I’ve been doing a lot of daydreaming lately, and whenever my mind tends to wander, it always goes to the view from my apartment in Montpellier. For my master’s, I moved to Montpellier, and it is the French city I know best. I could wax poetic for hours about the charm of its medieval side streets and palm-tree lined boulevards. I figured it was the best city for my first France travel guide! (Because it doesn’t hurt to daydream).
Here are my faves for this Mediterranean gem!
Brunch at Bonobo. Go to Bonobo on the weekend and you’ll see a line of hipster twenty-somethings lined up for green juices, lattes, and pastries. While you may not think of pancakes when in France, Bonobo’s are some of the best I’ve had. The savory pancakes manage the perfect balance of salty and sweet, while the sweet pancakes are perfectly fluffy and topped with marscapone and fig.
Moody Social Club is a trendy spot for small plates/cocktails. It’s best for an evening shared with a few friends. Order two of the arancinis- fried mushroom risotto cubes with mozzarella.
Via Pila. This is one of the best Italian restaurants I’ve ever been to, hands down. I’m picky about my pasta, and Via Pila delivers not only with delicious pasta but amazing appetizers like fresh burrata. It was always THE restaurant I took people to when they were visiting from out of town, and they were always impressed.
Rosemarie is a traditional southern French kitchen, inspired by the ingredients of the Mediterranean and homestyle cooking. It is also one of the cutest restaurants in Montpellier, with a hodge-podge of vintage furniture and a massive patio. Their raw calamari with olives is a personal favorite, but you can’t go wrong with any of their dishes. If you’re there on a hot day, their frozen cocktails or a glass of chilled rosé is the perfect way to start a meal.
I don’t think it would be possible for me to write about France without including a section on sweets. Le goûter (afternoon snack) became a way of life for me, and I spent many afternoons tucked away in cafés or boulangeries eating a sweet treat.
Coffee Club offers one of the best carrot cakes I’ve ever had. It’s not too sweet and perfectly moist. I dream about it sometimes.
Napoleon Dynamite is a great place to have an afternoon coffee on the Place de la Canourgue. Take a peek at the magnificent unicorn statue, and look out onto the city and mountains!
Des rêves et du pain has been voted the best bakery in France in the past, and for good reason. From the amazingly crunchy baguettes to the assortment of cakes (which include gluten/dairy-free options!), there is nothing in this bakery that I haven’t tried and loved.
Citron offers pastries that look like works of art (and taste even better!). The small garden in their courtyard is beautiful, and inside the there is has air-conditioning, which is absolutely necessary when the temperatures creep up. It’s at the top of Rue du Bras du Fer, which has an adorable rainbow staircase that is a perfect photo op spot.
Finally, Padova Gelato is an incredible stop for something sweet. Their hours are sporadic, so I could never tell you when exactly they were open. However, it’s worth the stroll by to see if they’re there to sit down with pistachio gelato to people watch.
Drinks (this is literally just about wine)
Montpellier is the largest city in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, a region that produces 40% of the total of all wines in France. It isn’t necessarily well known outside of the country compared to Bordeaux or Burgundy, but deserves its moment in the spotlight!
There are some amazing wines that come from this region. Most of them are made with Mourvèdre, Syrah, and Grenache grapes. My faves are Chateau Puech-Haut’s Tête de Belier, a dark red with berry notes, and La Cupa, a tannic cherry red from Chateau La Roque, a biodynamic winery. A rosé that I love that’s easily available in the US (and in a gorgeous bottle) is Gerard Bertrand’s Côte des Roses.
If you’re looking for a wine tour, I’ve brought family with me on Montpellier Wine Tours twice. It’s a great way to see local wineries (+ an olive farm!)
Glou Glou always has a selection of wines in their dispenser (and by the bottle) from the Languedoc region, all of France, and the world. The cozy ambiance under the medieval arches and plush couches makes for a wonderful date spot or night with friends. If you’re looking to eat, their shareable plates make for a great apéro or dinner.
Les Enfants Rouges is another fantastic wine bar, whether it is just for a drink or dinner. Their wine selection is fantastic, but it is never not jam-packed, so plan on reservations or going a little earlier.
Things + Places
Montpellier is 6 miles from beautiful beaches on the Mediterranean that can be accessed by tram or buses from the city. Spending a day at Palavas-les-Flots, Plage du Grand Travers, or Carnon Plage is a must if you’re there in warmer weather. If you decide to drive, watch for the flamingos off the side of the highway living in the marshes.
In the summer, the beaches of Montpellier are home to the paillotes (pop-up beach bars) that attract all ages to spend the night dancing on the beach. They range from a club environment to restaurants with trendy furniture, and are one of my favorite things about Montpellier.
The Jardin des Plantes (Botanical Garden) is beautiful to walk through, featuring small ponds, all kinds of beautiful greenery, and cats that wander the park freely. After taking a stroll, head across the street to Broc Café for happy hour, and order a basil granita.
For art lovers, the Musée Fabre offers a huge collection of art through all periods of history. La Panacée is a creative space for modern art, and Le Pavillon Populaire hosts incredible photography exhibits. Both of the last two are free, and absolutely worth the visit.
Montpellier is also home to the world’s oldest continually-operating medical school. Inside, you’ll find an anatomy museum dating back to the 1200s. It is a real treat for science fans like me. You’ll have to go through the tourism office to get one of the very few spots on a tour or go during the Journées de Patrimoine in September when it is open to the public.
For me, Montpellier’s charm lies in renting a bike or strolling and getting lost in the streets. If you’re looking for more direction, head to to the farmer’s market at Les Arceaux on Tuesdays and Saturdays, or along the Lez river to check out some of the modern architecture in the newer neighborhoods like Port Marianne.
Honorable mentions include strolling through the food markets in Halles Castellane or Halles Laissac to scope out a delicious lunch. Otherwise, buy some cheeses to create a picnic basket to take to the Parc de Peyrou!
If you want to go out, Montpellier has no shortage of bars and clubs, being a university city. However, many of them during the academic year are packed with 18-year-olds, so be warned. For the post-grad crowd, I recommend checking out Rockstore for concerts/DJ sets, Circus for billiards, the Black Cat for outdoor seating, and Shakespeare for a cozy pub environment. That said, if you are looking to get messy, try Espit Chupitos or Panama Café, and you’ll have a killer time.
Where to Stay
Staying in the city center in Montpellier is a must. If you can find an Airbnb, look for “Ecusson” as the neighborhood. It’s amazing to wake up in an ancient building, open the large windows, and look onto the town below you. (My old apartment may be listed on Airbnb in July and August!) If that’s not an option, I’d recommend Hôtel Oceania, a gorgeous hotel just minutes from everything.
Between the sunshine, the beach, and the amazing locals, Montpellier tops my list of cities to visit in France. I made such incredible friends in this city and I think about it fondly all the time. I cannot wait for my next trip there!
This post is a quick overview of some of my faves, but I’d love to write more on the Languedoc region and share some tips for other cities/day trips nearby. Have you been to Montpellier? What else would you add to this list? Want more Montpellier travel recommendations? Let me know in the comments.