Coming from the UK, I have always considered the south of France as a summer destination. The sort of place where you spend your days lounging on the beach in your swimwear on sunny days sipping from cocktails outside restaurants on warm evenings. The south of France is synonymous with the summer holidays. But the Christmas holidays? Not so much.
Naturally, then, I was interested to see what the festive season would bring out here in Montpellier. Certainly palm trees decked out in fairy lights next to an assortment of Christmas decorations in the centre of town remain just as jarring and bizarre as the fact that I live in an area that is actually warm enough for palm trees to exist.
Not long before the start of December several Christmas decorations started popping up all around Montpellier, from a large Christmas tree and huge white and gold gift in Place de la Comédie to some (slightly) more modest decor scattered around Odysseum, an outdoors shopping mall. Despite my dislike of anything Christmas-related before the start of December, I have to admit that the decoration were impressive and weakened my Grinch-like resistance to the holiday season far earlier than usual.
Of course, once I had given in to embracing the spirit Christmas in all its brilliance, there was only one thing to do: drink mulled wine at the Christmas market.
While I am vehemently opposed to making Christmas the only thing I can think about for the month leading up to the actual day, one thing I can never decline is mulled wine. I am also a big fan of Christmas markets (despite never really buying anything) and beautiful decorations. So as soon as the possibility arrived, I popped to Montpellier’s Christmas market: “Hivernales de Montpellier”.
Located on the Esplanade Charles de Gaulle, the market is open every day from the 24th November until the 26th December (except Christmas Day, for obvious reasons) and features a wide array of stalls selling various items from local produce and other food product to art from local artists and a selection of gifts. And, of course, food and drink stalls, including a fair few options for mulled wine (as is obligatory for any decent Christmas Market). There are also a few other attractions, mainly small rides for children, each of them delightfully festive themed.
Since its opening, I have wandered around the market twice, enjoying a warm cup of my favourite festive beverage (if you chose eggnog over mulled wine you are wrong). While, as usual, I refrained from buying anything other than a warm cup of sweet, sweet wine at the stalls, I happily marveled at some of the items on offer. Though I did notice that some of the stalls are those of local shops, open year round, this wasn’t necessarily disappointing. For example, while the Signorini Tartufi stall also happens to have a shop in the centre of Montpellier, I had never noticed it until seeing the stall.
The hustle and bustle of the market adds to a great atmosphere (after all, Christmas shopping is usually insanely busy, it comes with the territory). However it is notably quieter during the day, so if you’re visiting for the purpose of actually shopping rather than simply to enjoy the atmosphere, it is definitely a wise idea to visit the market during the quieter day period, preferably during the week before the schools break-up for their holidays (if this is an option). Personally, I’m only there to drink mulled wine and have a good time, so apart from the queues to buy the mulled wine, this isn’t too much of a concern for me.
It’s also worth noting that a fair few of the stalls don’t take card at all, and those that do often have a high minimum spend. I’ll happily double park myself with hot, alcoholic beverages in order to hit the minimum spend, but it’s definitely something to be aware of.
The market also isn’t particularly large, and can probably be seen quickly in half an hour, however a leisurely stroll would take longer, especially if you’re stopping for drinks, food or to buy gifts from the stalls. But if you do find you get around the whole market fairly sharpish, there are other Christmas-y activities scattered around the town.
Obviously the aforementioned tree and giant gift are certainly something worth taking a quick look at (if you’re headed to the Christmas market though, you won’t miss them). But if you’re willing to walk a little further, there is a Christmas light display located at the Promenade du Peyrou. It’s worth a look, there isn’t anything more than a selection of decorations. However it’s a nice way to start a festive evening, before heading to the market. I say before because the light display closes before the market. I’m not exactly sure of the time as it was advertised differently in different places. We attempted to visit one evening around half past eight but it was definitely already closed by then.
So, overall, it’s not hard to find some way or another of getting into the Christmas spirit here in the south of France. I definitely enjoyed the Christmas market and the decoration across the city are definitely wonderful! And if all else fails, there’s always a fair few bars that serve mulled wine.