Montpellier in the south of France has elevated its arty status with the launch of MoCo – Montpellier Contemporary in 2019. There’s something for all art fans here – whether you like modern, classic or street art. And if you’ve only got 24 hours in Montpellier, here are our must-sees. Perfect for art lovers – these museums, restaurants and bars are fabulous!
24 hours in Montpellier
MOCO: Montpellier Contemporary, an arty ecosystem
MoCo been called an art “ecosystem” and 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. The model is unique to Montpellier and makes this city an irresistible lure for art lovers.
There are two exhibition centres and an art school which make up the MOCO model. MOCO Hotel des Collections is a brand new exhibition centre. It showcases public and private collections in a series of temporary exhibitions. Formerly the Hotel Montcalm, a beautiful 19th century building, the venue has a restaurant, boutique and lovely gardens as well as hosting international art.
La Panacée is one of the three venues which make up MoCo. It’s 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.
La Panacée the perfect place to go for lunch as well as enjoy the free art. 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. 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.
The arty market
Ecole Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (ESBA), the Montpellier art school trains the artists of the future and encourages them to get involved with the MOCO projects and the city’s art programme. For instance at the newly opened covered market Halles Laissac. The vibrant stained glass dome was designed by a student and teacher team from ESBA. Underneath it you’ll find a delicious array of food including macarons made by a master pâtissier. There are delicious 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.
Find details of all MOCO art exhibitions: www.moco.art/en
Street art in Montpellier
There are two parts to Montpellier: the old city and the new. Both are beautiful. But it’s the old city that attracts most visitors to discover its winding 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 near the market. Created by artists Agnès and Olivier Costa, it is extraordinary. And the optical illusion trompe l’oeil at Place Saint Roche plays tricks with your eyes. It reflects the 19th century Church of Saint Roch, patron saint of Montpellier and you can’t help but turn around to check!
The Fabre museum was 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 from 14th century religious art to contemporary. Over the years the venue has grown and now occupies three buildings. The museum regularly partners with the Louvre for exhibition swaps and puts on temporary exhibitions each year. There are several enormous, provocative works by Pierre Soulages, one of France’s greatest living artists.
Locals love: Café Joseph known to locals as Café Jo. It’s good for lunch and even more so for dinner when lights twinkle overhead. Buskers perform in the animated square and the air is filled with the sound of happy chatter.
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, the medieval buildings have been converted to restaurants, including La Place. Tables are placed around a tinkling fountain while upstairs a cool room with stone vaulted ceilings provides an intimate dining area.
In this lively city, there’s no shortage of bars to choose from. However, 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 here you have a wonderful view over the St Pierre Cathedral.
Any visit to Montpellier must include the Place de la Comédie. It’s 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.
Stay at: Hotel Oceania Le Metropole opened in 1858 and a truly luxurious retreat. Its exotic garden with palm tree lined swimming pool and jacuzzi is perfect for unwinding after a day of sightseeing. And even better, it’s just a couple of minutes from the Place de la Comédie and Montpellier train station.
Useful websites: Montpellier tourist office www.montpellier-france.com; UKFrancefr