Are you looking for an uplifting holiday? Then fly into Montpellier for a short break, and let your spirits soar on a cloud of music
A Wonderful musical venue
Montpellier, capital of Languedoc Roussillon, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in France. It has a gentle climate too. But these aren't the only reasons why so many French people dream of living here. Montpellier works hard to serve its citizens, both young and old. Have a look online at some of the many world class concerts and cultural events that are on offer in the coming months, and you'll see what I mean. What's more, quite a few of them are absolutely free (www.operamontpellier.com).
When you arrive in Montpellier you will immediately feel at home. It is a relaxed kind of place. With its traffic-free centre, two tram lines, and open-air cafe/restaurants, Montpellier makes a perfect musical venue. Where else would you find a world class concert hall and an imposing 19th century opera house within a five minute stroll of each other, along a leafy boulevard? Where else could you enjoy a pre-concert aperitif in a wonderful square, beside playing fountains, even in the middle of winter? Whether your prefer orchestral works or baroque; opera or jazz; traditional or contemporary; it's all available in Montpellier.
The Opera House is situated on the beautiful Place de la Comedie. Operas such as those of Verdi, Puccini and Donizetti are staged regularly throughout the year, starring singers such as Roberto Alagna and Hasmik Papian. If the cheapest seats lack comfort, they certainly compensate with a close up view of the ornately painted ceiling and enormous chandelier. Why not explore this historic building further during the interval while sipping a traditional "coup de champagne". The snacks come free!
Tickets from 13 to 45 Euros. Future performances include Verdi's "Othello" in March , and La Traviata" in May 2010. Booking in person opens two months before the first performance; one day later by internet or phone - www.opera-montpellier.com or 33(0)4 67 60 19 99.
The modern Corum, a magnificent red granite building, houses two concert halls, Salle Berlioz and Salle Pasteur. It's a relaxed place to be with a bar and comfortable sitting areas. Home to the renowned Montpellier National Symphony Orchestra, there are year round performances (except August), with additional concerts by guest conductors, orchestras and choirs. Even the cheapest seats command an excellent view, and the acoustics are perfect.
Tickets generally from 14 to 30 Euros. Future performances include: Rachmaninov's 5th Piano Concerto in January, and Handel's Messiah in March.
Music for free
Don't think free concerts inferior. We attended a performance of a specially commissioned work in November, introduced by the composer himself. A wonderful experience, and free too. A series of four free concerts, entitled " Figures du Siecle", featuring composers from Poland and Russia is to take place in March. Booking on www.opera-montpellier.com or 33(0)4 67 16 19 99
Radio France Festival
The Radio France Festival runs from 12th July - 30th July 2010.
With the Labeque sisters and Evgeny Kissin appearing in 2009, and piano master classes led by the brillant pianist Aldo Ciccolini, we are sure to be on cloud nine again this year.
What's more day there are daily free concerts given in the Salle Pasteur. Just roll up and enjoy!
The classical festival music programme is now out, and you can book on line. An unusual programme this year, with some less well known operas, a strong Russian presence, and the excellent value for money Labeque sisters.
There are going to be lots of free concerts too, including jazz evenings, reggae, young soloists, chamber concertsetc. You can see details of times and dates on line, but not yet actual artists.
"The Jam", as you may well guess from its name, is a jazz school in the heart of Montpellier. In addition to taught courses it puts on 120 concerts throughout the year and is present at outdoor music festivals too. Latin, bop, funk - it's all there at the Jam (100 Rue Ferdinand de Lesseps, Montpellier; 33 (0) 467583030). It really is a great place to go. You can generally get tickets on the night, although major concerts can be booked on line at www.lejam.com.
Getting there: tram line 2, station Saint Cleophas.
Jazz in Summer
Dark cellars and strobe lighting are all very well, but on long summer evenings nothing can be nicer than enjoying jazz outdoors. If you are in Montpellier in July you really must head for Chateau D'O. Here you can listen to a Jam concert every night during the Radio France Festival, as you picnic under the pine trees. As darkness falls the coloured lights strung around the trees grow brighter and people start to make their way to the big amphitheatre for the main event of the evening. You must collect a ticket, but don't worry....both nightly concerts are entirely free.
Getting there: tram line 1, station Chateau D'O.
Chateau D'0 open air restaurant under the pine trees serves excellent light meals and salads at bargain prices.
Brasserie du Corum. Excellent 2 course lunch for 15 Euro. Beautiful terrace adjoining the concert hall.
Piazza Papa, Place de la Comedie. Fairly good pizzas/pasta. Order between 3pm and 6.30pm and receive 30 per cent discount, even on drinks.
Cafe Restaurant La Suite, 17 Place Nombre d'Or (04 67 64 87 87). Eat lunch among discerning office workers in Montpellier's neo classical Antigone district. Imaginative main courses for only 8 Euros. Menus change daily, and there is a wonderful view of a constantly changing fountain in one of the Antigone's main squares.
Finally, try fast food, French style at L'Entrecote in Rue Verdun. As much steak/frites as you can possibly eat, and a salad too, for 16 Euros. It's always buzzing, but there's no need to book. The secret is in the sauce (a closely guarded recipe).
Where to stay
Kyriad Montpellier Centre Antigone in Avenue Jean Mermoz - we like to stay here if we have a late concert. Rooms are small but stylish, and impeccably clean. Built in the style of the Antigone, it is very quiet, yet within easy walking distance of the historic centre, tram line and concert halls. Double rooms from 58 Euro.
Hotel des Arceaux - I also love this charming small hotel. Rooms from 95 Euro. You are sure of a warm welcome here, and it's a short walk to the main sights.
May 2010 Update.
Booking opens on May 3rd for a wonderful outdoor opera experience : La Vie Parisienne by Offenbach. This will be performed on three evenings in July in the amphitheatre at Chateau d'O, and promises to be a riot of fun. Featuring the combined choirs of the National Opera of Montpellier, tickets cost from 14€
Booking at :www.fnac.com or tel. from France;0800 200 165
The full events calendar, listing all performers at the Radio France Festival is now available. There are no less than 17 free lunch time concerts featuring young soloists, and 16 free concerts featuring established performers every evening at 6p.m.. Tickets are available from one hour before each performance. Be warned...they're always well attended... so get there early.
It should be noted that jazz concerts will be held in Theatre de l'Agora and not at Chateau d'O this year : www.festivalradiofrancemontpellier.com