Montpellier is a really sweet, quaint city in the south of France. It’s not a typical backpacker destination, but I had it recommended to me by a few different people (including my friend and co-podcaster Laura!), and it was the perfect place to stop to break up the long train rides from Spain to Italy, so I stopped in for a few nights. I’m happy I did, because I really enjoyed my time there! After Barcelona, it was nice to stay somewhere small, friendly, and not at all overwhelming, with good vibes. And it had a lot to offer!
I arrived (purposely) on a Friday afternoon, just in time for Les Estivales, a big street festival held every Friday in the summer on the esplanade just off the main square in Montpellier. The whole promenade is lined with food stalls and wine booths, there are a few different stages with live music or dancing, and it just gives off the most happy, summery ambience. For 5 euro, you get three wine tasting tickets and a wine glass, and you can go around and sample from different booths. 3 tickets was more than enough for me, and I was very content all night, wandering up and down the esplanade, back and forth between the stages (I especially loved the band playing fun Irish music, everyone was dancing in the crowd), eating sweet onion beignets (outstanding), taking in all the different food options on display, looking at jewellery, and walking down to the main square to watch one of the many street performances that went all night.
I found the street performance culture in Montpellier completely impressive. There seems to be a huge community of talented dancers there, and they put on shows every night in the main square. It’s such a cool atmosphere because the shows are such high energy with good music, and the dancers come to see each others shows. All of them are so talented, I’ve never experienced anything like it: there were shows all evening, barely ten minutes apart, sometimes two at once in different parts of the square. I watched them every night, and I’m guilty of watching the same show two or three times. It never got old!
The only downside to my stay in Montpellier was staying at the hostel there. It’s the only hostel in the town, the only other options being pricey hotels. It was the worst I’ve stayed in on my trip: the dirtiest, the shabbiest, the worst facilities (no lockers, for example), the least communal, the worst for meeting other travellers. Ironically, it was also the only hostel I’ve stayed at so far that is a part of Hostelling International, and they charge membership fees to stay in their hostels. You’d think the fees would mean it was a nicer place to stay, but I found that was not the case. I made the most of it by just spending most of my days out exploring, but it was a shame. I wish they’d spruce it up a bit.
I also found Montpellier strangely expensive. I guess it’s a popular vacation destination, but I was surprised at how all the restaurants seemed to be charging exorbitant prices for mediocre food. At the Estivales you could get really reasonably priced and delicious street food and drink, but less so in the town.
All in all, I had a wonderful stay. I explored, I read, I thought a lot. I visited the botanical gardens and the cathedral, and I sat in the park that had wonderful views. My last day I went to the beach and then took myself out to a movie at the theatre in the square: my first time watching a movie or TV show or anything in almost two months! I saw Now You See Me and was practically giddy with excitement the whole time. That was really fun.
- Les Estivales: I’ve probably already talked it up enough, but go for a Friday! It’s absolutely worth it, my time at the Estivales made my entire trip to Montpellier worthwhile, it was that good.
- BagelsandU: a little bagel shop right down the road from the hostel. It had a real NYC, gourmet feel to it, which was a pleasant surprise. I went twice and had the same thing each time, the Soho, a cheese bagel with with goats cheese, fried onions, fresh tomatoes, and a delicious green pesto. So, so good.