From the New York Times: FEB. 26, 2015
By EMILY BRENNAN
In Montpellier, cypresses grow as high as the bell tower of Eglise Ste.-Thérèse. Whelks, caught that morning from the nearby Mediterranean Sea, are sold by the dozen with a side of aioli at the covered market Halles Castellane. The Musée Fabre, a national museum that houses works by the likes of Delacroix and Courbet in a grand 18th-century chateau, manages to feel inviting, not intimidating. Even its visitors, sipping their espresso at the cafe Insensé on the front lawn, look more like leisured houseguests than the sort of wearied tourists you see at the Louvre. Montpellier, France’s eighth-largest city, is blessed with a Mediterranean sun and a beautiful, walkable historic center, a tourist destination in its own right….
.On our way back to Montpellier after a night in the countryside, I began to see its originality. It lay not in the center’s 19th-century architecture, stunning though it may be, particularly the Place de la Comédie and the ornate Italianate opera house there. Nor was it in its vibrant cafe culture, though seemingly every back alley is lined with dimly lighted cafes teeming with young people (among my favorites now are the pub Le Rebuffy, Au P’tit Quart d’Heure, and the Comptoir de L’Arc). What makes Montpellier remarkable is the way nature unexpectedly asserts itself amid all of the stone and concrete.
It seemed as if our short country visit was making me see, more vividly, the highway divider with a hedge of pink bay bushes. Or the parking lot with two statuesque cypresses at its entrance. Or the single olive tree at the center of a roundabout. More interesting than the city’s plane-tree-lined plazas were people’s gardens, overgrown with lemon trees, palm trees and grapevines. Better still was the Jardin des Plantes, one of the oldest botanical gardens in France and a magnificent trove of Mediterranean flora.
The night before we returned to New York, I sat on my grandmother-in-law’s balcony admiring the Eglise St.-Roch and, in the distance, the illuminated towers of Cathédrale St.-Pierre, proud that I now knew their names. Looking out over the Spanish-tiled houses, as I finished the last of the pastis, I thought, “I wish we had more time here.”
If You Go Montpellier
At the covered market Halles Castellane (Rue de la Loge; 33-4-67-66-29-92) you can buy everything from fresh fruit to cheese to prepared food. Load your plate, grab a table on the terrace and order coffee, wine or pastis from the roving waiter. The market is open every day from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., except Sundays, when it closes at 1:30 p.m.
The Musée Fabre (39 Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle; open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; admission, 6 euros, about $6.70 at $1.13 to the euro) has an impressive collection of 17th- to 19th-century European paintings, particularly of Montpellier-born artists like Frédéric Bazille and Auguste-Barthélemy Glaize.
Along the bustling, tree-lined Esplanade Charles-de-Gaulle are many lovely cafes and restaurants, including an outpost of the bistro Chez Boris (17 Boulevard Sarrail; chezboris.com), which offers a dizzying number of beef cuts.
The Jardin des Plantes de Montpellier (Boulevard Henri IV; which boasts 2,000 plant species, is open Tuesday through Sunday; free.