beams of positivity.
Forget iconic berets and angry taxi drivers. This is not a place like others. This is a place where each ray of sun is a ray of hope. A place where you don’t need to look for smiles, they are everywhere.
Many come and go. Fresh and chilled, few minutes on this famous plaza will indeed make you feel the lively effect of this student city. Here, I stand aside and admire street dancers animating to thunderous applause of a crowd. This is also the rendezvous of regulars drinking a basic yellowish "pastis" in a bistro glass.
French people are crazy about their 11am and 6pm ‘apéro’.
Indeed, walled up between some vintage shops and the covered market, the Café des Arts’s terrace seems always busy. I sit there and order a glass of ‘sangria’, this red wine spiced up with some fruit, accompanied by some cold cuts and cheese straws called ‘tapas’.
If you like provincial tastes, you will also love Chez Régis all-you-can-eat French fries served with mussels and a drop of Languedoc rosé wine on Jean Jaurès plaza, one of the busiest and most chill spot of Montpellier. ‘I have been working here for 30 years. I love Montpellier and its atmosphere. People are kind and simple.’ the moustached boss Régis says with a funny local accent. ‘I am the oldest of the plaza. Here on mornings, there used to be the local market, now there are only terraces, but it’s very diversified. I make the ‘moules-frites’, my neighbour makes drinks, we sort of hold together’.
Walking up the Rue Foch and its classy shops, you can arrive at the ‘Peyrou’. Breathtaking Montpellierian view unfolds as I ascend the pavilion of the promenade : gardens, mountains and in the distance, the sea skimming the skyline. Cloud and water mix into each other, dripping with a blazing light blue, merging, liquefying, melting, with pinkish balconies and roofs floating in space, like the fragments of some stained-glass window seen through a gemstone prism embraced by the morning light. Fragment of Provence touched with the colours of wine, caper, fresh lavender and creamy stone of the cathedral St Roch.
Afterward, I wander the elegant yellow streets of the very centre with some details embed themselves in the walls : half-bikes, and even a flashy red Cadillac embedded above the well-known indie rock nightclub The Rockstore somehow reminding me of Koko in London. Don’t get me wrong, there is so much you can discover when you glance up.
I’m lucky enough to have an old friend living in a flat on the last floor. On a late afternoon, we climb on the roof and allow ourselves the luxury of a glass of white wine with a view. If you don’t have this chance, you can easily fall back on the free Corum opera rooftop.
When night falls, the view is magic as looking down from the roof : thousands of lights, the air hot and fragrant with the smell of provincial spices and all sides the voices from the bistros, the singing from guitars players and laughter of cheerful teenagers. It feels good, it feels soothing, it feels like freedom.