In Montpellier, there are no well-organized arrondissements as in Paris. While municipal publications divide the city into "cantons", few of its inhabitants are aware of the boundaries of these administrative regions, preferring to orientate themselves by certain well-known quartiers or landmarks. For an overview, it is best to follow Montpellier's own growth and development over the centuries, from the medieval walled city out west to the outlying suburb of the Paillade and south-east to the modern projects that stretch towards the Mediterranean.
The Historic Walled City
The vibrant historic center of the city, referred to as the Ecusson, encapsulates the varied aspects of this diverse city. A pedestrian paradise and a car-owners nightmare, the labyrinth of lanes is a rich storehouse of historic architecture, churches and hidden courtyards as well as diverse shops, bars and restaurants. Of the city walls, the
Just outside the center lie a number of Montpellier's most distinctive landmarks. Most famous of all is the spacious
The increasingly sought-after districts of Beaux-Arts and Boutonnet are situated just north of the Ecusson, and have maintained individual village-like identities despite their inherent diversity. Beaux Arts, home to Montpellier's first Mosque and an active Jewish community, is particularly multicultural. Large bourgeois nineteenth-century properties, modern apartment blocks, narrow terraced housing and leafy suburban residences give it aesthetic variety.
In the nearby district of Les Arceaux regular markets and games of pétanque all take place alongside more shady dealings beneath the arches of the
South west of the centre is Figuerolles, a lively quartier arabe where the music, language and aromas evoke the North African roots of many of its residents. Home to one of Montpelliers cheapest markets and numerous inexpensive shops, restaurants and bars, this area is off the tourist trail.
There are many restaurants and bars around the station and the adjacent Rondelet district. Dominated by busy boulevards, the district lacks any distinct identity, but concerts at the Cargo, the
To the north of the central districts lies an agglomeration of hospitals and university faculties, the Hopitaux-Facultés. Further north again are the green spaces of the
Westwards to the banks of the Mosson
The western suburbs of Les Cevennes and La Chambette are characterized by small clusters of flats and spacious villas. The village of Celleneuve enjoys a cinema, shops and bars as well as one of Montpellier's oldest churches, Sainte Croix. By the banks of the Mosson lies the park of the eighteenth-century folly, the
Montpellier seeks the Sea - agenda for the 21st century
Just beyond the central 60s shopping center of the Polygone, the monumental neo-classical
Montpellier is a young city, due to a population that is mostly composed of international students, and it has a rich and historical inheritance. It comes as no surprise therefore to find so many different kinds of hotels in this city; different prices and architectural styles, which range from old town houses to superb, modern buildings.
The most luxurious hotel is Le Jardin des Sens, a marvelous place in the heart of the city, with a rich mahogany decor. The hotel restaurant is one the most famous in France, and a good reason to spend your stay in Montpellier in this hotel.
If you are looking for a quiet but central place, Hôtel du Parc enjoys both these attributes. Situated in a calm quarter of Montpellier, this hotel is like an oasis in the city center. A former eighteenth-century manor house, it has been totally renovated to include comfortable rooms and a superb garden.
There are several hotels in the city center, not far from the railway and bus stations, and only minutes from the city's main square, La Place de la Comédie. Due to its structure, this square is called l'oeuf (egg) by the population—it is the heart of the city and an excellent meeting place, too. The most striking of these central hotels is the Hôtel Sofitel Antigone, an impressively-tall pyramidal building. It is situated right next to the city's biggest shopping mall, the Polygone. If you stay in the upper floors, you'll enjoy a view over the whole town. Another large hotel in the city center is the Hôtel Mercure Montpellier Antigone. This hotel is situated in the quarter of Antigone, and offers a luxurious and well-furnished interior. Why not take a dip in the nearby Olympic swimming pool or visit the city's new library? Both are only a couple of minutes from the hotel. You can take refreshments in the hotels bar and restaurant after your tour of the historic quarter. The Inter Hôtel Montpellier is another good centrally-located option. The railway and bus stations are just moments away, and the town center is easily accessible on foot. There are several more moderately-priced hotels in the center of town. The more popular ones are the Royal Hôtel next to the Comédie, the Hôtel de la Comédie, just by the historic quarter, and the Hôtel Le Mistral, situated in a small street leading directly to the Place de la Comédie.
