Southern powerhouse that landed French title in 2012

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

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 from 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 continued to make un-PC gaffes to the press after ever more frequent MHSC defeats – before his death while dining with friends to celebrate his 74th birthday in 2017.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and timings

Aéroport Montpellier Méditerranée is 7km (4.5 miles) south-east of town.

Airport Shuttle 620 runs half-hourly (€1.60/€2.60 with tramway ticket) to Montpellier Gare Sud de France (10mins) and boulevard de l’Aéroport (25mins) in town.

The main train station is St-Roch, 3hrs 30mins from Paris Gare de Lyon (advance discount €45). Some trains also link directly with Barcelona and Madrid. Near the centre, St-Roch is served by four of the five tramway lines, plus city buses, overseen by TaM. A single ticket is €1.60, valid 1hr, changes permitted, a day pass €4.30, valid 24hr from initial stamping.

Montpellier Taxi Bleu du Midi (+33 4 67 03 20 00) charge €25-€35 between airport and town.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

Among the twisting, narrow streets of the old centre, the spic, span and sport-friendly O’Carolan’s sits by St Anne’s Church while, in pretty place Saint-Côme, stands the equally pub-like Fitzpatrick’s.

Close by and a worthy candidate for best place in town, the wonderful Bar le Saint-Roch (22 rue du Petit St-Jean) is 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 Le Saint-Roch happens to be screening le 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.

If you’re passing by the main square, you should find TV sports at landmark Le Café Riche 1893 – with the most prominent terrace in town.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the stadium and city centre

Montpellier Tourist Office offers a hotel-booking service.

The only hotel within easy reach of the Mosson stadium is the renovated and affordable Abelia (70 route de Lodève), near Celleneuve tramway.

Conveniently close for the airport bus and a quick hop into the city centre, the Novotel Suites Montpellier on avenue du Pirée also offers an outdoor pool and gym. Nearby Mercure Montpellier Antigone ticks most four-star boxes. By the Georges Frêche-Hôtel de Ville tramway stop, the Courtyard Montpellier provides a heated outdoor pool between May and September.

In town, among the many chains, by the main square the Grand Hôtel du Midi has charm, character and 44 rooms still bright from a 2015 renovation. Near St-Roch station, the Best Western Comédie St-Roch provides convenient, three-star comfort, alongside the affordable, 12-room St-Roch (+33 4 67 60 72 81). Further along, halfway towards town, the Eurociel Centre Comédie comprises 45 mid-range rooms over six floors.