Beyond Montpellier: Sète, Nîmes & Arles day trips by train

Bored with Montpellier? Really?! Well there’s no shortage of other cities to visit. Paris, Barcelona, Carcassone, and others are great for a weekend away but a bit of a stretch for a day trip. Fortunately there’s plenty on offer closer to home. Here we look at three cities accessible by train from Montpellier in one hour, give or take a few minutes.


Sun and seafood


A 20 minute train ride south west of Montpellier, perched on a slip of land between a lake and the sea, lies the port town of Sète. On the approach to the station the skyline is dominated by the industrial heart of Sète but the city centre is much more traditional. Leaving the station you immediately see one of the defining, recurring images of Sète – its waterways.


These canals split the city centre into three – two islands adjoining the mainland –  and give the city its character. Bars and the cities innumerable seafood restaurants line the canals, giving diners a good vantage point for watching boats coming back from the sea. In the summer crowds gather on temporary stands to see the Languedoc tradition of water jousting, basically people on two boats trying to knock each other off with sticks.


A touch of Rome


A little less than half an hour in the opposite direction from Sète trains from Montpellier arrive in Nîmes. Famed as the birthplace of denim and for its Roman history, Nîmes provides an excellent day trip by train from Montpellier. Arguably one of the main attractions, and certainly one of the hardest to miss, is the mini-Collesum that is the Arena of Nîmes. A few minutes walk from the train station the arena is a well preserved Roman arena. You can pay for a tour but it’s quite possibly best seen over the summer months when it plays host to a series of rock concerts.


On the edge of Nîmes lies Les Jardins de la Fontaine. The 18th century garden is built around the ruins of a Roman baths and is a wonderfully tranquil area. For a great view of Nîmes and the surrounding area climb up the hill until you reach La Tour Magne, a tower at the far north of the garden. From the top of the tower Nîmes spills out in front of you. If you want to visit the arena and the tower you can buy a Roman pass which costs €10, is valid for three days, and lets you into both monuments, plus Maison Carrée.


The Arles alternative


A bit further afield, close to an hour by train from Montpellier, is another city boasting Roman ruins, Arles. Despite being often overlooked by expats in Montpellier in favour of the more local Nîmes, Arles has more than enough to hold its own. Again an amphitheatre, actually bigger than the one in Nîmes, is a main attraction but Arles also features art galleries, a Roman museum, and the remains of the ancient forum.

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