Posted by: Bob Fisher | May 5, 2009

Montpellier, France: Paris Without the Pressure

A Thousand Years of Trade and Intellectual Life

One of France’s great cities, Montpellier is a city very much on a human scale both physically and artistically. Homogenous from an architectural point of view, the city will remind you of Paris, but at the same time it will be the gateway to a unique area of France — the Languedoc.

As the capital of the région known as Languedoc-Roussillon as well as the capital of the département of the Hérault (France is divided into 95 départements), Montpellier has been the centre of French history and Mediterranean life for a very long time.

In this city of over 200,000 inhabitants, of which almost 60,000 are students, you will find a great deal to explore — on foot especially because this is one of the most pedestrian-friendly cities in France.

As a Mediterranean trading centre since the 10th century, Montpellier is layered with history. Inherent in it is also a culture of diversity and learning. It was here that William VII of Montpellier established a faculty of medicine in 1180 which in turn was given an official “stamp of approval” by Pope Nicholas IV. The city is today one of the major university cities in France. Its own university, one of the oldest in France, was granted its charter in 1220.

As a renowned centre for learning in Europe, the city also became known for its faculties of arts and law. As the centre of the famous Languedoc wine trade, Montpellier also rivals Toulouse as one of the most dynamic cities in the south of France.

Very much an international city in its own right, Montpellier is regarded as a very integrated city and one in which civic and social enrichment has been a priority over the centuries through the arts, architecture, public spaces, education, and a wonderful sense of self-determination — all of this despite the inconstancy of European history.

slideshowiconTo watch a full slide show of Montpellier, click here.

A View of Montpellier From Someone Who Knows

Susan Wallis and I have been friends for over 50 years, and have managed to stay in touch over that period of time. With her husband Tim, Susan operates a wonderful self-catering vacation business (gîte) in the idyllic village of Oupia a little over an hour from Montpellier. As someone who is passionate about learning in its most experiential sense especially, she has come to know Montpellier and the region of Languedoc well. Susan also recently became a French citizen and now holds dual Canadian-French citizenship.

We chatted via the magic of Skype from her home in Oupia shortly after she and Tim paid another visit to Montpellier.

To listen to our chat, click on the link below.

Susan’s recommendations in Montpellier…


(a) Le Jardin des Sens This is a three star Michelin restaurant, however not within our budget.

(b) Le Mogador This is a friendly little Moroccan restaurant we love.


(a) Hôtel du Parc. This is a friendly, quiet little hotel, with a few free parking sites, which must be reserved in advance.

(b) Aéroport Hôtel . Right beside the airport, there’s a shuttle service from this hotel to the train and bus stations in Montpellier.

(c) Booking hotels through

There is an abundance of hotels, including several chains (Sofitel, Ibis) as well as small family hotels some of which are located in some of the old mansions of Montpellier.


Musée Fabre

Getting around

(a) The state-of-the arts tram in Montpellier

(b) We use Michelin maps for driving and cycling, especially the regional Languedoc-Roussillon map. For more detail (i.e. for walking, cycling, or hiking) we use IGN maps which have a scale as small as 25 m. to cm.


(a) The Theatre Festival (Printemps des Comédiens) in early June

(b) The International Dance Festival (Festival de danse) in early to late June

(c) The Festival de Radio-France et de Montpellier mid-July to mid-August (It includes leading international orchestras, operas, chamber music, and jazz at different sites around the city.)

Background reading

(a) The Midi, by Joy Law

(b) The Eyewitness Travel Guide to France (updated every year) published by Dorling Kindersley

(c) The Cadogan Guide to Languedoc-Roussillon

Other recommended resources

(a) Montpellier’s tourism website

(b) Montpellier’s official website

(c) A Montpellier webcam (La Place de la Comédie)

(d) The Hérault tourism website

Lou Récantou

Lou Récantou is Susan and Tim’s excellent self-catering business. I especially like the apartment with its balcony overlooking the quiet street. A glass of Languedoc wine and watching French village life passing by … ah … c’est le paradis!

RECENT NEWS From Montpellier

Sabrina Lucchese of the Hérault Tourism Department sends her regards and some updated information on Montpellier.

“Do you know that Montpellier has changed a lot last year? The Fabre museum reopened in February 2007 and is really wonderful with international works from the XVIth century to the present and new temporary exhibitions.

There is also a library, a documentation centre, an auditorium, and a restaurant owned by the Pourcels brothers of the restaurant Jardin des Sens.

There is also a new tram with colourful flowers (the line running from South West to North East), a big aquarium (called Mare Nostrum) open since the middle of last December, an Amazonian greenhouse open since last June.

Also, the “Velomagg” concept (as found in other big cities in France — Velolib in Paris for example) now makes it possible to rent a bicycle for several hours or a day)”

All photographs copyright Bob Fisher


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