Department of Tourism for Herault - Site includes information on accommodations, holiday offers, wine & food, outdoor activities, a searchable list of museums,Vineyard gardens and parks under culture. The web site has an English version.

Ganges

Has quite an illustrious past. At one point it was the capital of the silk stocking industry in France before that it was wool. Today it is a sleepy little town of about 3,000 or 4,000 people, but it does make an excellent base for exploring the surrounding area. There are restaurants and other amenities. Twice a week there is a market, one on Tuesday and a larger one on Friday. So you can plan your trip to the area to include a visit to one of the things that make France so wonderful – markets.

Restaurants:

Domaine de Blancardy Tele: , Moules et Baucels, a few kilometers east of Ganges on the D999. Lunch and dinner served Friday - Tuesday and dinner only onVillage Thursday. Ingredients come from neighboring farms and the foie gras is to die for. A great place to stop for lunch before continuing on to the Cirque de Navacelles. On Saturday and Monday in July and August they offer a morning hike around the vineyards and garrigue followed by a wine tasting. The cost is around 8 Euros for guests and 10 Euros for non-guests.

A little south of Ganges on the D986 is one of the most spectacular underground caverns in France, Grottes des Demoiselles. For more information click here.

Cirque de Navacelles

Leaving Ganges the D25 follows the lush wooded Gorges de la Vis. At times you can peak through the canopy of the trees and see the sky and the walls of the valley. It is one of the most spectacular drives in France. You pass through a couple of pretty little villages and some rustic ruins, but for most part your attention is drawn to the sheer beauty of the gorge. I was there in the middle of October when the foliage was changing, it was simply breathtaking. There were one or two spots along the river with picnic tables. I couldn’t imagine more of a perfect for a picnic. Eventually you come to the D130 and you begin the ascent up along the wall of the gorge. At times there are some hair-raising turns and has you get higher and higher you do feel a touch of vertigo. However, the view of the valley incredible. Below is a photo I took looking back towards the way we come. At the time we were several hundred feet lower. Once you are at the top the road flattens out and you cross a wind swept plateau. It seem to me, a lonely desolate place, but magical just the same. You could almost touch the clouds. Once you reach the northern end of the plateau you begin the descent into the Cirque de Navacelles, eventually arriving in the little hamlet of Navacelles. Built on island with a river and waterfall on one side. The outcrop was created by the flow of a river that double backed on itself, eventually forming a lake that has since dried up. I noticed there were a few restaurants just in case are in need of refreshment. I also noticed a cute dog who when I went to take his or her photo turned away just at the moment. Nonetheless I thought the photo was cute. The tourist office (open Easter to early November) Tele: 04 67 44 63 10, located at the Belvedere de la Baume Auriol viewpoint on the south side. There is a three hour walk starting from Navacelles for those who really want see and explore the cirque.  

I was heading back to Ganges, but decided not drive back the way I came. Instead I took the D113 north. There were some twisty turns, but for the most part not too bad and it seemed quicker than when I drove up the Gorge of the River Vis. Once I was out of the cirque I turned right and headed towards Rogues. In Rogues I made a left and headed towards Montdardier, which by the way has a beautiful chateau that Viollet le Duc restored in 1860. He was the one who was responsible for the restoration of the medieval part of Carcassonne. Below is a photo of this fairy tale like chateau. Once you drive through Montdardier follow the signs to Ganges. Eventually you will end up on the D999 that will take you right into Ganges. The road outside of Montdardier is especially pretty and at times you drive along side the Herault River. France

I enjoyed my outing to the Cirque de Navacelles very much. It was a perfect day. I left the Mas Esperandieu around 10:30 am and arrived in Ganges around 11:30 am. I had lunch and walked around town a bit. I drove out to the Cirque and the rest as they say is history. I was back at the Mas by around 6:00 pm, which leads me to conclude, one of the many things I like about the Mas Experandieu is the location. You can spend one day exploring the Vaucluse, the next day exploring the Herault, another day loafing about on a beautiful sandy beach of the Mediterranean or taking in a concert in Montpellier. 

Montpellier

MontpellierParis had François Mitterrand; Montpellier had Georges Frêches, both man initiated ambitious building projects that people are still debating. Today, Montpellier, is a fun, vibrant city (student population numbers around 60,000) with splendid architecture, new and old.  The city’s modern tram system is the envy of the south. Shady squares with restaurants and Cafés. There is the beautiful tree lined Esplanade Charles de Gaulle for evening walks. I still remember vividly after a concert, a walk along the esplanade - it was just  magically. Early October with a cool breeze blowing through the trees. It was a wonderful ending to a delightful and enjoyable evening. Throughout the historic city center there are grand hôtel particuliers (townhouses) built by nobles and wealthy merchants. I was reminded of one of my favorites areas of Paris, Le Marais. With his imposing and innovative architecture,  museums, grand public spaces, and its own Arc de Triomphe, the city is like Paris, but on a smaller scale.

