Our last stop before returning to Paris was one night in Montpellier, in the South of France. Our train from Lyon arrived at the main train station in Montpellier. We had actually passed our hotel on the train into the City, but it seemed a bit too far to walk with luggage. It took us awhile to find the tram stop – in fact, longer than the tram itself would take. We found it though, and bought day passes for the clean and modern tram system for about 5 Euros. It was a two stop ride through the center of town – the Place Comedie – to the Corum, a mammoth convention/entertainment center just outside downtown. From there, we walked across the street and up a steep hill to the Crowne Plaza. (We later realized there is a way to go via elevator. The hotel should probably add that to its website.)
Montpellier doesn’t have a ton of hotels. Most of the chain properties are affiliated with Accor, but there’s also a Crowne Plaza and a Courtyard by Marriott. They had similar reviews, and similar prices, but we decided to go with the Crowne Plaza based on the potential upgrade due to my IHG Club Platinum status. The hotel itself is very new and modern, and represents the new Crowne Plaza branding, which is trying to firm up its role as more luxurious and hip than Holiday Inns, but short of the luxury of Intercontinentals. It was actually the newest hotel we stayed in on our entire trip and it showed.
The location was pretty good. Not only were there three tram lines that ran near the hotel, I discovered it was actually only about a five minute walk to the Place Comedie through a lovely pedestrian promenade, l’Esplanade (one of three Esplanades in downtown Montpellier I walked along).
Check-in was prompt and easy. There are only two kinds of rooms in the hotel, standard and superior, as well as four suites. We were upgraded to a superior room, which was still pretty small – though immaculate. The closets and bathroom were quite large, and the room was Chinese themed; different rooms had themes of different Asian cultures – an odd choice in the South of France. In all, the décor reminded me of newer Renaissance hotels. I’m not sure if the other side of the hotel had better views as it faced the town center, but our view was an uninspiring view of the suburbs. There was fast free wi-fi, and a ton of outlets throughout the room. There was also a water kettle, nescafe, and speculoos cookies.
At check-in, as part of a new IHG program, we were offered either vouchers for a drink and a snack, or one for 600 points. We went with the points, and that was a good choice, as in the room we found an arrangement of complimentary juice, Coke, Perrier, and a bottle of water. I’m not sure if that was a special elite amenity, but it was appreciated (though neither of us drink regular Coke!).
The hotel was desolate our entire time there, and we only saw an occasional employee throughout our stay. It was off-season for Montpellier, and one of the big perks of the hotel is an outdoor deck and pool, which was closed for the season. As for other facilities, there wasn’t much. There was a tiny fitness room, with just two treadmills and a bike. Breakfast was not included, but was a relatively affordable (for a French hotel) 18 Euros, though we did not partake.
The only minor complaint is I had to push to get 2pm late checkout. They only wanted to give us 1pm, but since the hotel was empty, that seemed odd. So I had to mention my status, which I generally feel guilty about doing. One other thing to point out is that the hotel offered a black car service to the airport for 25 Euros, which actually would have been a good deal, as we learned from our failure in getting to the airport via public transport, to be discussed later.
Montpellier itself was a charming, though bit boring, city. In the summer, it’s proximity to the beach is a big draw. In March, not so much. We were also only there a day, so didn’t make efforts to squeeze too much in. The main square, Place de la Comedie, was vibrant and filled with outdoor cafes and a flea market, similar to that in many other European cities. In the morning, I sat in the square with a pastry (while my boyfriend checked out what he reported to be a great low-key local gym), and took in the sunshine. I ended up walking through the Esplanade, between the Crowne Plaza and the Place de la Comedie, which was lovely on a sunny day.
We didn’t really hit up any sites, per se, but I did take a walk through Antigone, a huge neoclassical residential and commercial development built in the late 1970s, extending east from downtown. The buildings were interesting as they looked so out of place due to their modernity, and the central axis extending to the river and l’Esplanade de Europe. It reminded me of a new urbanist development in Florida or Arizona, not the South of France.
I also had the opportunity to go for a run through the city, and check out l’Esplanade du Peyrou, another park with broader views, near Montpellier’s own Arc de Triomphe. (Pic quality is low as pics are from my iPod.)
We were in town on a Monday night, and figured we’d wander around a bit and find a place to eat. We were turned down at several spots for lack of reservation at 9pm. We ended up finding Les Tontons Zingueurs, which was great. The restaurant had an odd “rock and roll” theme,a but the food was solid and plentiful, a vibrant atmosphere with respectable service, and a three course meal for 22 Euros.
For lunch both days, we discovered a small little square, Place Jean Jaures, with lots of outdoor seating, and the slow pace of the South was on display – as the restaurants were packed for lunch on a Monday and Tuesday. We enjoyed our lunch at Ma Premiere Cantine, which also has a delicious-looking breakfast and brunch.
In all Montpellier is a fine little city. I’m not sure if I’d make a special trip there again, particularly off-season, but if you’re going along the Mediterranean coast of France, it might be worth spending a day or two as you hit some of the other cities.