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Back to the Med! Languedoc inward bound: Montpellier

We experienced another brutal landing in Montpellier. We found our Airbnb fairly easily, but it was a fourth floor walk-up and rather dilapidated and unclean. The coup de grace was the missing toilet seat, reminiscent of Midnight Express. I went alone to park the Iceberg and immediately made a wrong turn into the heart of the pedestrian zone. I had to reverse out of a few blind ends before eventually concluding the only escape was to return exactly the way I had entered. One thing that always amazes me, no matter what country I'm in, is how people will constantly walk behind a reversing van as though they have a cloak of invulnerability. I didn't even have a rear view camera on the Iceberg, so every time I backed up I was only able to move a foot before checking the mirrors to see if someone else was about to stroll behind me. I eventually got to the main road and then made two long passes entirely around the old town looking for the garage our host had instructed me to use and finding no such location. Eventually I pulled off and Googled the garage, only to find out it had permanently closed two years previously. How could our host not know the garage had closed so long ago? Didn't any of the people he had directed there previously fill him in? Bizarre. I found another garage a couple of blocks further away. The good part was that I could tell we had arrived in a beautiful, energetic city during the walk back to the apartment.

Finding a quality restaurant open on a Monday required numerous phone calls, but eventually I was able to reserve a table. Once we arrived at the restaurant, it was clear we were in for a difficult time as we had one of those tall tables with bar stools instead of seats. The restaurant was packed tight and there was no room for strollers, so we left Spenser on the floor in his car seat and spent most of dinner trying to keep the kids from slipping off their stools. I don't remember the food being particularly good or bad, but I'm fairly sure I hardly tasted it because I was so focused on keeping the kids off the ground. This was one instance in which the reservation strategy failed us. To add insult to injury, we saw plenty of open restaurants with good family seating options on the way back from dinner. I resolved to be less hasty to make a reservation and instead scope out the restaurant scene in the future.

The next morning, we started out our Montpellier walk in the beautiful, spacious Place de la Comedie. The elegant buildings and vibrant atmosphere reminded me of Orléans, another of my favorite French cities.

We took a one hour playground break in the lush and expansive Jardins de l’Esplanade adjacent to the square, then meandered back through the pleasant and bustling old town to the Promenade du Peyrou. This 17th century park atop a hill just west of the old town contains interesting statues and monuments and has views over the surrounding Hérault region.

The covered market was a rather wimpy affair compared to Toulouse and Avignon. Nearby, we found the tiny restaurant Le Petit Bistrot where the young chef Nicolas prepares a small menu every day, cooks, and waits all the tables. It was a classic French cuisine experience, down to the duck fat which seemingly permeated every dish.

Just like that, we were finished with Montpellier after only eighteen hours. We drove a few miles to the coastal resort Palavas-les-Flots, where there was supposed to be some kind of festival going on, but we found no festival and nothing else of interest. From there, we proceeded down the coastal road to the port town of Sète. We stopped at the tourist office to inquire about tours of oyster farms but there was nothing available. Instead we walked down Quai Général Durand in search of the fish market, but were unable to find anything. However, we did find ourselves in a beautiful part of the town crisscrossed by canals and bridges, which made for a pleasant walk despite the lack of markets.

We moved on down the coast to Agde, where we checked into our Airbnb. It was early for dinner, so we spent an hour walking around the small Agde old town. The most memorable sight was a trompe-l'oeil, or optical illusion, created by painting artificial windows and storefronts on the flat faces of buildings. Due to the angle of the sun my pictures didn't come out very well, so I added a professional photo for comparison.

The best restaurant open on a Tuesday night appeared to be in Cap D'Agde, a resort town about ten minutes away. Unfortunately once we arrived we found that the restaurant was closed despite information to the contrary on their website. The other restaurants in the harbor area looked rather low end. I was ready to drive back to Agde but Mei Ling suggested I take another look so I reluctantly strolled back down the length of the promenade. Sure enough I encountered another Tripadvisor top pick, La Table de Marthe. They had a table which was perfect for us and we had an excellent meal with delicious desserts, another top ten entry for the trip. Once again, Mei Ling's instincts had saved the day.

Wednesday morning we headed back to Sète to see if we would have better luck finding a fish market in the early morning. We noticed immediately that there seemed to be a lot more activity in the neighborhood we had visited the previous day. Once we turned inward from the canal the reason quickly became apparent. There was an absolutely huge market in progress with stall after stall of produce and prepared food that seemed to go on forever. At the center of it all was the town's covered market, which was a maelstrom of activity. We bought oysters and sea snails in the covered market and ate them at a table with sausages and stewed land snails we had bought on the street. After all the work we had put into researching the premier markets, we found the absolute best purely by random chance.

Posted by zzlangerhans 15:20 Archived in France Tagged sete montpellier agde cap_d'agde

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