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Montpellier

City description

It’s a fact: Montpellier is at the head of the class when it comes to French cities with the greatest population growth. It remains to be seen just what is the reason behind this dynamism – the booming culture, proximity to the Mediterranean, enthusiasm for cutting-edge technologies or the poetry of old stones. Despite its success with students, researchers and entrepreneurs who are fans of sunny climes and good wine, this warm and forward-looking city – built on a human scale – has retained its character.

Place Royale du Peyrou is the ideal starting point for easing into Montpellier. From a height of about 60m, this 17th-century green space offers a beautiful urban panorama. The equestrian statue of Louis XIV sits at its centre, while between the lawns and paths lined with plane trees, locals and visitors of all ages gather around a picnic, a guitar or a ball. Dominating the city, Pic Saint-Loup is majestic when seen from between the columns of the water tower that used to serve Montpellier. The Arceaux district, sitting just below, owes its name to the Saint Clement aqueduct that brought drinking water to the promenade’s pool, nowadays appreciated solely for its beauty. 

Opposite the park, the Arc de Triomphe marks the beginning of Rue Foch which crosses the Écusson, the city’s historic heart. High-end boutiques have made their home on this Haussmann-style thoroughfare. At one end is the Halles Castellane covered market, starting point of Rue de la Loge, where passers-by slow their steps to better hear an unusual instrument or admire a troupe of dancers. Street performers ply their craft at Place de la Comédie. Here, the medieval centre encounters modern Montpellier, with Antigone as its bold and original figurehead. Created by Spanish designer Ricardo Bofill, this neighbourhood is home to various sports and cultural facilities, including an Olympic swimming pool and a large multimedia library. Its stunning neo-Greek architecture can be seen from the tram designed by Christian Lacroix or by walking along its main street that ends at the River Lez. Frequenting the riverbanks today are walkers, night owls and architects, all of whom add life to the Port Marianne district or the enormous Odysseum leisure centre.

Contradictory etymological theories agree on one point about the city’s name: Montpellier was born on a ‘Mont’. The pedestrian centre thus has its share of climbs and descents, but also surprises in each alley and stairway. Cafes and restaurants, thrift stores and designer showcases, booksellers and craftspeople crowd the squares and mansion-lined cobblestone streets of the Écusson. Impossible to miss is Saint Peter’s Cathedral. The former monastery of this fortress-like Gothic church was home to the first Faculty of Medicine, founded in the 12th century. Montpellier today has one of the largest student populations in the country, as well as a thriving technology sector. The former Royal College of Medicine created the nearby botanical garden to grow medicinal plants. Visitors can explore the greenhouses in this peaceful haven at the heart of a city that seduces all with its social and cultural life. Art lovers won’t want to miss the incomparable Musée Fabre or La Panacée, before pausing in Place Saint-Côme or at the Babotte Tower, a former observatory. If the Écusson resounds with shouts earlier than usual, it’s probably because the Montpellier Hérault Sport Club is playing at Stade de la Mosson, or the Montpellier Hérault Rugby Club at Stade Yves-du-Manoir. Oval ball or round, and whatever the final score, the party will continue late into the night within the walls of pubs, wine bars, concert halls and dance clubs.
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