A big Dose of culture in Montpellier | Great art and art de vivre

Sunny Montpellier has been catapulted to art super status with the launch of MoCo – Montpellier Contemporary. It’s an art “ecosystem” which pulls three major venues together to bring a diverse and enormous range of contemporary art to the city, as well as supporting and training artists.

ZAT: 100 artists in city

ZAT (Zone Artistique Temporaire) showcases art in public spaces, and in 2019 expanded from a weekend event to a 7-week long art festival featuring 100 artists (local, national and international) to mark the opening of MoCo’s brand new art venue, the MoCo Hotel des collections which will host private and public collections from around the world. ZAT has been an enormous success and cements Montpellier’s place as one of the top international art cities in the world. From interactive artworks like a giant clothes peg tunnel in a courtyard where you’re encouraged to add a peg or two to a disco ball installation in a medieval chapel or a clever play on words in the window of a Monoprix store.
I can’t wait to see what they do next year!

Lunch with soul at MoCo La Panacée

La Panacée is one of the three venues which make up MoCo. Located in the former historic Royal College of Medicine and specialises in emerging art. It’s exhibitions are provocative, exciting and at times a bit baffling but always fascinating. It’s the perfect place to go for lunch, as well as enjoy the free art. The restaurant has an architecturally chic interior and shady terrace. It’s seriously trendy and full of savvy locals who love the great value menu, fabulous fresh local produce and the fact that you can borrow books from the shelves. Kids love it too, there are toys and games for them to play with – just make sure they tidy up afterwards! On Sunday morning, go for their famous brunch. Unlike the rest of the week you can’t book in advance so get there early to bag a table.
www.moco.art (External link)

Fabre Museum

Founded in 1828 by artist François-Xavier Fabre in what was his home and gallery, this huge museum has a fabulous collection of more than 800 works spanning several centuries. Over the years the venue has grown and now occupies three buildings. They regularly partner with the Louvre for exhibition swaps and put on temporary exhibitions each year. Don’t miss the monumental and provocative works by Pierre Soulages, one of France’s greatest living artists. You can easily spend half a day browsing at this museum and on a hot day, it’s lovely and cool inside!
museefabre.montpellier3m.fr (External link)

A city made for walking

There are two parts to Montpellier: the old city and the new, both are beautiful. But it’s the old city that lures most visitors to its labyrinth of hilly cobbled streets, festooned with bunting and lined with chic boutiques, art galleries, bars, cafés and restaurants. Book a guided tour with the Tourist Office to discover the secrets of the city and explore it’s most beautiful streets and street art. Don’t miss the colourful trompe l’oeil at Place Edouard Adam, or the optical illusion trompe l’oeil at Place Saint Roche which reflects the church opposite and plays tricks with your eyes. There are secret places too, like rue Rocher where proud locals have decorated the street. Get your walking shoes on and explore…

Trendy bars in Montpellier

In this lively city, there’s no shortage of bars to choose from. If you’re looking for a bar with a relaxed vibe and great wine list, L’Atelier Bar a Vin in the Place de la Canourgue is hard to beat. Locals love it but visitors rarely find this romantic square, the oldest in Montpellier, from where you have a wonderful view over the Saint Pierre Cathedral. For sheer glamour, the terrace of the Hotel Mercure is perfect for an aperitif in its lush green courtyard (you don’t have to be resident to enjoy it). Any visit to Montpellier must include the Place de la Comédie, the beating heart of the city nicknamed L’Oeuf (the egg) thanks to its oval shape. Here you’ll find Café Riche, an institution as much for locals as for tourists, and for people watching – it’s perfect.

Where to eat out

Authentic: Halles Laissac
Market fans will adore the covered market Halles Laissac which opened at the end of 2018. With its vibrant stained glass dome designed by a student and teacher team from the MoCo Ecole Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, this emporium of food is open daily. You’ll find a delicious array of food including macarons made by a master pâtissier, cheeses, Corsican specialities, charcuterie and fresh baked bread. There’s a bar here and one of the best things about Halles Laissac is that you can buy your food and then dine at the tables and chairs provided inside and out, the perfect market picnic.

Trendy: Café Joseph
Café Joseph on Place Jean Jaurès in the heart of Montpellier is the place to go. The locals know it as Café Jo and it’s open seven days a week (many restaurants close on Sunday and Monday). Waiters dash about laden with trays of food wafting the sort of fragrance that induces nostril quivering anticipation. It’s good for lunch and even better for dinner when lights twinkle overhead, buskers perform in the animated square and the air is filled with the sound of happy chatter. Here you get that special feeling you only get when you’re on holiday and totally relaxed. Great for people watching and the menu is terrific - dishes that are perfect for summer days and nights (the tapas and salads are especially delicious), and the cocktail list is irresistible.
Facebook Cafe Joseph (External link)

Charming: La Place
In a tiny square hidden in the backstreets of Montpellier, Place Saint-Ravy is a magnet for locals in the know. Once the Palace of the Kings of Majorca who, many hundreds of years ago were also Lords of Montpellier, stood here but now the medieval buildings have been converted to restaurants including La Place. Tables are placed around a tinkling fountain and it’s the ideal place to get a feel for ancient Montpellier whilst enjoying truly scrumptious dishes. I was introduced to Pac a l’eau here, a refreshing lemon drink made with syrup produced in southern France – perfectly refreshing for long hot days. Upstairs in La Place cool stone and vaulted ceilings provide an intimate dining area but the terrace is the place to be when the weather is fine.

Where to stay: Hotel Oceania Metropole

The legendary Hotel Oceania Le Metropole opened in Montpellier in 1858. Since then it has undergone several reincarnations, the latest one completed in 2016. A full remodel of the hotel saw it retain the original Belle Epoque features that have always charmed guests, but the upgrade has made it a truly luxurious retreat. Its exotic garden with palm tree lined swimming pool and jacuzzi is perfect for unwinding after a day of sightseeing. The minute you enter the hotel there’s a tranquil atmosphere, yet it’s just a couple of minutes from the Place de la Comédie and Montpellier train station. The rooms are stylish and contemporary rooms and so comfy, a lie in almost obligatory! There’s a lovely English style bar – just perfect for a sundowner.
www.oceaniahotels.com (External link)