Anyone who really knows me will say I’m not really a city person. I’ve always lived in small villages or on the edge of small market towns and although I enjoy spending the odd day in a large town or city – I usually can’t wait to escape & head back to the countryside. I can’t put my finger on it but there is something about the pace of life in large cities that leaves me feeling drained after about 24hrs. There are of course some in England that don’t quite fit the city mould, which I enjoy visiting as they have something else to offer – these include Bath (stunning architecture and great small shops away from the main streets and of course its spa!) and Exeter (my local city and again nice to potter around, particularly near the old Quay and its quirky shops and cafes), but generally I do try to avoid cities where possible.
In October though I found myself house-sitting near Montpellier, so with the clouds gathering overhead I ditched my idea of a walk around the pretty Lac Du Salagou and instead took to my car and drove towards Montpellier for a day in the big city.
To be honest I didn’t imagine I’d be there long – I’d had a look at the website http://www.montpellier-france.com & it looked as if it would be a nice place to have a quick walk, a sit in a cafe and a bite to eat on an otherwise soggy day, but that was about it.
The one thing I had found on a website http://www.tam-voyages.com was the tram system that has been installed across the city, with satellite parking in a number of places on the outskirts and I headed towards one of these, finding it very easily just off the northern ringroad. I must admit I then just jumped on the first tram heading towards the city centre, although I had to ask which stop I needed to get off at.
Using the ‘Park and Tram’ system is actually quite easy, the trams leave regularly and from Mosson, where I parked, there are 2 routes that take you straight into the centre, taking 15 – 20 mins. The one thing I discovered when I got back, is that you need to validate your card by putting it into the machine just inside the door on each tram you use, which does bring down the cost of the parking – but at least I’ll get it right next time!
When I reached my stop I must admit I wasn’t particularly taken with what I saw, which was a large concrete structure, but once I had walked past that and into the Place de la Comedie, my view started to change.
The Place de la Comedie is a stunning open , oval area, edged by beautiful old buildings that are now home to many cafes and bars, a great place to sit down, get my bearings over a coffee and watch the people passing through (a favourite pastime when I’m on my own) and I quickly got the sense that Montpellier is a gentle, less frantic city than others I have visited.
From this ‘square’ the roads go off in all directions with the main shopping street taking you up towards the central market hall. It was once I walked up past the market and turned off into a side-street that the city took on a whole new feel. Gone were the high-street chains and glaring lights – I felt I had stumbled into a different world of narrow lanes, filled with quaint, small independent shops with a wonderful smattering of crafts thrown in.
I have to admit that I am a real sucker for this type of place, where the shops are all independently-owned with lots of different things on offer from vintage clothes through to contemporary jewellery and incredible ceramics. One street in particular was decorated with bunting made from old fabric and had a delightful range of vintage shops, selling everything from clothes and shoes to jewellery and homewares.
I was particularly taken with the pottery figures in the window of one of the shops and so went in to see what else was on offer.
When I entered it was clear that this wasn’t just a shop, but a potter’s workshop too. There was a very friendly young chap working at the back of the shop, who went on to tell me that he was one of 3 people working there and that they were one the ‘Ateliers St Roch’- a group of artisans opening their studios in the area.
He went on to tell me that many people come to Montpellier just to visit the studios that form part of the group and having spent the day there I now understand why – I was just surprised that I hadn’t seen anything about this, very unique, shopping experience before. He handed me a leaflet, which contained a map showing all the participating artists, together with information on what they produced and I headed off with a new purpose.
You will have gathered from previous blogs that I am particularly fond of good quality, individual crafts and so the chance to spend the rest of the day wandering the very pretty lanes of central Montpellier hunting out new pieces put a new spring in my step.
The studios are all located in the pretty, narrow streets in the heart of the old city and the map guides you easily around the area, ensuring you can visit all the studios that are involved – it even has a sheet at the back of the booklet where you can make notes on what you have seen. More information can be found about the studios together with a copy of the brochure I was given at http://www.ateliers-st-roch.com
There are 17 different studios to visit, all offering something different. There are brightly coloured ceramics in studios including ‘500 degres’ www.500degres.com and elegant fine pieces too in others such as ‘MademoiselleS Ceramique’ http://www.mademoisellesceramique.com. There is quirky, bright jewellery in ‘Merveilles’ http://www.atelierdmerveilles.fr ……..
……..and very beautiful precious pieces made by ‘Franck Deseuste’. If glass is to your taste then there is beautiful fused glass at ‘Atelier Myriam A’ or stunning leatherwork at ‘Carlos Arthemis’
I think it would be fair to say that there is something for everyone – certainly in ‘Cubik’ http://www.cubik-lagalerieboutique.com where 48 different designers display their products.
I have to admit to wandering the lanes for a few hours, before I realised it was well past lunch-time & so settled into one of the pretty little restaurants for a much-needed bite to eat.
After a quick detour into the Montpellier Rugby shop, for gifts for the boys I collapsed into a tram to head back to the car & home. What I had thought would be a quick visit, just to tick Montpellier off a list of places to see, turned into a full and enjoyable day and a firm commitment to return in the future.
The city is a delight, it has a wonderful, relaxed and very gentle feel and is I suppose similar to Bath in many respects, but it is now a firm favourite of mine and I’m looking forward to another visit soon. It may be that I can even couple it with a Top 14 match at Montpellier Rugby Stadium to make it an attractive proposition to the rest of the family! I can but try !
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