Montpellier has a lot to offer. This lovely city in the south of France is remarkable for its heritage, and its location – just a 20-minute drive from the sea – makes it an interesting destination for both a cultural and a beach holiday.
In the old town, head towards the rue de l’Ancien Courrier. You’ll enjoy a profusion of cafés, boutiques and restaurants nestled in arched buildings. Kids love to spot the street art on the walls – bikes, collages or colours around the Saint-Roch church – and the pedestrianised city centre is small enough to explore on foot. When you get tired of the city, rent a car and discover the surrounding Camargue, renowned for its lagoons, flamingos and white horses.
Where to stay
Hotel Le Guilhem: A charming 16th-century hotel in Montpellier’s old town allows you to stay in the heart of the city. The location is perfect: just next to the beautiful Place de la Canourgue and its cafés, and close to the Porte de Peyrou, Montpellier’s arc de triomphe.
Price: Double rooms from £67 a night.
Smart Living: Smart Living provides flats to rent in the Antigone and Les Arceaux areas, both less than a 10-minute walk from the city centre. There’s a range of modern apartments to choose from, which allow the flexibility of self-catering during your stay.
Price: Appartments from £44 a day.
Hotel Pullman: This luxury hotel is a five-minute walk from the Place de la Comédie, Montpellier’s famous central square. Its location behind a mall is not especially charming, but the rooftop pool and restaurant make up for it. Try the cocktails and enjoy the views over Antigone.
Price: Double rooms from £79 a night.
What to see
Montpellier is just a 20-minute drive from the Med and the beaches at Palavas, so a day trip in the surrounding area known as Le Petite Camargue is a good idea. Around the fortified city of Aigues-Mortes, you can spot flamingos in the lagoons, ride a white horse, visit salk marshes or meet French cowboys at a traditional bull farm.
Find out more: ot-aiguesmortes.fr
The Aquarium Mare Nostrum is no ordinary aquarium. Kids will go crazy as they stand on a boat during a fake tempest or experience a hurricane in a simulator. Of course, there are plenty of colorful fish, sharks and penguins to see, and youngsters can stroke a ray and other fish.
Find out more: aquariummarenostrum.fr
Where to shop
Visit L’Atelier de la Peluche where kids are invited to create their own cuddly toy step by step. First, they choose a ‘skin’ from the 30 different animals waiting to be adopted. Then they bring it to the magic stuffing machine and their animal is born.
Find out more: paraty-peluche.fr
At Le Grenier de Pinocchio, Pinocchio lends his name to this big shop dedicated to wooden toys. The place is filled with kitchens, doll’s houses, spinning tops, music boxes and educational games. The helpful owners also have a taste for traditional French toys.
Montpellier’s most popular toy shops, Pomme de Reinette and Pomme D’Api, are next door to each other on the rue de l’Aiguillerie. Parents and children all come out of this place with eyes sparkling. Pomme de Reinette and Pomme d’Api sell both oldschool and modern toys, displayed in a slightly chaotic way.
Find out more: tradition-jouet.com
Where to play
Montpellier’s zoo, Zoo du Lunaret, is a real treat for animal lovers. Children can see more than 150 species, favourites usually being the lions, giraffes or lemurs. Don’t try to see everything in one afternoon or you’ll end the day exhausted. The zoo is free, but it’s worth paying the extra fee to visit the Amazon rainforest exhibit.
Young children will love a ride on the wonderful merry-go-round on the Place de la Comédie. Afterwards, take them to the small playground on the Esplanade Charles de Gaulle, which looks like it’s been designed by the artist Miró.
Where to eat
An amazing evening is guaranteed at Pirates Paradise – it’s like dining at Disneyland. You’ll be waited on by fierce pirates wearing daggers and eyepatches and if you’re lucky, you could get a table on the 50ft-long ship that sits in the hall.
Chez Ninou, an organic café in the heart of Montpellier, is designed especially for babies. Lots of toys are provided and in the afternoon, homemade baby food is served together withdelicious cake for older children and grown-ups. Booking is compulsory for breakfast and lunch.
Le Pré Vert, a salad bar on the peaceful Place Sainte-Anne, is family-friendly with lots of toys and child-size furniture. Its colourful tables stand in the shade of a gothic church, converted into an art gallery, and the pedestrianised surroundings make it a safe spot for the kids to run around.
How to get there: easyJet and Ryanair fly to Montpellier from London, Birmingham, Leeds, Bradford, Dublin, Shannon and Cork. If you want to go by train, Voyages SNCF offers tickets to Montpellier via Paris or Lille. Fares start at £119 return per adult and £107 per child (4-11). Under-4s travel free.
Travel time: Fly direct with easyJet or Ryanair in under two hours. The journey time from London to Montpellier by train is seven hours.