Palavas is a seaside resort, some six km south of Montpellier, at the Gulf of Lion and the Mediterranean. It lies on a strip of sand dunes that separates two lakes, the Étang de l'Arnel and the Étang du Méjean, from the sea. Its neighbouring communities are Lattes, Pérols, Mauguio and Villeneuve-lès-Maguelone. The village center is located at the spot where the river Lez flows into the sea through a canalized section. Northwards, it stretches until Mauguio. Southwards, expansion is halted by a military area and an area used by the Ifremer.
The village originated as a fishermen's village who sold their catch on the markets of Montpellier. The Ancien Régime used the village as a coastal defence, building the Redoute de Ballestras.
The historical train from Montpellier to Palavas, now exhibited in Montpellier
From the beginning of the 19th century, local tourists and seasonal activities were drawn to the village. When in 1872 a local train to and from Montpellier started service, seaside tourism really took off. This train operated until 1968 and was painted by Albert Dubout.
The mainstay of Palavas' economy is tourism. It is one of the most popular places in this part of France's coastline. In the film The Triplets of Belleville (Les Triplettes de Belleville), there is a song about the village. Apart from strolling, bathing and tanning there are also two museums: one dedicated to Albert Dubout and one dedicated to the local train to Montpellier.