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Business Traveller

Metropolis on the Med: Montpellier

  • Nightlife
    Restaurants and bars in the Antigone district, Europe Square on the river Lez (Thinkstock)
  • On track
    Colourful trams make getting around town and to the Corum Conference centre quick and easy (Getty Images)
  • River views
    Montpellier's business district lines the banks of the river Lez. (Thinkstock)
  • Culture club
    Take in some of France's finest 17th through 19th century paintings at the Fabre Gallery. (Getty Images)
  • Wine lovers
    The International Exhibition of Mediterranean Wines and Spirits was held in Montpellier. (AFP/Getty Images)
  • Sun-lit sidestreets
    Wander through traditional villages in the Languedoc- Roussillon region. (Thinkstock)
  • Living history
    A watertower at the end of an ancient aqueduct near Montpellier town. (Thinkstock)

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The New York Times named Montpellier one of its top 45 places to visit in 2012 (the only French city to make that list), and this oft-overlooked southwestern city has rightfully earned the accolade.

As the capital of the stunning Languedoc-Roussillon region in southwest France, this Mediterranean Mecca is drawing global attention, and continues to build on the boost its tourism industry received from the 2012 honour.

Its appeal goes far beyond its narrow medieval streets and incredible architecture designed by world-renowned Jean Nouvel and Zaha Hadid.  Montpellier is the very definition of a modern Mediterranean metropolis just a few kilometres from the glittering sea.

It is also fast becoming southern Europe’s primary business destination, in large part because of its large venues for events. And it is a growing hub for the IT and pharmaceutical sectors thanks to state of the art research and development facilities at some of Montpellier’s universities.

The Corum conference centre, one of the rare major venues set in a downtown area in France and the Arena-Park & Suites, the new multi-purpose arena able to hold up to 15,000 people (the second largest downtown facility in France). Each year, Montpellier hosts over 500 professional events – with some 1.5 million attendees, exhibitors and visitors. It regularly ranks as one of the top five French cities for organising conferences and international exhibitions, including recent events for the Lawyers Congress, Neuroscience Congress, and the Championnats du Monde de Sauvetage event.

It is home to multinational organizations like IBM and Dell, which maintain significant operations in the area. In 2011, solar technology specialist Phaesun expanded its area operations through a partnership with BP Solar. Montpellier  is attractive to technology and computer companies, in part because of the youthful and skilled population that comes from being such a large university town.

The city's historic architecture is studded with inspiring new arrivals such as the futuristic, Zaha Hadid-designed archives building and the City Hall by French architect Jean Nouvel. Still, life in Montpellier centres around the beautiful Place de la Comedie, the city's central square ringed with restaurants and the Opera Comedie (opera house and theatre modelled after the Opera Garnier in Paris) and the famous fountain of the Three Graces. While many businesses can be found in the area of Antigone (1km east of the Place de la Comedie), most travellers will find themselves in the city centre for meetings or business lunches.

Airport

Montpellier's airport is modern and simple to use, a big draw for travellers. While the city is well- connected to other French hubs via high-speed train, TGV service. The airport offers numerous daily flights through Paris Charles de Gaulle in addition to low-cost airlines including easyJet that fly regularly to many European centres.

From the door to the plane to the airport exit is often less than one minute. In 2013, the airport registered a 10.5% growth over 2012 with over 1 million passengers passing through the airport's doors and there are a host of new direct flights to the city.

The taxi fare between Montpellier airport and the city centre is around 20 euro (about $26). Alternatively, public transportation is available via bus 120 to Antigone  and connecting to the city's above-ground tram network for under 3 euro ($5).

Money matters

Credit cards with chip-and-pin feature are accepted everywhere (those without it are still taken at most shops, but not at automated kiosks and some food outlets).

You should expect to pay 4 to 5 euros ($6-7) for a glass of French wine (this region is the largest wine producer in the country) or 2 to 4 euros ($3-5) for a crepe. Busy business folk are often seen with a baguette with cheese and ham and a cup of coffee for breakfast (5 to 6 euros, or $7 to 8) on their morning commute.

An efficient tram shuttles guests around town for around 1 euro ($1.30). In 2012, two new lines with trams designed by Christian Lacroix were added to the city's network nearly doubling the reach of Montpellier's public transportation system.

Cultural know-how

In Montpellier, and much of Southern France, most people  kiss on the cheek three times (in no particular order) rather than hug each other. Even at a simple business event, it is appropriate to kiss on each cheek if meeting for the second or third time. This is more typical between males and females or two females. Two males are more likely to shake hands.

If planning a dinner function, don't even think about eating before 19:30. In the Mediterranean region, people eat late, although it is common to suggest an aperitif around dusk.

Hotels

Numerous new hotels have sprung up as the city's reputation as a business hub has grown. A, 123-room Courtyard by Marriott, recently opened near the new City hall on the banks of the Lez River, which criss-crosses the city. The entire property was designed by well-known French architect Jean Nouvel giving the entire space a contemporary appeal.

Another popular choice, less than a kilometre from the Place de la Comedie is the 146-room Crowne Plaza Corum, next to Corum Conference Centre. Like most large hotels in southwestern France, there is a sparkling outdoor swimming pool.

Directly on the famous main town square, is the 44-room Le Grand Hotel du Midi, fresh from a total renovation. Kept intact was its 19th century facade, which blends in perfectly with the Old Town's architectural beauty.

Dinner for one

The gourmet eatery at the Fabre Museum, Insensé, which offers French terroir cuisine (local dishes) It’s a popular choice because of its business-friendly dishes served quickly such as Nicoise salads, foie gras and chutney fig crème brulee, and local grilled cuttlefish.

Chez Boris, on the main Esplanade (a tree-lined street filled with shops and cafes) and a 1-minute walk from the Place de la Comedie, is the best spot for a hearty dinner, especially if trying to impress clients. The primarily steakhouse menu is awash in delicious local treats including the area's fleur du sel (expensive salt grains) served with bread. After work drinks are popular at Cafe Riche on Place de la Comedie. The oldest cafe in town, this eatery is well-known for its extensive regional wine list and appetisers including a variety of local cheese. It is especially crowded on Thursday night, which is when many restaurants offer specials to university students.

Off the clock

Montpellier is 11 kilometres from the Mediterranean Sea (separated only by vineyards and marshland oyster farms). Make time for afternoon dining and strolling along the sparkling waters. Public transportation takes visitors to many of these beaches. From Montpellier, take the tramway line 4 to Pérols-Etang de l'or (1.40 euro or $2). There, you can take a shuttle with the same tramway ticket or rent a bike.

Another popular destination is Sète, a town on a small island linked together by numerous canals, known as the "Venice of the Languedoc" region.

Special considerations

Montpellier is a university city with nearly 80,000 students and is used to hosting visitors from around the world. The relaxed setting and Mediterranean vibe may mean that it takes just a bit longer to get things done, but there is an energy and vibrancy that supplies an ample local workforce.

Montpellier is 11 kilometres from the Mediterranean Sea. Make time for strolling along the sparkling waters.

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