Imagine yourself in medieval France in this ancient trade and university town. Then take advantage of the easy access to the Mediterranean Sea.
Montpellier is home to France’s oldest botanical garden and one of its oldest universities. Due to its southern location, Montpellier is not a typical medieval French city. Note the influence of Spain on the city’s architecture, sample fish caught fresh from the Mediterranean Sea and take a daytrip south to sunbathe in a Mediterranean resort town.
Begin in the Place de la Comédie, an open central square abutted by the grand Opera House. Watch a world-class performance here or simply observe the 19th-century building at night when its giant windows are illuminated with purple neon lights.
Walk just a few blocks east of Montpellier’s historic center to one of its newest developments: the Antigone neighborhood. Between 1979 and 2000, this area was entirely redeveloped by famed architect Ricardo Bofill, who is from the nearby Spanish region of Catalonia. The massive neoclassical buildings culminate in the grassy amphitheater of the Esplanade de l’Europe, which curves along the Lez River. Come to the esplanade on Friday evenings during the summer for wine tasting.
Montpellier’s history of prosperity and its rich artistic tradition have given it exciting and influential cultural attractions. The Botanical Garden, founded in 1593, is France’s oldest; it inspired the design of the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. Visit the Fabre Museum to see a collection of classical European art, including an extensive collection of drawings by French masters. Inside the Montpellier Cathedral you will find a canvas by Sébastien Bourdon, one of the city’s most famous native artists.
Take advantage of Montpellier’s Mediterranean location by visiting Palavas les Flots, which is a 20-minute drive south of the city. This resort town is located on a long and extremely narrow island off the French coastline. While there, try succulent shrimp or cod from local waters.
An international airport lies 5 miles (8 kilometers) east of the Montpellier city center. Once in the city, get around via the extensive tramway network and on foot. You will find that a pleasant Mediterranean breeze blows through its narrow medieval streets.