Several hotel chains have chosen to establish themselves in Montpellier and its environs. Campanile have four hotels in the city, one to the east right in the Millénaires Parc (Hôtel Campanile Montpellier Est Le Millénaire), one to the north next to the little town of Saint-Clément de Rivière (Hôtel Campanile Montpellier Nord Saint-Clément de Rivière), another one to the south, only 10 minutes from the sea (Hôtel Campanile Montpellier Sud Centre), and the last one to the west, next to Saint-Jean de Vedas (Hôtel Campanile Montpellier Ouest Saint-Jean de Vedas). All these hotels have meeting rooms and well-appointed bedrooms.
The Ibis chain proposes four hotels in Montpellier too. Two of them are situated right in the center (IBIS Montpellier Centre) and next to the Place de la Comédie (IBIS Suites Montpellier Place de la Comédie). The two others are situated in the south not far from the sea (IBIS Montpellier Sud), and by the city of Fabrègues, in the west of Montpellier (IBIS Montpellier Fabrègues).
The Novotel Montpellier, in the south of the city, has a comfortable atmosphere, and is close to the sea. The rooms are spacious and well furnished, and ten conference rooms are available.
If you prefer to self-cater, Montpellier has two residential Citadines Apart Hotels. The first one is situated in the north of the city, in the students' quarter, next to the university's science and arts faculties (Citadines Apart Hôtel Montpellier Sainte-Odile). The other one is more centrally located in the futuristic Antigone quarter (Citadines Apart Hôtel Montpellier Antigone).
The nearby beaches of the Mediterranean are a highlight of any stay in Montpellier. There are several spas only 10 kilometers from the city center, which offer well-equipped, comfortable hotels. The Palavas-les-flots spa offers visitors a seaside holiday. The Hôtel Le Grand Large and the Hôtel Le Tanagra are two other comfortable and reasonably-priced options. The small town of Carnon is another spa, only a few minutes from the center of Montpellier. Here you can choose between the Hôtel Hélios or the Le Gédéon for your holiday; both are well furnished and comfortable.
Montpellier has its own international airport. Businessmen and tourists requiring a hotel by the airport have a choice of two. The Air Hôtel and the Hôtel Lamira offer a comfortable stay and conference rooms.
Finally, for golfers and sportsmen, there's a great hotel not far from the city. The Golf Hôtel Blue Green Fontcaude, next to the small town of Juvignac, only five kilometers from Montpellier, offers golf holidays. An 18 hole "international" golf course and a 9 hole course are available, and you can book golf lessons and courses for all levels. After a round, why not relax in the hotel swimming pool? Conference rooms are available too.
With a long history, yet young population, Montpellier's bars and restaurants vary in mood and setting. Choose between appetizing local specialties, or if you prefer, Italian, Spanish, Moroccan, and Mediterranean cuisine, which are all particularly well represented here.
If you're tempted by local specialties (goat's or sheep's cheese, cold cuts, shellfish, olives and chestnuts), the Maison de la Lozère is great for rural produce and the Bonne Bouille, for fish.
Lovers of Italian food will appreciate the high class Verdi, Pizza Pizzeta, Pizzeria Sicilia, and the little Maramao. Tapas fans should try La Cueva.
The best of Arabian cuisine is also on offer: try couscous & tajines at Palmier, Regency, and Jardins de Marrakech. Cèdres du Liban and Al Manara are a good spots for Lebanese cuisine.
If you're after a snack, other establishments are both easy and cost-efficient: the Pita Grecque (good sandwiches), the Petit Ogre, Botan Kebab, the Aligot (particularly weekday lunchtimes)... The city's tea rooms offer a pleasant change of scene: try Simple Simon or L'Heure Bleue.
The large student population gathers, especially on Wednesdays and Thursdays, in all its different bars, open until one o'clock (2 o'clock in summer). There's bodega at the Toro Loco, games at the Rebuffy, electronic music at Next and l'Antidote, themed evenings at l'Odyssée. Serious party-goers and casual drinkers alike meet at the Macadam Pub.
