In the south west of France, close to the famed Azure Coast lies the historical city of Montpellier – one of the largest French cities on the Mediterranean coast after Marseilles and Nice. Over the years, this beautiful city has becoming an amazing combination of a peaceful seaside haven and a growing tourist cum educational hub. Over the last couple of decades, with a growing population and a burgeoning economy, Montpellier has slowly turned into the fastest growing city across all of France. Yet it proudly retains its medieval past, its culture and roots that makes this French destination so unique and different in this part of the country.
Where it all began: The history of Montpellier
Unlike most other French cities (or even Italian cities in its vicinity), Montpellier had neither a Greek nor a Roman legacy. The earliest recorded mention of this city dates back to as early as the 10th century A.D. when Montpellier was apparently founded by the Guilhem – a local dynasty which combined the adjoining villages and made a proper fortification to lay the foundations of this city. However, it was only in the 12th century when this city rose to prominence, as yet another trading jewel on the rich and prosperous coasts of the Mediterranean, facilitating trade among three mighty continents. The city thrived as a multi-cultural melting pot with Jews, Muslims, Cathars and later on, Christians huddled together united by the riches of commerce. It further rose in prominence under the Kings of Aragon in the 13th century, when it became the spice capital of France, which contributed heavily to its coffers and helped the city create an amazing architecture, the remnants of which continues to woo historians even to this day. Montpellier continued to be the jewel of the French lands until the late 15th century when it was replaced by a more centrally located Marseilles as the trading mecca of the Mediterranean, sadly leading to its commercial decline.
Why to visit Montpellier
Today, Montpellier is one of the most cosmopolitan cities of France with a vibrant city life and a very young population (thanks to its student populace). Its rich history from medieval times ensures that there is no dearth of sight-seeing, while enjoying the vibrancy of a buzzing city replete with state of the art hotels, malls, shopping centres and restaurants – all conforming to the world famous French styles and regalia.
There are loads of medieval remnants in the guise of stone arches, towers, cathedrals and gardens. The Ecusson or the Old Town is a must visit, with its twisted streets still laced in old time history, Then there’s the famous esplanade of Montpellier (La promenade) with iconic statues and chateaus, not to forget its Botanical gardens, famed to be the oldest in the country. The Arc de Triomphe – the triumphal arch, and la Tour de la Babote (an observatory tower) are other places that demand a visit.
It is worthwhile to take a few days, if not weeks, in this balmy weather-laced beautiful city, reminiscent of the medieval times, yet so vibrantly alive. Together with its unforgettable vineyards, wine and food, not to forget the Mediterranean breeze, Montpellier is sure to charm you in the most pleasant of ways.