The French champions of 2012 represent the dynamic southern metropolis of Montpellier, just the other side of Provence in Languedoc-Roussillon. Under the singular ownership of corpulent entrepreneur Louis Nicollin since 1974, Montpellier HSC jumped from obscurity to gain regional funding and hire star players such as Eric Cantona, Laurent Blanc and Carlos Valderrama.
Before Nicollin, the club had played at a municipal ground on avenue du Pont Juvenal and, just over the river Lez, the Stade Richter. La Mosson, also known by the name of La Paillade after the surrounding district in the town’s north-western outskirts, came into operation when Nicollin arrived.
The turning point came in 1989, when Nicollin, long-term city mayor George Frêche and Hérault Council agreed on a financial deal by which the club would promote the Montpellier and its surrounding département of Hérault as a whole – and change their name to Montpellier Hérault Sport Club.
A year later, after much behind-the-scenes lobbying by Nicollin and Frêche, La Paillade staged six matches for the 1998 World Cup. A surprise choice of venue, Montpellier could consider the tournament a PR triumph. Close to the popular beach of Palavas (a train used to take fans to and from the seaside when the club was based in town), Montpellier proved a willing and convivial host.
The title win of 2012, the first in the club’s history, later brought Champions League football to La Paillade.
Though Montpellier was overlooked for Euro 2016, Hérault council who own la Mosson have decided to go ahead with an improvement programme anyway, providing cover for all four stands by 2015. Top-level rugby of both codes is also regularly staged at the ground.
The ever quotable Nicollin continues to make un-PC gaffes to the press after ever more frequent MHSC defeats – while his refuse-collection company continues to make his fortune.
The Aéroport Montpelleier Méditerranée is 7km (4.5 miles) south-east of town.
Navette Aéroport No.120 runs hourly (€1.50/€2.40 with tramway ticket, journey time 15 mins) to reach focal place de l’Europe, where two of the four tramway lines meet.
City transport TaM also run several bus lines. Their office opposite the main train station of St-Roch sells single (€1.40), return (€2.50) and 24-hour tickets (€3.80). Stamp on board for each journey, even the day passes.
The fixed fare to the centre by Borne Taxi Aéroport (+33 4 67 20 65 29) is €20-€30 according to how many are travelling and on which days.
The Tourist Office on central place de la Comédie offers a hotel-booking service.
The only hotel within easy reach of the Mosson stadium is the newly renovated and affordable Abelia (70 route de Lodève), halfway between the Celleneuve and Mosson tramway stops.
Conveniently close for the airport bus and a quick hop into the city centre, the Suite Novotel Montpellier also offers an outdoor pool and gym. Nearby Mercure Montpellier Antigone is a more functional chain establishment. The upscale Courtyard Montpellier, with a pool and spa, is also within close vicinity.
In town, among the many chains, the Grand Hôtel du Midi has charm, character and good internet deals. Near St-Roch station, the Hôtel d’Angleterre is modest but cheap, with a Pub Angleterre alongside. Facing St-Roch station, the two-star Hôtel Montpellier is conveniently located. Nearby Best Western Eurociel is another wallet-friendly option.
Up from the main square, where you’ll find TV sports at landmark Le Café Riche 1893, a little hub of bars sits on place Jean-Jaurès. L’envers is the most football-savvy.
Also downtown, by Observatoire tramway stop, the Robin Hood offers rare English ales. Among the twisting, narrow streets of the historic centre, you’ll find the pub-like Fitzpatricks, set in a pretty, atmospheric square; the more spic and span O’Carolans by St Anne’s Church; and, a worthy candidate for best place in town, the wonderful Bar le Saint-Roch (22 rue du Petit St-Jean), a bohemian warren of retro Americana and MHSC worship – note the match tickets behind the bar, regulars focused on the live TV action. Up a winding set of stairs you’ll find pool and table football. It’s also in a tiny hub of bars, busy at night. If Saint-Roch happen to be screening rugby, The Beehive opposite should be broadcasting the Prem game you’re looking for. Decent music policy too.
Another hub, with a more business-like, post-work feel, stretches along the waterfront behind place de l’Europe, where O’Sullivans screens matches in its pub-like interior and adjacent lounge/cocktail bar. Beside it, Cafe Oz runs along similar lines.
In the far east of the centre, past the Odysseum centre where avenue Albert-Einstein meets avenue de Grammont, lunchtime-only Le Bistrot de Grammont is a pleasant terrace restaurant run by the club by their training centre. Look out for weekday menu specials. From the training pitch near the Zénith events hall – bus No.9 to Zénith from tram No.1 place de France – follow the signs in this complex of sport and recreation. The restaurant is down a short path by the stables. From the main gates by the Zénith bus stop, it’s a ten-minute walk.