The quickest way to get to Montpellier from the Mas Esperandieu is to take the N106 to Nimes and from there take the super highway A9 (toll road). Now for a a more scenic way to go, take N106 heading towards Nimes, but turn off for Sommieres, from here you will go through Castreies, eventually arriving in Montpellier. It’s a beautiful drive through the countryside. If you have time you can stop off in Sommieres. What I like to do is take the slow, scenic way going  to Montpellier and coming home (usually in the evening) take the quick way. At night you really can’t see very much so you can really appreciate the countryside.

Below are photos of the Place de la Comedie and the Esplanade Charles de Gaulle. You might say the heart and pulse of Montpellier.

The Office of Tourism has a web site at www.ot-montpellier.fr with a English version. There is a section on Events-Festivals that will keep you up-to-date on what’s going on. In addition there is information on museums, parks, restaurants and all that good stuff one needs to know while exploring this beautiful city with its grand and modern architecture juxtaposed to create a progressive city that not only thinks about tomorrow, but also about the past. Check out the Montpellier City Pass, it is good value for your money.

The car park under the the Place de la Comédie is central and convenient. When you walk up the steps from the car park the Tourist Office is located nearby atMontpellier Allee Jean de latte de Tassigny, Espanade de Comedie Tele: 04 67 60 60 60 (northeast of the Place de la Comedie, alongside the park the runs parallel with the Esplanade Charles de Gaulle).

The Musee Fabre reopened in 2007 after an extensive renovation. Given it’s a provincial museum the collection (900 works of art) is surprising good and spans the 15th century to the 21st century. There is a room with paintings by  by Frederic Bazille who was born in Montpellier and tragically died at the age of 28 in the Franco Prussian  War. Bazille was friends with Monet and Sisley and shared a studio with Renoir. The museum also has works by Gustave Courbet. The building is also of interest as well with a mix of new and old architecture. Originally the building was a Jesuit College and today one of the best museums in the south of France. The museum’s decorative art collection is housed in the palatial townhouse of the Sabitier d’Eespeyran family who bequeathed the house and their collection to the museum in 1967. 

Around the church of St-Roch in the medieval part of the city there are boutiques and restaurants. The church itself has a lovely stained glass window above the altar.

One of Montpellier’s more interesting architectural curiosities is the neoclassical temple Chateau d’Eau in the Promenade du Peyrou. Built to hide the reservoir of the Aqueduc St-Clement (completed in 1771) to bring water from the Lez river. The aqueduct is located behind the temple and modeled on the Pont du Gard.

I took the following photo just a little after sunset of the Arc de Triomphe. The Chateau d’Eau is in the background to the right. The sky was the most brilliant blues.

It is difficult to have dinner before or after attending a concert, dance performance or some other event in the evening because most restaurants don’t start serving until around 7:00 (at the earliest) and usually don’t stay open past 10:00. During the summer some restaurants do stay open later. And some bars/brassiers do start serving food early, but generally people have drinks around 6:00 and eat later.  What I like to do it have a decent sized lunch at a nice restaurant around 1:00. Most restaurants serve lunch between 12:00 and  2:00. Around 6:00 or 7:00 before the concert I will stop off at a cafe for a coffee and light desert. After the concert if I am feeling peckish I will stop in at a brassier (most are usually open late ) for something light.

MontpellierFor those who are not staying in Montpellier and have to drive a least hour to get where you are staying, you might consider spending the night in Montpellier. A few years ago, I attended a concert (my first concert) at Le Corum, it ended at 10:30. I was not staying in Montpellier, I arrived at where I was staying around midnight. It would not have bad had I not spent the entire day sightseeing. If I had spent the afternoon relaxing instead of sightseeing, arriving in Montpellier around 6:00pm, the drive back would not have been a problem. Now on my last trip I was attending another concert at Le Corum, but this time I decided to spend the night in Montpellier because once again I planned on being out and about sightseeing the afternoon before going to the concert in the evening. Now I am glad I did this. The following morning I woke up refreshed and decided to see a few sights west of  Montpellier. I made it back to where I was staying around 5:30pm. I was able to relax and recoup for about 2 hours going out for dinner that evening. 

Restaurants:

La Diligence, 2 pl Petrarque Tele: 04 67 66 12 21. Cuisine: Regional. Great ambiance. The stone vaulted ceiling in fabulous and the homemade duck foie gras is especially good.  Click on the link to their website and take a look at menu. Moderately priced.

La Posada, 20 rue du Petit-St-Jean Tele: 04 67 66 21 25. Moderately priced. Cuisine: Provencal and Mediterranean. Casual and friendly. Reservations advisable.     

