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Montpellier, the largest city in France's southern Languedoc region, has become one of the nation's fastest growing cities in terms of both population and tourism. Most of this seaside city's many historic landmarks are situated in its Place de la Comédie, including the St Pierre Cathedral's twin towers and the many Hôtel Particulier private mansions available for guided tours. Montpellier even boasts its own detailed replica of Paris's legendary Arc de Triomphe. Although many visitors choose to come to Montpellier by car hire, once they arrive, they are advised to leave their vehicles behind and explore the city by foot, bicycle, or even a horse- drawn carriage.
Who to Book With
About eight different car hire companies, including Hertz, Avis and Auto Rapide are represented outside the Montpellier Mediterranean Airport terminal building across from the business centre. All vehicles rented at the airport can be reserved online and returned at the P6 car park. There are also plenty of other places to rent vehicles both online and in person in the city centre, including reputable international and French chains like Ada.
Best Time to go
Summer may be Montpellier's high season, but spring and autumn off season visits certainly have advantages in this city which enjoys around 300 sunny days per year. Accommodation, crowds and vehicle costs are all lower during spring and autumn. The same is true for Montpellier's temperatures, which are often too hot for sightseeing in mid-summer, but just right in spring and autumn. Even winter temperatures are frequently mild enough for comfortable sidewalk café lunches.
Need to Know Essentials
These are the required documents for claiming your car rental:
- A valid drivers license indicating the motorist is over 18
- A passport or other photo identification
- Proof of insurance
Car travel is usually not recommended in Montpellier's city centre, where many streets are either cobblestoned or closed to motorised traffic altogether. The city centre is compact enough for easy exploration by bicycle or foot, while buses and trams cover longer distances. Those who must drive in Montpellier, however, will find the Polygone shopping centre to be the city's cheapest parking place. Car rental is far more useful for day trips around the Languedoc countryside along the main A9 motorway outside the city.
Bicycles and feet are the easiest ways to travel around Montpellier's compact and cobblestoned city centre. Those needing to travel longer distances can use the same day passes and tickets aboard the city's extensive bus and tram networks. Buses and taxis frequently travel the 7kms between Montpellier and its airport, but nighttime and weekend bus transport is limited.
Although Montpellier has no inner city rail service, TGV trains depart from the city's main Montpellier St Roch rail station to destinations across France and even Barcelona, Spain. Passengers can reach Lyon in just over 90 minutes or Paris within three hours and 15 minutes aboard these famous French high speed trains.
Transport de L'Agglomeration de Montpellier operates both the city's tram and bus networks, which conveniently use the same tickets and day passes. One-way tickets costing £1.17 each or round trip tickets costing £2.09 can be purchased directly from drivers or at each tram stop's automatic kiosks. The regional bus station is situated close to the middle of the Place de la Comédie.
Taxi Bleu du Midi supplies one of the biggest taxi fleets to Montpellier's rail station and airport, while Languedoc Taxi Tour specialises in chauffeured guided tours around this scenic region of southern France. Advance booking is preferable to hailing taxis from the street.
Rented vehicles come in most handy when venturing outside Montpellier to the many smaller historic communities and Mediterranean Sea beaches less than an hour's drive from the city. Nearby Beziers is most infamous as the location of the first Crusaders Cathar massacre where the entire community was killed in 1209. The community of Sète is best known for its grand canal which earned Sète the nickname of the 'Venice of Languedoc.' Those craving sea and sand can make the brief journey to the family seaside retreat of Palavas-les-Flots or the longer drive to the larger resort of Agde.
Palavas-les-Flots - This former fishing village has become one of Languedoc's most popular family seaside resorts. No fewer than 6kms of beaches line the shores of this community only 9kms from Montpellier. A revolving restaurant now stands on top of the Phare de la Méditerranée tourist centre, a converted water tower.
Sète - Nicknamed the 'Venice of Languedoc' because of its charming grand canal, the seaside city of Sète lies 30kms from Montpellier. Fishers unload their catches of the day alongside pleasure yachts docked at the St Louis Pier. Several local restaurants overlook the Mediterranean Sea.
Nîmes - This ancient city lies on Languedoc's border with Provence 51kms from Montpellier. Only Rome's own famous coliseum rivals the impressive sight of its lesser known Nîmes counterpart. Most of the city's other ancient Roman landmarks lie within the Jardin de la Fontaine, whose opening hours are extended in summer.