That’s right, instead of being a normal human being and unpacking/getting my life back in order, I decided I’d rather write a post about my 25th birthday surprise in Montpellier. By surprise, I mean surprise. I didn’t even have an inkling until a couple of days before hand.
I’m not sure it’s a good thing my boyfriend can keep secrets so well though………
It’s not your normal touristy destination, in fact I hardly heard another English accent the whole time I was there (not always a bad thing). Having worked in the French riviera, it was good to experience the other half of the French south coast. In fact Montpellier had been top on our “Move To France” list even though neither of us had actually ever visited, I guess that’s why he decided it would be the perfect birthday surprise.
However much I loved working in the Cote D’Azur, I didn’t love the tourists. I had to, because y’know, it was my job too. Admittedly some holiday makers were pretty cool, but generally the majority were messy, scruffy, rude tourists. The best thing about Montpellier was seeing hardly any of these people, I say hardly any because there was one lady at the airport who, although the kind cafe worker spoke to her in French she decided to speak completely in English without even an attempt at saying Bonjour, s’il vous plaît or Merci (and the English say the French are rude….).
The charm of the French south coast is of course the mediterranean sea, the beautiful hot sunshine and the wondrous beaches. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to visit the beaches during our stay as the French bank holidays in May seem to send the country into giant midweek blackouts, meaning no buses to the beach. But, who needs the beach when there is so much more to explore.
Day 1 In Montpellier
We arrived on Sunday May the 1st, which happens to be the BIGGEST bank holiday of them all, I think it must have been bigger than Christmas, as the trams seem to run every single day except for the 1st of May.
We arrived just after lunch time and decided to head to the main centre of town Place De La Comedie for a coffee. Unsure of where to go, or should I say where would be accepting of two scruffbags with giant backpacks we decided it was probably best to get a Mcdonalds coffee (awfully well cultured, I know).
The weather on Sunday was awful. Not as awful as the UK (it was quite a few degrees warmer) but the wind was extreme! Not what I had expected when I’d only packed 1 Cardigan and no other warm clothes (The weather reports had all been awesome up until now).
Having to wait around in the gusts until the keys to our Air BnB were ready wasn’t ideal but at least we weren’t at home/work/the office. At 4.30 we picked up the keys to our apartment right near one of the main squares St Roch. From our window you could see the beautiful Church Saint-Roch. Stunning view, from a stunning apartment. It was a great start to the stay.
As the shops were all shut (bank holiday/sunday/France is always shut) we decided we were going to HAVE to eat out for dinner (yes! yes! yes!). After a quick scroll on Trip advisor and a quick stroll around the restaurants in close proximity we decided on Giorgio’s a lovely little pizzeria about 100 meters from the apartment.
We were starving. We both ordered a giant pizza each, of course I ordered the tuna & salad one (the salad counteracts the whole pizza right?)
It didn’t take long to finish and my hunger still wasn’t satisfied so we shared pudding (no idea what it was, there was like 5 different tasters) went down a treat….oh and so did the 2 litres of wine we shared….
After dinner, as the night was still young we walked about 10 more meters to a British bar The Beehive. It looked like an english cafe. I half expected Roy Cropper to poke his head out and ask if I wanted a bacon buttie.
Instead of being filled with tourists however, the place was filled with French. Completely packed in. I always figured these kinda bars were set up for tourists but it appears I was wrong. After another litre of wine it was time to hit the sheets.
Day 2 In Montpellier
Day 2 started with the smell of fresh croissants and a pain au chocolat collected from the patisserie by my lovely French speaking boyfriend (I have to say he’s lovely, as I may have forced him to find me pastry goods to cure the hangover!) I love french pastries, french breads, french coffees….pretty much everything French (I will honestly live here some day).
Anyway, after downing copious amounts of water and filling myself up on pastry we started the day by taking a nice stroll around town. The weather had brightened up today and the wind had calmed down so I didn’t spend the entire day worried about my hair (though maybe I should have…).
There’s a cool little tourist train that spends 40 minute negotiating it’s way through the centres narrow streets, I have no idea how it gets around as some of the roads are tiny. All I wanted to do was go on this train and at €7 a go, it was hardly expensive, but instead we decided we would spend the week exploring on foot (I probably needed the exercise after the wine, pizza and pastries).
Our route to the main square was easy and painless, it was around 7 minutes from the apartment and the streets are easy to navigate (I say easy, but I have absolutely no sense of direction and Mike was the one navigating us around).
