A guide to the French city of Montpellier, from cool rooftop bars to its very own Arc de Triomphe

Each week, our Holiday Hero Neil Simpson delves into a great vacation topic and does all the legwork so you don’t have to. This week: Little holidays in Montpellier.

Sun King XIV.

But Montpellier in Southern France promises a lot of surprises and Gallic style.

Located on the edge of Provence and minutes from the Mediterranean Sea, this sunny university city has one of France’s youngest populations and is a growing hotspot for food, entertainment and culture.

Take a break in Montpellier, a city in southern France with its own Triumphal Arch (pictured)

Take a break in Montpellier, a city in southern France with its own Triumphal Arch (pictured)

A growing attraction for taste buds, entertainment and culture, Montpellier promises lots of surprises and Gallic style

A growing attraction for taste buds, entertainment and culture, Montpellier promises lots of surprises and Gallic style

Perfect days start with coffee, croissants and people watching from a large cafe on Place de la Comedie in the old town. The tourist office in the square can organize guided tours of the streets described as ‘Paris in miniature’ to the top of the city’s own (but slightly smaller) Arc de Triomphe.

Art lovers can view the extensive collections with Raphael, Delacroix, Rubens and Reynolds at Musee Fabre or explore the Mo.Co contemporary art museum.

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Montpellier is also home to the Faculty of Medicine, one of the oldest medical schools in the world, with roots dating back to the 12th century and a garden where medicinal herbs are still cultivated.

Art movement: a city tram with an exterior designed by Christian Lacroix

Art movement: a city tram with an exterior designed by Christian Lacroix

Above is the Faculty of Medicine, one of the oldest medical schools in the world, with its origins dating back to the 12th century.

Above is the Faculty of Medicine, one of the oldest medical schools in the world, with its origins dating back to the 12th century.

Montpellier's vast Gothic cathedral (pictured) is a good place to visit on warm days.

Montpellier’s vast Gothic cathedral (pictured) is a good place to visit on warm days.

With lots of benches set in the shade of tropical trees, it’s suitable for an urban picnic when the temperature rises. Or escape the heat inside the sprawling Gothic cathedral, flanked by massive castle-like columns at the gate.

Modern trams can take you to the sea or pedal to the beach using the city’s bike rental program (about £5 a day), watching flamingos in the waffle flat wetlands in a 45-minute ride from the beach.

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Eye-catching modernist architecture is Montpellier’s other big draw. Zaha Hadid’s library Pierresvives resembles a gigantic, futuristic cruise ship, while Starck’s ‘bubble’ sports center The Cloud has a 15-metre swimming pool in its colorful center.

Pedal to beaches like Palavas Les Flots (above) using the city's bike rental program

Pedal to beaches like Palavas Les Flots (above) using the city’s bike rental program

Pictured here is Zaha Hadid's library Pierresvives, which resembles a huge, futuristic cruise ship.

Pictured here is Zaha Hadid’s library Pierresvives, which resembles a huge, futuristic cruise ship.

by Philippe Starck

Take a dip in the 15-metre swimming pool at Philippe Starck’s “bubble” sports center The Cloud (pictured)

Or mix architecture, snacks and sea views with a drink at L’Arbre Blanc’s rooftop bar, a bright white apartment complex that has been likened to both a concrete tree and a giant piece of origami.

Back in the congested and walkable city centre, there are numerous wine bars serving local vineyards to the Languedoc and offering tasting tours throughout the day. Locals recommend ‘hole-in-the-wall’ bars with outdoor tables, such as Les Canons.

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Or choose from 32 self-service wine taps at the modern Le Verre-a-Soi bar in the heart of the old town. Succulent cassoulets, seafood and oysters are particularly sought after at Les Bains de Montpellier, a converted bathhouse.

Blend architecture, snacks and sea views with a drink at L'Arbre Blanc's rooftop bar (above)

Blend architecture, snacks and sea views with a drink at L’Arbre Blanc’s rooftop bar (above)

L'Arbre Blanc has been likened to both a concrete tree and a giant piece of origami.

L’Arbre Blanc has been likened to both a concrete tree and a giant piece of origami.

Stay from £403 per night at the elegant Hotel Richer de Belleval pictured

Stay from £403 per night at the elegant Hotel Richer de Belleval pictured

Montpellier will be easier to reach from May, when British Airways begins its new route in addition to its existing easyJet services – both cost around £75. Or take the Eurostar from London to Paris, then switch to a fast TGV service from around £60 one way (seat61.com).

Hotels range from the stylish and central Golden Tulip Montpellier (montpellier-centre.goldentulip.com) with rooms starting at £98 per night to the elegant Hotel Richer de Belleval (hotel-richerdebelleval.com) for £403 per night.

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