By Philippe, the founder of Montpellier Free Tour.
Montpellier is, in my opinion, the most beautiful place to live in France. Didn’t Jacques I of Aragon say of his hometown that it was the “best city in the universe”?
So yes, welcome to the Mediterranean coast, to the sunniest city in France and the university cradle of the hexagon (that's how we call France). But first of all, a short historical note.
From a small village to a prosperous trading city of the Aragon family
Montpellier is a young and ambitious city. Founded in 985 by Guilhem, this small village turned into a prosperous trading city, a knowledge centre and a cultural melting pot in less than 200 years. The city became Aragonese in 1202 with the wedding of Maria de Montpellier (daughter of Guilhem VIII) and Pierre 2nd of Aragon. Jacques 1er d’Aragon’s parents make the city thrive like never before and trigger a golden age that will last 150 years.
The dark period
In 1351, a fratricidal war for power marks the end of the Aragonese period. James III sells the city to the Kingdom of France in the middle of the Hundred Years’ War. It is a dark time for the city, the King of France triggers an economic recession due to excessive taxation and an epidemic of Black Death buries the last hopes of what was at that time the second city of France. It will take time to recover.
Montpellier in the protestant period
More than 300 years and a new twist of fate. We are in 1560 and Montpellier, a city open to new ideas, becomes predominantly Protestant while the Wars of Religion are raging in France and Europe. Louis XIII, exceeded by the situation, besieged the city and then “pacified” in 1622, depriving it of any defence.
Montpellier goes through the ages without regaining the pomp of yesteryear and relies on its renowned universities and doctors.
It was then nicknamed “Montpellier asleep”. The city then occupied the second role for many years, until it wakes up.
During the second half of the 20th century, a figure symbolizes this change, Georges Frèche, emblematic mayor of the city, also the architect and builder of a dream: “Montpellier the gifted”. So welcome to the 7th city of France, a student city, a city of art and sports, of traditions and innovation, a city of life.
Just 11 kilometres from the Mediterranean coast, the city draws from its origins a unique art of living, halfway between France and Spain. With an average of 300 days of blue skies per year, life appreciates itself out of the house. Sporting and cultural events, gatherings, beach outings etc. everything is good to get together and have a good time.
Two districs symbolizing the past and the future
Two districts symbolize this way of life. Ecusson is the historic center and the epicenter of activity, where you will find many bars, shops and art galleries. Antigone, which looks like Ancient Greece, is resolutely turned towards the future with its particular architecture, wide-open spaces, libraries and its university center.
To move from one to the other, there are two possibilities. As Montpellier is a human-sized city you can appreciate it by walking from one point to another or opt for one of the most beautiful tramways in the world.
As such, a little story, each tram line represents one of the four natural elements:
Line 1 represents the air, the blue sky, the birds,
line 2, also called “the hippie tram” because of its flowers, represents the earth.
Line 3 symbolizes water with patterns evoking the depths of the sea.
And line 4, designed by Christian Lacroix, is draped in gold, and as you know to work this precious metal, fire is necessary.
The city, like its colourful tramways, is innovative and ambitious. It fits in the spirit thanks to the quality of its universities such as those of Medicine and Law.
Montpellier is also set in stone through large architectural projects. The new Town Hall, Antigone and Port Marianne districts, also the White Tree from the architect Sou Fujimoto, elected most beautiful residential building in the world by the website archdaily.com, are the best examples.
Montpellier is also in the forefront regarding art and sport, as demonstrated by the various editions of the FISE (International Festival of Extreme Sports), the Battle of the Year for breakdance or the MOCO new contemporary art center wishing to compete with the greatest.
You will understand, the setting is ideal, yet it reflects only a part of the city’s treasure. The true wealth of the city is in the patchwork that constitutes the population of Montpellier, all the languages, colours and religions, and which gives the city its distinctive accents and flavours. The city is teeming with life, and it is impossible to not to find an activity that suits your taste on the weekend.
Nature lovers will not be outdone between the oldest botanical garden in France, the wide open spaces such as Montcalm Park, the Domaine de Méric (where the artist Frédéric Bazille, a leading figure of Impressionism, lived) or the Lez.
Nature is never far away in one of the most beautiful regions of France with a diversity of breathtaking landscapes (Lac du Salagou, Gorges de l’Hérault, Pic Saint Loup or the Cirque de Navacelles). And if, on your next trip you would like to make the most of all these unique places, feel free to contact us.