Le Petti Jardin, 20 Street Jean-Jacques Rousseau Tele: 04 67 60 78 78. Moderate to expensive. Regional cuisine with a twist.  Oozes atmosphere. The dining room overlooks a beautiful garden with a fine view of the cathedral. If the weather is nice and they are seating in the garden I would opt for it. Reservations recommended.

Hotels:

Hotel du Parc, 8 Rue Achille Bégé Tele: 04 67 41 16 49. Charming small hotel (19 rooms). I was looking for a reasonably priced hotel not too far from the le Corum (Opéra Berlioz). I was extremely happy with the room and service. After the concert I enjoyed the walk back to the hotel. On the hotel’s website you will find directions if you are coming in on the A9. There is are also directions from the train station as well.

Entertainment:

The Orchestre National Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon performs in the Opera Berlioz at the L’Corum Center, north end of the Esplanade. I have attended two concerts and enjoyed them both. The acoustics are excellent and the seats were comfortable. Though I do hope to one day attend a concert, dance performance or an opera in the grand palatial Opera Comedia (below is a photo of the Opéra Comédie (located on the Place de la Comédie) at night with the stature of the Three Graces in front of t he opera house. I have always a thing for all the pomp that went into the pera houses built in the 1800’s. Granted they are over the top, but you can help to admire the beauty of the buildings. For performance schedules and information on the opera houses go to www.opera-montpellier.com. The website is only in French.

Festivals:

Printemps des Comédiens - June & July -Includes theatre productions at the historic Château d'O (also noted for its beautiful garden) 

Festival International Montpellier - June & July - Dance

Festival Radio France et Montpellier - July - Music

Festival International du Cinema Mediterranean - October - Film

For a more complete list of festivals go to  http://www.ot-montpellier.fr/en/festivities/liste page-1.html.

Pezenas

The Old Town is filled with rather grand and lovely hôtel particuliers built by wealthy merchants and government officials during Pezenas heyday when it was the seat of the Estates-General of Languedoc. Nowadays it is a sleepy little town (at least during the off season - summer can be intense, but worth it) with some fabulous architecture (medieval, Renaissance) with over 70 buildings listed and protected. A brochure with a walking tour is available at the tourist office (when it was a workshop the famous French playwright, Molière worked here for a bit) located at Place Gambetta across from the Maison de Metiers des Arts, an interesting little museum of local arts and crafts including decorative sculpture, painting and so fourth. Even if architecture doesn’t really interest you there are wonderful little streets to explore and shops (arts & crafts, antiques) to browse; in addition to, restaurants where you can wile away a few hours on a pleasant sunny afternoon. In May and June on Friday nights concerts are held in the churches around town and wine tastings are held to celebrate the festival of heritage, wine and music. During the months of July and August concerts and plays are performed in the open air theater, Théâtre de Verdure  as part of the  La Mirondela des Arts festival. On Saturday the fabulous local market is held in the Place du 14 Juillet (and yes, it is named in honor of the the Bastille on July 14th 1789). If you want to try one of the local specialties, Petits pâtés (a sweet and savory mince pie) head to Maison Aleary, 9 rue des Chevaliers de St Jean. It was recommended in The Rough Guide to Languedoc & Roussillon and I agree 100% it is the best place to go. They also recommend a restaurant that I liked called Après le Déluge 5, rue du Maréchal Plantavit Tele: 04 67 98 10 77 (you gotta love the name - translated to English, After the Deluge). Mediterranean dishes in a totally laid back  setting in a building dating from the 14th century. Reasonable, good food and a delightful terrace. or if you are in the mood for Spanish/Catalan there is La Mamita 10 Rue Merciere Tele: 4 67 93 49 75. I love French food, but sometimes it nice to do something different.   Adage

Office of  Tourism for Pezenas. The web site is in in French.

Nearby is the Abbey of Valmagne (English version) with beautiful gardens and wine tasting. After the revolution the church was turned into a giant wine cellar, which the first time you visit throws you off a bit because it is such.....well.....unique. The Abbey and cloisters have been restored. And it really is quite pleasant to stroll around when the sun is out and there is a cool breeze and sample some of the local wines.  

Sete - Vieux Port

SeteYou have to ignore the ugly industrial part of the city. It is still a working port. In the old quarter along the Quai General-Durand there are restaurants and bars buzzing with activity. A pleasant place to stop for lunch. Between Sete and Le Cap d’Ade to the southwest there are 20 kilometers of sandy beaches.

Office of Tourism for Sete. The web site has an English version).

Beaches/Resorts:

La Grande Motte is a seaside resort complex built in the 1960s  s right near Montpellier. The website has an English version.

Palavas-les-flots beach is down from La Grande Motte. To get there you can take a Montpellier city bus. 

Le Cap d’Agde (there is an English version of the website) is another resort area about 54 kilometers from Montepellier. The website has an English version.

The Regional Tourism Committee of Languedoc-Roussillon a website that has a section of beaches/resorts of the region. For more information go to www.sunframe.com (there is an English version of the website).