Montpellier, the second largest city in the Occitan region of France is located in the south of France, about 11 kilometers from the Mediterranean coast. Since the 10th century it has been a place of commerce and acquired a charter in 1141. The city has repeatedly won titles, such as that of the second happiest city in France, the second best city to live in and have a good time in. retirement in France, the best place to live as an expat, and others.
The reasons behind the many accolades could be the sunny Mediterranean climate, which brings pleasant, warm weather without the sweltering heat that many other cities in the south of France suffer from. The reason could be that Montpellier is not surrounded by mountains, or it could be the superb mix of old and new, the enthusiasm of young students in old universities, the many places to just be and watch the world pass, or proximity to the coast.
Most likely, it’s all of the above, creating an intriguing mix that appeals to residents and visitors alike, offering a city break just a few tram stops from the seaside, a historic setting with modern accents, an arty venue with lots of joy of living, and all in one package that’s easy to explore on foot.
I love Montpellier for so many reasons: you can walk around all day, learn and see so much, but then anytime you want to find a nice place to sit down, a coffee or a refreshing drink in your hand, and just relax and enjoy the surroundings. Even I, as a European accustomed to a history stretching back hundreds of years, am in awe of the old universities here, but I am also captivated by the hyper-modern edifices that spring up around the old center. And then when you’ve got your fill of the city, or you wake up and it’s a beautiful day, which is almost every day here, and you can grab your bathing suit and a towel and take the local tram to a perfect sandy beach with the Mediterranean lapping at your feet – what’s not to love?
Here are my main reasons for falling in love with Montpellier.
1. It is a former center of learning
The faculty of the University of Medicine was established in 1220 and enjoyed the protection and indulgence of the Counts of Toulouse, the Kings of Aragon, various Popes, and then the Kings of France, and flourished during centuries. In the 1700s, about half of all physicians practicing in France graduated in Montpellier. Unfortunately, the imposing building that we see today dates “only” from the 14th century. As in previous centuries, students tended to learn in the private homes of their teachers.
One of Montpellier’s most famous students was Nostradamus, or as he was known in France, Michel de Nostradame. He came to Montpellier in 1529 to continue his intermittent medical studies.
Today, Montpellier is still an important student city, and the young, studious but fun atmosphere reverberates throughout the city.
2. There are superb monuments
In the 1500s, Nostradamus predicted the following: “When the pines disappear, the city will perish”, referring to the pines growing atop the Tower of the Pines, the Tower of the Pines, a last vestige of the strong city walls. which surrounded and protected Montpellier in the 1200s. As you will see, there are still trees that protrude from the top of the old tower, but they are not the same as in the days of Nostradamus. It seems that the city’s rulers have a superstitious side and they not only took care of the trees, but also replanted them whenever they showed any sign of disease. (Just in case Nostradamus is right.)
On the very Rue Foch in Paris, you will even find a very Parisian Arc de Triomphe, here called the Peyrou gate. Built in 1693, it is older than its Parisian cousin by over 100 years.
3. You can walk everywhere
A simple, but good reason: the city center is the perfect size for strolling, slowly wandering through the many alleys, getting lost, but never really getting lost. Lots to see within an easy radius, a lot to discover, but never too much to make the summer heat overwhelming. And, best of all, you can book a walking tour that is guided by locals and tailored to your individual interests, so you can not only learn by walking, but also experience what it’s like to live in Montpellier.
4. There are countless places to stop and rest
If it ever gets a little too much, Montpellier offers a picturesque place on every corner, where you can stop for a coffee, a water, a spritz or a wine, depending on the time of day and the mood. Whether it’s the large Place Jean Jaurès, or the Place du Marché aux Fleurs, the Place Sainte-Anne or the Place de la Canourgue, each is lined with small cafes and bistros, perfect for a break, a drink and a moment of relaxation. . the local vibe.
5. One of the most picturesque markets in France
There are a lot of big markets in France, but there are markets and then there are markets. The Marché des Arceaux is an organic farmer’s market offering everything from fresh flowers and huge garlic bulbs to fish and fresh vegetables, with plenty of food stalls in between. But it’s not that unusual. What makes this market special is the setting. The clue is in the name: market of bows, or hoops. This market is located below the two-story Saint-Clément aqueduct, or Arceaux aqueduct which, although not Roman – there are no Roman sites in Montpellier – dates from the 1700s and carried water from Saint-Clément to Montpellier. Open every Tuesday and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., you can reach the market from the city center by tram lines 6 and 16, get off at Arceaux, and go down the hill.
6. You will love the architectural mix
On the Place de la Comédie, you might think you are in Paris, with its large Art Nouveau buildings, but a few steps away, you are in the medieval warren, mixed with buildings from the 1500s and 1600s. you just outside the old town, again, a short walk or a short tram ride, and Montpellier displays a heady array of hyper-modern architecture. Discover sites such as L’Arbre blanc, the white tree, a building with projecting balconies like a thorny white cactus, or the Philippe Starck Cloud, the Town Hall of Port Marianne by Jean Nouvel, or the Pierres building Cheers from Zaha Hadid. Montpellier has a mix that works well and that architecture enthusiasts will appreciate.
7. It’s near the beach
Montpellier is the perfect compromise for those couples or travel companions who have different tastes: one likes to visit the cities and the other wants to bask by the beach. In Montpellier, you can soak up art and history in the morning, then get on the tram and 40 minutes later you are on the beach. The beaches near Montpellier are located behind beautiful sand dunes, are endless and white, and have stretches where there is no one else, and stretches where you will find beach bars offering sun loungers and umbrellas in the area. sand as well as in cocktails.
Montpellier’s pedestrian streets have not changed much since the Middle Ages, many nestled in vaulted, tiny, individual vaults and dotted with medieval remains. You just have to go and see the Vue d’Ici optician at 7, rue de l’Anciel Courier, where there is a perfect example of a medieval drinking trough used as a display table. Around the corner, on the steps of rue du Bras de Fer, The Bookshop, the English bookstore, not only has a good selection of English books, but also an old well in the basement. For a superb selection of toys and board games, don’t miss the lovely Pommes de Reinette boutique at 33, rue de l’Aiguillerie. They offer beautiful craftsmanship in a traditional shop.
9. There are world-class museums
There are plenty of museums to keep art and history lovers busy, but I particularly like the Museum of Old Montpellier, the Museum of Old Montpellier, which features examples of medieval architecture and history collected throughout the city. town and also hosts regular art exhibitions. under the ancient arches of the building. It also has a rather friendly restaurant set in a historic setting, perfect for a welcome respite. Then there is the Fabre Museum, which holds one of the largest collections of European art in the world, while also specializing in regional artists.