Though you’re spoiled for choice in the European summertime, it doesn’t get much better than 10 days on the shimmering French Riviera—cue glorious sun, sumptuous food and wine, and cool, crisp dips in the azure waters of the Mediterranean.
The only dilemma is where to go next. After filling our tanned bellies in Nice for 4 nights, we decided to venture west across the Cote D’Azur on a TGV, and on to the magical heart of medieval Montpellier… Under roasting 37-degree heat (99 F), we slither out of the Gare St. Roch to the hot streets of Montpellier, sweat dripping off our brows. Overdressed, it proves no place for denim, or a lack of direction; we eventually manage to navigate our way to Centre Ville, the town hub, to our accommodation on Rue de L’amandier, one of many hidden, snaking alleys off Rue Saint- Guilhem.
On the second floor of 14, following a slender, snaking staircase with a central guide rope, our sweet apartment sports delightful Moroccan arches and chandeliers crafted from flattened bottle-caps.
Luggage purged, we slide out of our new abode and drenched clothes back out into the evening action, first point of order: a bottle of chilled champagne in the main town square. The final throes of sunset warm over us as we soak up the breezy romance. There are welcome archetypes—squeezebox organ filtering “La Vie en Rose”, well-dressed locals smoking Gauloises, sipping Ricard and Pernod.
Unlike many other small cities and towns across France and western Europe, the old quarter of Montpellier is far more than just a tourist hub; here, locals live and revel in the heart of it. The population is on the rise, and for good reason; it’s gorgeous and inviting, to French and tourists alike.
Buzzing on champagne, we venture on to ‘Le Tapas’, an outdoor bar by the town square for Spanish delicacies, French style—not an entirely accurate local choice, but delicious nonetheless. Through cobblestoned lanes, amber lit, smooth beats filtering out of wide windows, we wander, buzzing on the wine and the night, taking in the final pink hues of sunset at the elevated lookout by La Place Royal du Peyrou, a wide garden with marble monuments, where a trumpet and conga drum duel romantically, reverberating across the mall and guitarists strum between century tenement, constructed around whispers with loved ones and sips of red wine.
Retuning home to our flat, our prized French doors capture the bellows of locals revelling and howling down the labyrinthine alleys of our neighbourhood. We wake early in the morning for petit dejuner from the local market nearby— Halles Castellane—for fresh, toasty baguettes, salty jambon and cheese, ripe fruits and mouth watering pastries, devouring it to the apt and evocative accompaniment of Yann Tiersen’s ‘Amelie’.
It’s yet another scorching day, but we brave the ‘rues for more sights. Montpellier is a delightful destination to scope out on foot—just make sure you’re adequately hydrated. After a long stroll through the neo classical architecture of the Antigone district, we enjoy a cool brew in the shade by the city’s huge open square, La Place de la Comedie, one of the largest town squares in Europe. The strand by La Comedie holds an extensive market each Sunday, offering food, new and second hand clothes and treasures.
Montpellier is a fine place, too, for complete gastronomique indulgence. Breaking free from the throngs, we indulge in more afternoon treats— millefeuilles and éclairs on Rue Saint-Guilhem, bookended with hot café au lait. Come afternoon, we return to Les Halles Castellanes for fresh oysters; our friendly, handsome fishmonger shucks two dozen, wraps them in a bouquet carousel and, armed with 2 kilos of fresh local moules, we concoct a grand feast in our kitchen, punctuated with rounds of crisp champagne and Provencal Rose.
Another simmering twilight in Centre Ville, restaurants fill up in nooks around Rue de L’Ancien Courrier, the marble-floored alley lined with antique stores, art galleries and boutiques. We return to Place de la Comedie for a final Montpellier moment, the light of the Opera Comedie glistening in the deep balmy blue night by Three Graces fountain and, over delicious gelato from ‘Amorino’ and the tunes of troubadours busking, hand in hand, we drift back to our medieval home, dreaming of Montpelier, dreaming of France.
Written by and photos by Cam Hassard for EuropeUpClose.com
Sunday 31st of August 2014