Montpellier is a dynamic city, the eighth largest in France, and a very pleasant place to live. In contrast to most big French cities, Montpellier is comparatively new dating back only to the Middle Ages, but it still boasts an interesting and varied cultural heritage. This is partly due to the city’s ancient trading links and its history of tolerance towards Muslims, Jews, Cathars, and in later times, Protestants. In the 13th century, the city’s faculties of law and medecine were established and to this day, Montpellier is recognised as a centre of excellence in the teaching and practice of medecine. Students at the university through the ages include such diverse individuals as Rabelais and Nostradamus, latterly Paul Valéry, Enver Hoxha (former Communist leader of Albania) and Michel Navratil (survivor of the Titanic).
The focal point of the city is, without doubt, the Place de la Comédie, a vast, pedestrianised square stretching from the Theatre to Le Corum arts centre and the Polygone shopping mall. Here there is a market, lots of restaurants and cafés and a variety of buskers—some better than others! It makes a wonderful place to stop for a refreshment.
There is always plenty to do and see in Montpellier whether you want to go sightseeing, shopping or just having a drink or dinner with friends and absorb this unrushed city. As a well known university city there is also a good nightlife wheter you simply want to go to a laid back bar, more uptown clubbing or to any kind of concerts, this city is the place to be in the Languedoc. Another side of this city is its rich history and many exhibitions and museums, oneof the most famous being rte Musée Fabre. This is an art museum housing an important collection of paintings from the 17th to the 19th century. The Fabre is just off the Place de la Comédie so is a ‘must-see’ for most people visiting the city.
A marvellous example of Montpellier’s diverse cultural heritage is the rare, 12th century Jewish ‘mikveh’ - a ritual bath, fed by clear, limpid waters. There are also a number of ‘hotels’, some of which are open to the public. (A ‘hotel’ in this sense is a private mansion). Getting about in the city is easy with an excellent new tramway system that feeds from the suburbs directly to the centre. Take Line 1 and you will soon finish up at the Odysseum Centre where there are plenty of good shopping opportunities but also lots to do for the kids. A great example is Mare Nostrum, a magnificent aquarium vibrant with all kinds of underwater creatures. Another popular option is the Galilée planetarium, a multi-screen cinema. To make this mecca for kids complete there is an ice rink, a karting parcour and much more!
The beaches of the Mediterranean are very close with Lattes, La Grande Motte and Palavas-les-Flots being the nearest. If you fly in to Montpellier airport, you will get a great view of both the étangs (salt lagoons) that separate the mainland from the sea, and the iconic pyramids of 1960’s architecture at La Grande Motte.
Montpellier is a great town to base yourself in, or to visit just for the day or the weekend. It’s big enough that you feel you are in a major, exciting city but it doesn’t have the overwhelming size of Paris or London where you can sometimes feel swamped. If you visit the Languedoc, you have to visit Montpellier!
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