The town was like Venice. I have been to Venice before and I wasn’t to keen, but Montpellier took all the beautiful parts of Venice and made it into a cool modern town (instead of a tiny smelly canaled island). The narrow streets, the coffee shops, the boutique style shops. It was all very picturesque.
However, unlike Venice, Montpellier is not completely pedestrianised. And I think everyone who lives there owns a scooter. Not a micro scooter, a real fast, crazy scooter. They don’t stick to the main roads, you can find them in parks, down alleyways, tiny roads, they just appear out of nowhere zooming away.
If a resident doesn’t own a scooter, then I’m sure they probably own a bicycle. I’m all for healthy, active living, and think it’s great so many people cycle around the town. I just wished they would watch where they were going a bit more. I have never been so scared of a bike/tram/scooter/Breanne collision in my life!
Lunch time came so we went to Carrefour city and bought some food for lunch and dinner that night, although I would have liked to have eaten out at every meal time, I’m not made of money! Anyway when the weather’s this good, all you need is some meat and salad (and wine).
That evening we decided to pop out to the place de la comedie in the evening to see the atmosphere I had read so much about online. There was none. I was pretty disappointed but I don’t think you can really expect much on a Monday evening. It still looked pretty and illuminated. And if we had been during the weekend instead of the week I’m sure there would be a lot more going on.
Day 3 In Montpellier
Day 3 Again battling another bit of a hangover (not so serious) we decided to explore a bit further from the city. As I said Montpellier is number 1 on our “Move to France” list and nobody wants to live in a city centre, at least not old people like me…. I’d been doing some research and everytime 2 places showed up Perols and Latte. Just south east of Montpellier and close to the airport these two villages/towns are situated. Two very different towns.
Lattes was extremely modern, the town centre was a ring of shops in a very modern estate full of villas and apartments. It looked a bit Stepford Wives esque and slightly too perfect. It has a beautiful port though, so when I’m rich and famous I know where to park my boat (#dreams).
The sun was out in force today, I didn’t even need to wear my cardigan (win)! So after a long walk around Latte we got back on the tram and went to Perol. The Tram line 3 travels through Montpellier and down to Boirargues it then splits and one goes to Perols and the other to Lattes. Conveniently at Boirargues there is a commercial centre with a giant Carrefour and Mcdonalds. I love French supermarkets.
Anyway, off we went to Perols to explore our other future residential possibilities. We got of the tram a stop before the end as it was called “perols centre” slightly confused, we saw no centre and no signs. We decided to walk along to the next tram stop assuming we had got off in the wrong place. We didn’t. The next stop was just as bare. Where the hell were we, and where are we supposed to go. It was time for google maps. It didn’t help. Were we stranded until the next tram?(not like we would have had to wait long they are around every 15 minutes in low peak and 3-5 in high peak) We decided to walk around, we had skipped lunch in Lattes as we thought Perols may have more to offer….but where? Somehow, god knows how, Mike led us to the town centre. It was surprisingly large (for a small village that we couldn’t even find). It had all the basics, a PMU, a mini shop, a couple of restaurants, a town hall, library.
I think I want to live there. Now I just need to find a nice big house with a pool.
The only problem with the little villages in the south of France are the opening times. Like Spain the French take long lunch breaks and most eateries will be closed between 14:00 and 17:00. I don’t want to admit it, but for lunch, we ate in the golden arches!
Day 4 MY BIRTHDAY In Montpellier
May the 4th be with you… I love birthdays. My birthdays are normally AT LEAST 3 days long. One to celebrate my last day as a old age. One day to celebrate changing age. One day to celebrate my new age. No idea where this started but it’s become somewhat of a tradition. This year I got a whole week to celebrate!!
People tell me that turning 25 isn’t a significant birthday. I think it is. I mean if 21 is significant, why isn’t 25? If 50 is significant why isn’t 25? It is half way there, and a quarter of a way to 100. I think it has significance.
With such a significant birthday I had to do my favourite things: Eat, explore, shop and enjoy the sun. In Montpellier it was easy to do all 4! I sat with my notebook and a travel guide and I mapped my way across the entire city making sure we visited all of the prettiest landmarks and saw the best sights.
We left the apartment and got exploring straight away. After exactly 3 minutes, I took a wrong turn and ended up at the Arc De Triumph. This was the last sight on my list!! How did I get lost already? I refused to walk over. Instead I walked back the way we came and gave Mike complete control over the map reading.
