I love Montpellier. It does Christmas in a classy, elegant way. So much so that I can forgive it the tiny bit of tackiness. Coming from me (a bit of a snob? stickler for quality?) that’s impressive. I can’t stand tacky. Here’s my summary of my first Christmas period in Montpellier.
As the Christmas period neared, towards the end of November, the suspended lights began to be set up across the centre of town. Not yet illuminated of course. I didn’t pay much attention to it because, well, I’ve seen lots of Christmas lights in my lifetime. It would take an impressive display to generate more than “oh yea those are nice” from my lips. The first sign that they would be just that was when some of them hanging between 2 walls traversing the street overhead appeared to be three dimensional. After double taking a couple of times, yes indeed they were 3D. Perhaps this means nothing to you but now that the Christmas period has been and gone I can say that it was an indicator of the effort Montpellier puts in to impress.
Recently they’ve been voted above the lights of London and Paris for 2015.
Reds, greens, yellows, golds, blues, whites all in the same displays is over the top and unattractive in my opinion. Montpellier opts for 2 colours maximum in its designs. White and gold. Often intertwined and sometimes separate. This is the first thing that captivated me about these lights. So classy but not “in your face” loud and busy. They light the streets and give you that festive feeling but don’t scream at you to stare at them. I was surprised because I’ve come to accept, subconsciously, that displays at this time of year are tacky and that’s the way it is. Not in Montpellier. Elegance exemplified by Christmas lights.
From hanging mesh shaped displays that reminded me of the safety nets you see in position for acrobats at the circus, to lit Christmas trees along the street, to the absolutely magnificent globe in Place de la Comédie. Effort and precision is put into all the works on show.
Montpellier’s city centre is small compared with my home city of London but larger than somewhere like Brighton. Yet, each corner of the old town was done tastefully and thoughtfully, none was left bare. The only ones of which I was not much of a fan were the flashing lights on the underside of the Arc de Triomphe. They were too bright and too fast. It’s one of the greatest monuments in the city and I thought they didn’t befit it. Plus, anyone prone to seizures might have suffered from it!
A note on the tacky
I suppose it’s ok that some of the lights surrounding the Christmas markets were still a bit tacky and cheesy. They are more family friendly and remind me of being a kid. The reds, greens, statues of santa, elves and reindeer get you revved up for the festive season. But I think if everywhere was as tastefully done as Montpellier, kids wouldn’t grow up associating Christmas with tacky lights.
Similar in structure to London’s Winter Wonderland (albeit a WHOLE lot smaller, thank goodness), and German Christmas markets. The Esplanade de Charles de Gaulle was lined with sheds from which local and national produce was sold. I was impressed by the quality of the goods on sale. From the very french in Foïe Gras to the simple but beautiful jewellery. You can find it all. There were sleigh rides for the kids as well as regular parades by characters on stilts and in costume. You can see more in my gallery. Also, I learned that the French call Pretzels: Bretzels (“hey Bro”). With the market closing at 8pm and living close to the centre of town, I was able to see the city in an almost deserted state but with the lights of the market (and the city for that matter) still illuminated.
Tour by Night
As of December, I had not done a cultural tour of Montpellier in all of the 7 months that I have lived there. From the start of the month they Tourist Information centre ran weekly evening walking tours which ended with a cup of mulled wine. Although the first week, we were left behind by a tour guide that didn’t check if everyone was in attendance, it was second time lucky. Being in French, I had to really focus and after about half an hour I wasn’t understanding anything but the odd word. However, it was an interesting, if cold, way to learn about the history of the city. Furthermore, we got access to the top of the Arc de Triomphe which provided us with a way of seeing the city from up high.
Check out all my best photos of Christmas around Montpellier in my gallery.