Sunday in Languedoc


We enjoyed several nostalgic days in Montpellier — a city in which we lived for two years some nine years ago — visiting our old haunts and taking in new sights. Montpellier is in the Languedoc Rousillion department about two hours drive from Marseille.

One new sight was the Odysseum, the just-opened futuristic shopping center on the outskirts of town. The center was designed to resemble a cruise ship with several floors, all open to the outdoors in a curving shape reminiscent of waves. Even the parking garage is airy and open, with a similar wave-like design. In order to encourage people to use public transit rather than drive into Montpellier, there is a P+ tramway formule that includes parking and round trip tramway tickets for up to five people for 3 Euros! Unfortunately, you can’t park your car there indefinitely for the 3 Euros but it is still an amazing deal.

Montpellier has outlawed large trucks within the ever-growing pedestrian center. Now, for deliveries, only small silent electric trucks are allowed. I am struck by how much Montpellier seems like the city of the future – great public transport, daring modern architecture (sometimes controversial), pedestrian-only streets, colorful tramways (two lines with a third under construction), cafes everywhere you look. Formerly traffic-clogged streets are being reworked to prohibit or limit vehicle access and to add large public spaces, trees, outdoor markets and, of course, restaurants and cafes. All this and the extensive old city as well – winding streets of off-white buildings and hotels particuliers (private mansions), many dating back to the 18th century. It seems to be the perfect marriage of respect for the old and the embracing of the new.

On Sunday, after a leisurely morning, we decided to drive to Sommières, a small town we had been introduced to 10 years ago by our German friend, Boris, when he took us there for a very folksy local medieval festival. It has been the site of several serious floods when the Vidourle River breeched its banks and brought sheets of mud into the old village. Since then the route nationale has been moved across the river and the road bordering the river in the old town is quiet and lined with trees, cafes, and modest restaurants. The servers dash across the road to serve customers on the riverside terraces.

Having learned from experience that to be served lunch you must be à table before 2 PM, we didn’t tarry but chose one of the little riverside restaurants. It may not have been 2 PM yet, but it was close enough that there was nothing available but la pièce du boucher, whatever cut of meat the butcher was offering that day. It turned out to be a delicious piece of beef. As we were eating, the chef came across the street to ask if our food was OK and to apologize for having run out of the other menu choices.

Our lunch consumed, we strolled around the village, reading the plaques posted on buildings to describe their architectural features and history. One friend had told us that friends of hers ran a great little hotel in Sommières and we looked for it as we wandered. We happened upon a hotel in the old train station that we thought might be it. Just next to the hotel was a large sign for la Voie Verte (green path), the old train tracks now converted to a biking and walking path. The after-lunch walk is part of the French Sunday tradition so we joined the others – families with kids on bikes or in strollers, older couples, cyclists and rollerbladers – on the path. It is possible to follow the train track turned path some 19 kilometers but there wasn’t time for that. We managed to walk a loop that took us through woods, along old stone walls, by an olive grove and vineyards turning red and yellow and past an elaborate European-style campground complete with cabins and restaurant. We walked back into Sommières along a road of lovely flower bedecked villas and finished up at the chateau.

It turned that we hadn’t found the correct hotel. It was actually the Hotel de l’Orange — but no matter. Our Sunday in Languedoc on a crisp, bright fall day was perfect.


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One Response to “Sunday in Languedoc”

  1. Gloria and Karl Says:

    Beautiful descriptions of your adventures. xoxo glo

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