My loop was completed in quicker time than I thought it would be, which gave us some extra time to do a food shop and grab some lunch before I forced Mike to endure an afternoon of clothes shopping! I have a few weddings coming up this year so I want some original French dresses that nobody else will be in. And y’know, what girl doesn’t love shopping. Admittedly I did take it too far.
First we go the tram Line 1 to Odysseum as this is apparently the main shopping centre (and they had H&M) we spent a few hours there, stopped for a coke and a beer and I bought a nice blue dress from Mango. But, I still didn’t feel satisfied, I’d scoured the whole of odysseum (and it’s really not that big). I decided I needed more shops. I remembered seeing in the Place de la Comedie a shopping centre, I figured it was smaller (or else why would people rave about odysseum?) It wasn’t. It was huge and perfect for “let’s drag Mike around the shops part 2”. I found another blue dress. I left unsatisfied.
I’m honestly the world’s worst shopper. But hey, who needs shopping when there’s coffee and ice cream at Padova and then Fitzpatricks irish pub just next door. After all that running around it was great to just grab a cold drink in the sun and stop for 5 minutes.
I had such a tiring day, but I wasn’t going to let it spoil my evening. We decided to skip the nap and get ready to go out. I like to be traditional on my birthday and decided It would be best to get to a typical French restaurant. Basically if Escargots was on the menu, I was game! We went to DeDee Jaqueline again just a few steps from our apartment and it did not disappoint we had a 3 course meal with wine(duh!) for less than €80. duck, snails and chocolate mousse, all I needed was some frogs legs.
Day 5 In Montpellier
So Thursday was ANOTHER French bank holiday so we decided to take the opportunity to do, pretty much nothing! We wandered around the town and went for a few drinks at Fitzpatricks in the evening but my first official day as a 25 year old I spent doing one of my favourite hobbies…Napping!
Day 6 In Montpellier
Annoyingly when we had been shopping I hadn’t bought any shampoo or conditioner, and after leaving it waaaaaay too long, my hair seriously needed washing. I had to use cheap shower gel!!! I died. My hair died. I have never witnessed my hair behave so horrifically! Never again will I treat my hair with such a lack of respect! RIP hair – lost through excessive brushing & knots!
Anyway, enough about my hair! Today was our last day. I decided to spend it looking for a new pair of shoes, I got bored of flip flops and my mind decided to tell me that my feet will get run over, or someone will stand on my toes unless I buy new shoes. I went in about 20 shoe shops and then came to the realisation that French people obviously don’t have size 8/42 feet. So no such luck. Coffee it was. I can’t remember where we stopped for coffee, but I won’t be going there again. €4 for a cup of froff!!!!
As it was the last night, although we had only planned to eat out twice during our stay, we figured one more meal couldn’t hurt!
Last time I was in France, I learnt how amazing they are at cooking steak. As I hadn’t had it the whole stay – I set my heart on having it for our last meal. It did not disappoint. We went to one of the top rated steak restaurants Chez Boris. Although slightly more expensive than other choices the reviews were outstanding. And with the promise of unlimited chips, salad and bread who would complain? I had the rump steak, cooked medium rare, peppercorn sauce, salad, chips, bread and a rather expensive bottle of wine. Mike had the Fillet, although his looked bigger, mine was definitely tastier. If you ever have the opportunity to go to Montpellier take time to visit Chez Boris.
So what did I think of Montpellier?
Montpellier was more than I expected. I knew before we went it was a big city. A young and modern city. I didn’t realise it would be so beautiful. I expected everything to be modern, studenty and new. I was very mistaken.
However, Montpellier isn’t the place I would recommend to the usual holiday maker. It’s not the sort of tourist destination where you can go to the beach bar, all inclusive hotel, water park, or museum. It is the place you go to live like the French. It’s a place you go to soak up the real culture of France.
On our last night we witnessed a party of around 100 young people outside our apartment, drinking, smoking, listening to loud music, playing guitars and dancing. In England I would find this seen pretty intimidating, but here it just seemed normal, light hearted and everyone was having so much fun, dancing the night away. I felt a slight pang of jealousy as they all looked so young and carefree, enjoying the evening (not that I wasn’t – but they were young, and now I’m like soooooo old). Unfortunately, after midnight the police did escort the party away, I watched out my window as they all picked up their litter and left, with no trouble at all.
And that pretty much sums up why I love France, and more specifically why I loved Montpellier!
Have you been on holiday anywhere recently? Have you been to Montpellier and have any recommendations for fellow travelers? Let me know in the comments below.