Capital of Languedoc and a bustling college town, Montpellier (pop. 230,000) has earned a reputation as the most light-hearted city in southern France, with superb shopping and nightlife. The gigantic Musee Fabre, 39 bd. Bonne Nouvelle, is undergoing renovations until 2006, but part of its substantial collection is on display on a rotating basis at the pavillion on the opposite side of Esplanade Charles de Gaulle from the museum. I 04 67 66 13 46. Open Su and Tu-Sa l-7pm. Hours vary, call in advance. 3, students 1.) Bd. Henri IV leads to the Jardin des Plantes, France’s first botanical garden. (Open June-Sept. M-Sa noon-8pm, Oct.-May M-Sa noon-6pm.) At sundown, rue de la Loge fills with vendors, musicians, and stilt-walkers. The most animated bars are scattered along place Jean-Jaures. The popular Barberousse “Bar A Shooters,” 6 r. Boussairolles, just off pl. de la Comedie, sells 73 flavors of rum. (Rum 2. Beer 3. Open M-Sa 6pm-2am.) Gay nightlife is prominent in Montpellier, with establishments scattered throughout the vielle ville.
Trains leave pl. Auguste Gibert for Avignon (114hr. 10 per day, 13); Marseilles (l%hr. 9 per day, 21); Paris (SVzhi. 12 per day, 84); and Toulouse (212hr. 10 per day, 29). From the train station, r. Maguelone leads to place de la Comedie, Montpellier’s modem center. The tourist office, 30 allee Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, is to the right. (04 67 60 60 60; www.ot-montpellier.fr. Open July-Aug. M-F 9am-7:30pm, Sa 9:30am-6pm, Su 9:30am-lpm and 2:30-6pm; Sept.-May reduced hours.) Access the Internet at Cybercafe www, 12 bis rue Jules Ferry, across from the train station. (1.50 per hr. Open daily 9am-lam.) To reach the Auberge de Jeunesse (HI) O, 2 impasse de la Petite Corraterie, walk from pl. de la Comedie onto r. de la Loge. Turn right onto r. Jacques Coeur and walk until you reach impasse de la Petite Corraterie, just before bd. Louis Blanc, and turn right. The hostel has sunny rooms and large windows, (a04 67 60 32 22; email@example.com. Breakfast 3. Lockout lOam-lpm. Curfew 2am. Dorms 8.40. MCV. Hotel d’Angleterre , 7 r. Maguelone, is comfortable and centrally located. (04 67 58 59 50; www.hotel-d-angleterre.com. Breakfast 5.50. Singles with shower 28; doubles 28-50. Amex MCV.) French cuisine dominates Montpellier’s vielle ville, while a number of ethnic restaurants have taken hold on rue des Ecoies Laiques. Get groceries at Supermarket INN0, in the basement of the Polygone commercial center, just past the tourist office. (Open M-Sa 9am-8:30pm.) Postal Code: 34000.
Carpets of olive groves and vineyards unroll along hills dusted with lavender, sunflowers, and mimosas, while the fierce winds of the mistral carry the scent of sage, rosemary, and time well-spent. Generations of writers and artists have found inspiration in Provence’s varied landscape from the Roman arena and cobble-stoned elegance of Arles to Cezanne’s lingering footsteps in Aix-en-Provence, life unfolds along Provence’s shaded paths like a bottomless glass oipastis.
Southern France flocks to Nimes (pop. 132,000) for the ferias, celebrations featuring bullfights, flamenco dancing, and other hot-blooded fanfare. Yet Nimes’s star attractions are its incredible Roman structures. The magnificent Les Arenes is a well-preserved first-century Roman amphitheater that still holds bullfights and concerts, ( 04 66 76 72 77. Open M-F 10am-6pm. 4.50, students 3.20.) North of the arena stands the exquisite Maison Carree. a rectangular temple built in the first century BC. (04 66 36 26 76. Open June-Sept. daily 9am-7pm; Oct.-May 10am-6pm.) Across (he square, the Carree d’Art houses an excellent collection of contemporary art. (04 66 76 35 70. Open Tu-Su 10am-6pm. 4.50, students 3.20.) Along the canals to the left, off pl. Foch, the Jardins de la Fontaine hold the Roman ruins of the Temple de Diane and the Tour Magne. (Garden open Apr.-Sept. daily 7:30am-10pm; Oct.-Mar. 8am-6:30pm; free. Tower open July-Aug. daily 9am-7pm; Sept.-June 9am-5pm; 2.40, students 2.)
Trains chug from bd. Talabot to: Arles (20min. 13 per day, 6.30); Marseilles (lWhr. 20 per day, 12); and Toulouse (3hr. 8 per day, 30). Buses (04 66 29 52 00) depart from behind the train station for Avignon (lV&hr. 2-8 per day, 6.70). The tourist office is at 6 r. Auguste, just off pl. Comedie and near the Maison Carree. ( 04 66 58 38 00; fax 04 66 58 38 01. Open July-Aug. M-F 8am-8pm, Sa 9am-7pm, Su 10am-6pm; May and Sept. reduced hours.) The newly renovated Auberge de Jeunesse (HI) O is 4.5km from quai de la Fontaine, at 257 chemin de l’Auberge de la Jeunesse, off chemin de la Cigale. Take bus #2 (dir.: Ales or Villeverte) to Stade, Route d’Ales and follow the signs uphill; after buses stop running, call for pick-up. This comfortable, well-kept hostel is well worth the trek. ( 04 66 68 03 20; fax 04 66 68 03 21. Breakfast 3.20. Sheets 2.80 per week. Internet access 3.80 per hr. Mar.-Sept. 4- to 6-bed dorms 9.50. Camping 5.50. Members only. MCV.) Stock up at Marche U supermarket, 19 r. d’Ales, downhill from the hostel. (Open M-Sa 8am-12:45pm and 3:30-8pm.) Postal Codes; 30000 and 30900.
DAYTRIP FROM NlMES: PONT DU GARD. In 19 BC, Augustus’s close friend and advisor Agrippa built an aqueduct to channel water 50km to Nimes from the Eure springs near Uzes. The architectural fruit of this 15-year project remains in the Pont du Gard, spanning the gorge of the Gardon River and towering over sun-bathers and swimmers. A great way to see the Pont du Gard is to start from Collias, 6km toward Uzes. Here Kayak Vert rents canoes, kayaks, and bikes. ( 66 22 80 76. Canoes and kayaks 14 per day, kayakcanoe rental and shuttle 16, bikes 17 per day. 15% discount for students or with stay at the hostel in Nimes.) STDG buses (04 66 29 27 29) run to the Pont du Gard from Avignon (45min. 7 per day, 5) and Nimes (30min. 2-5 per day, 4.75). Camping le Barralet O, r. des Aires in Collias, offers a pool and hot showers. (04 66 22 84 52; fax 04 66 22 89 17. Closed Oct.-Feb. 6-8 per person. Mar.-June and Sept reduced prices. MCV.)