While the Cote d’Azur or Provence are the obvious holiday destinations in the south of France, if you head further west to the Mediterranean coast of Languedoc-Roussillon you’ll find sun, sand and beauty without the crowds.
Montpellier, the biggest city in the region, has much to recommend with its excellent food, art, music and long sandy beaches.
Here are my top five picks for a visit to Montpellier.
Le Festival de Radio France et Montpellier
A good time to visit is July during Radio France’s festival, an excellent annual international music event. The festival, now in its 26th year, provides an eclectic mix of classical, jazz, world and electronic music, with over 100 free gigs in open-air theatres, squares, cathedrals and festival halls. Among this year’s highlights were outstanding performances from French-American jazz singer Cécile McLorin-Salvant, the Paul Lay trio and DJ sets from Jamie Jones, Ivan Smagghe and Discodeine.
Le Domaine de Verchant Hotel and Spa
While property hunting a few years ago, Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis took over this 5 star boutique hotel nestled in a working vineyard on the outskirts of Montpellier– and it’s not difficult to see why. Chic modern décor and furnishings meet elegant 19th-century stone buildings at Le Domaine de Verchant Hotel and Spa. Each of the unique 22 bedrooms has been individually styled by top-notch interior designers like Jean-Marie Massaud and Fernando and Humberto Campana. Outdoor and indoor pools, a spa, great food on a stunning outdoor patio and impeccable service, all contribute to an idyllic stay.
Le Jardin des Sens
A visitor is spoiled for dining choices in a city that boasts Michelin-starred restaurants as well as loads of simple bistros and cafes. For an extravagant meal in an exclusive location, make a reservation at Le Jardin des Sens , and ask for an outdoor table by the pool. The Pourcel twins are sons of winemakers and this shows in the advice offered by the attentive sommelier. The seven-course and a la carte menus will not disappoint with dishes like turbot with aubergine caviar and the incomparable ‘tour de chocolat’. The brothers definitely deserve the two Michelin stars for their imaginative Mediterranean cuisine complemented with amuse bouche, palate cleaners and impeccable service.
Surely one of the best public art galleries in all of France, the Musée Fabre, founded in 1825 by Montpellier painter Francois-Xavier Fabre, contains 54 rooms with a permanent collection ranging from Old Masters like Breughel and Rubens to modern French artists like Pierre Soulages. The current temporary exhibition of work by French symbolist artist Odilon Redon, which has traveled from the Grand Palais in Paris, is also unmissable (on until mid-October).
Le Carré Blanc
Sandy beaches are close and easy to get to from Montpellier along Le Petit Travers, about 30 minutes by bus from the city. A more chic option is one of the private beach clubs with their comfortable loungers, great food, drink and music. Le Carré Blanc, near Palavas, is a good choice.
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Joanne Shurvell, a former Communications Director at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, is an arts and culture writer based in London.
Joanne is also the co-director of PayneShurvell, a new London art gallery showing contemporary art by emerging and mid-career UK and international artists.
Follow her on Twitter at @jshurvell.