Montpellier: an exotic weekend between city and nature

A lively city where time seems to stand still, Montpellier has a real advantage in that it is located close to some exceptional natural sites, just twenty kilometres from beaches such as Palavas-les-Flots, le Grau-du-Roi and La Grande Motte. But if you're visiting for the first time, you'll soon realise that the town has plenty of surprises in store for visitors to the region. Over a weekend, the Occitanie town has plenty to offer. Starting with the historic city centre, also known as the Ecusson, which is a great place to lose yourself. Its narrow streets lead to bucolic squares where cafés and restaurants liven things up. The area around Montpellier is full of natural nuggets. A turquoise waterfall, a lake surrounded by red sandstone hills, a fortified village... Here's a two-day itinerary to discover the best spots in and around Montpellier.

View of Montpellier, its buildings and parks

- © BGStock72/Shutterstock
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Day 1: Discover the lively city centre

After putting down our bags at the Hôtel d'Aragon, not far from the station, the weekend begins in Montpellier city centre, discovering the little boutiques, cobbled streets and huge squares where you can have lunch or a coffee.

In the morning, head to Place Saint Roch to discover the 19th-century church. This architectural gem is surrounded by cafés and restaurants.

After contemplating the building, head to rue de la loge for a spot of shopping, where you'll find the most chain shops. Passing along l'Ancien Courrier street, you'll find designer boutiques and interior design shops.

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A street in Montpellier's lively city centre

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At lunchtime, we chose to sit out on the terrace to enjoy the lively Place de la Comédie. It wasn't long before a street show was taking place, and we had a front row seat. Not far away are the Musée Fabre, the Corum and the Champ de Mars garden on the Esplanade Charles de Gaulle.

The latter is built around a pond and offers a haven of peace right in the heart of the city. Stop off at one of the buildings in the park, the Pavillon Populaire, for a photo exhibition.

The Charles de Gaulle esplanade

- © Leonardo Santos Rodrigues/Shutterstock

In Montpellier, one park leads to another, so we decided to take the tram to visit the Jardin des Plantes. The oldest in France, it was created to enable research into plant-based medicine. Guided tours are available to help you understand each area and discover species from different environments.

After this botanical tour, the walk continues to the Promenade du Peyrou. An air of royalty reigns here, from the triumphal arch in tribute to Louis XIV to the equestrian statue erected in his honour.

The statue of Louis XIV on the Peyrou promenade

- © RossHelen/Shutterstock

In the evening, after a good walk, there's nothing better than relaxing over a drink. At the bar-restaurant L'arbre you can also enjoy the sunset!

This establishment, nestling on the 17th floor of a tree-shaped building (editor's note: it was voted the most beautiful building in the world in 2020), offers cocktails, tapas and DJ sets in the middle of the evening. It's a great way to go from calm to festive in no time at all.

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Day 2: Nature walks around Montpellier

We don't say it often enough, but the area around Montpellier is full of natural spots. Less than an hour from the city, it's a complete change of scenery. Head for Saint-Laurent-du-Minier to discover the Vis waterfall. It's best to leave early in the morning to avoid the afternoon crowds, so you can easily swim in the turquoise waters.

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2011, this natural gem is well known to the people of Montpellier, who also enjoy taking walks along the footpaths surrounding the waterfall.

There are a number of restaurants and cafés in the little village, where you can take a coffee to go and drink it with your feet in the water!

The Vis waterfall in Saint-Laurent-du-Minier near Montpellier

Just 40 minutes away, Saint-Guilhem-Le-Désert is the perfect place to stop for lunch. One of France's most beautiful villages, Saint-Guilhem-Le-Désert is a must-see if you're visiting Montpellier. The fortified town is lined with narrow streets where shops have replaced some of the historic dwellings.

In the village square, restaurants and ice-cream parlours line up around the fountain. There are also ice-cream parlours at the entrance to the town, with uninterrupted views of the Hérault Gorges. It's near the abbey that we find THE restaurant. It's called Les Terrasses de Saint Guilhem. The restaurant serves traditional dishes with an elaborate presentation. It has a shaded terrace with a view of the religious building.

The village of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert in the Hérault department

- © umikem/Shutterstock

In the afternoon, it's off to Salagou lake. Situated 30 minutes from Montpellier, in the commune of Clermont-l'Hérault, this lake transports us straight to Colorado. The red hills and shades of blue of the water surrounded by greenery are impressive.

You'll immediately feel at home in this wilderness. As you wander through the hills, you spot a few landscapes to capture on film. A footpath leads around the lake, where you'll find a spot to put your towel down. On a sunny day, a swim is welcome, but watch out for the crayfish! The site also offers water sports activities and a restaurant service.

Lake Salagou near Montpellier in Hérault

- © Nellariel/Shutterstock

After a day full of discoveries and close encounters with nature, the return to Montpellier can be a little exhausting. So we looked for a quiet restaurant to spend our last evening. It's at the Réserve Raimbaud that you'll find this atmosphere.

This Michelin-starred restaurant serves seasonal dishes with ingredients straight from the Occitanie region. The tree-lined terrace on the banks of the River Lez is the perfect place to end an evening in a natural setting.

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Practical information

🚌 Access: you can hire a car from the rental agencies near St Roch station or the airport, and private individuals also offer their cars for hire via the Drivy app.

🕑 Driving time: allow around 1 hour or less from Montpellier to get to the natural sites on offer.

📍 Vis waterfall📍 Salagou lake📍 Saint-Guilhem-Le-Désert

by Editorial Team
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