Sometimes the places we visit are a revelation. And so it was with Montpellier France . Situated not far from the Mediterranean, Montpellier is surprisingly pleasant. It is better than advertised by the guidebooks.
Unlike many of the cities in the south of France, Montpellier’s origins are not Roman. First established in medieval times by the Counts of Toulouse, this modern city of 244,300 people is today the capitol of the Languedoc-Roussillon. Montpellier is the 8th largest and fastest growing city in France. It is easy to suggest that the historic origins sway contemporary perceptions but Montpellier has undoubtedly evolved since the Middle Ages.
Why did we like Montpellier? First, Montpellier is a university town. College towns are always energetic and full of life. For sure 60,000 students are a strong youthful influence on any city’s culture, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. The second factor swaying our point of view was where we stayed. Not that we knew this ahead of time, but the Hotel du Palais, the old school inn where we deposited our bodies at night, is located inside the historic walls in a particularly pleasant quarter of Montpellier. This hotel sits near cafes in a quiet tree-lined section of town. In this corner of the city it felt like we were in a quaint coastal village. Yet the hectic bustle of urban Montpellier waited a few steps away from our room’s doorstep. If we had stayed elsewhere, or even approached the hotel by another road route, we might have viewed Montpellier as busy rather than peaceful.
There is another reason why we enjoyed our stay in Montpellier. After cold days in Luxembourg City and a hot sweaty sojourn in Lyon, the Mediterranean weather was perfectly ideal. Days like this are called Chamber of Commerce days for a reason; they are perfect advertisements for any city.
Montpellier is the closest metropolitan area to the starting point for our canal trip across France. Indeed, the proximity to canal base, Port Ariane in Lattes, is why we were in the area. As a bonus we found that Montpellier, like our last stop in Lyon, has a collection Space Invader tile mosaics systematically placed amongst its streets. We’d spend our short stay stocking up with supplies for our month and a half long boat trip and searching for the quirky tiled Space Invaders. (We found 27 Space Invaders and one place where an Invader was removed.) Amongst the errands and the Invader hunt we discovered Montpellier.
Indeed Montpellier is a nice place to visit. We’d have considered staying longer but our canal boat was waiting for us in nearby Lattes. The boat would be our home for coming weeks. On the water we’d creep slowly away from Montpellier near the Mediterranean Sea and head towards the Atlantic Ocean.