Aesthetes will love the town's beautiful squares, and their vestiges of ancient chapels and churches, now destroyed. The Place de la Chapelle Neuve, is home to Chez Marceau, a bistro-style restaurant, and the Vieil Ecu. If you find yourself on Place Candolle check out the friendly Roule Ma Poule. Aperitifs at La Place or tapas at Pépé Carvalho are the order of the day in the charming Place Saint Ravy, with its beautiful fountain. On the squares near Saint Roch, there are a reasonably priced Mediterranean restaurant, La Posada, and the slightly more stylish Sister's Café. In the Place du Marché aux fleurs you will love the fresh cuisine at Saleya and the popular bar des Capucins.
You should also explore the original establishments that nestle in the city's suburbs: specialties from North Africa at Caféteria Boutonnet in Boutonnet; organic food at Quatres Saisons in the Beaux-Arts quarter; more African cuisine at Maquis in rue de la Méditerrannée; the excellent Chinese Cheng Du, specialties from the mountains at the Grenier Savoyard. Figuerolles is also worth a visit. There's the cheap, oriental Mac Khalid; the exotic Port Salengro or the endless pizzas at Repalatin.
Don't forget that the city extends to the banks of the river Lez (Antigone) and to the sea (Port Mariane) where you can also find luxurious restaurants like the Chandelier and Fabrice Guilleux.
Take a trip off the beaten track to some great restaurants on the littoral (at Sète or close to the Etang de Thau for seafood & shellfish) and good inns that are typical of the garrigues region: Chez la Tchèpe, Pressoir de Saint Saturnin.
The history of Monte pestelario is a story of twists and turns that highlights the two essential characteristics of this fascinating city: ambition and intelligence. A former trading post for spices, place of pilgrimage and center of learning in the fields of medicine and law, Protestant fief then Royal capital of the Languedoc region, Montpellier's strategic position in the heart of the Mediterranean basin has ensured it constant prosperity. Now the prefecture of the Hérault département, it's a city that never ceases to amaze!
From Modest Beginnings... Montpellier is very much a young upstart of a city when compared to its venerable roman neighbors of Nîmes and Narbonne. The first settlement dates back to the late 10th century and passed into the hands of the Guilhem family who remained the city's rulers until the early 13th century. Situated south of the roman road, the via Domitia, and close to well-traveled salt and pilgrim routes, the early settlement grew rapidly in the 11th century as it became a favoured halt for pilgrims. At the end of the 12th century the now flourishing city was enclosed by city walls of which the Tour des Pins and the Tour de la Babotte are still visible remnants.
...to a Medieval Metropolis A prosperous trading center between Northern Europe, Spain and the Mediterranean, the 13th century saw the city reach something of an apogee as it passed under the tutelage of the King of Aragon, whose kingdom extended across what is now Northern Spain and Catalonia, and subsequently the Kings of Majorca. Reputed as a center of learning particularly open to Jewish and Islamic thought, the established Schools of Medicine and Law received recognition as a University by Pope Nicholas IV in 1289. Sold to the kingdom of France in 1349, Montpellier was for a while considered the second most important city in the kingdom. However, the latter part of the century was a sombre one, during which successive plagues accounted for the death of over a third of the population. Nevertheless, by the 15th century the city had recovered economically, notably through the flourishing of the nearby port of Lattes and the mercantile genius of the royal treasurer Jacques Coeur, whose name is still honored by the city.
A Protestant Stronghold during the Wars of Religion... During the 1530's, both the astronomer Nostradamus, famous for his prophecies, and the writer, priest and bon vivant Rabelais studied medicine at Montpellier. The faculty later benefited from the establishment of France's oldest botanical garden Jardin des Plantes during the reign of France's king Henri IV. In 1553, the city gained a cathedral as the Bishopric was permanently transferred from Maguelone, whose abandoned abbey can still be seen overlooking the Mediterranean less than 10 miles from Montpellier. The Protestant Reformation, however, gained many converts in Montpellier as elsewhere in the south of France. As a major Huguenot (as French Protestants had come to be called) stronghold, Montpellier possessed one of the most beautiful Protestant churches of its time, but the subsequent Wars of Religion destroyed all religious edifices within the city walls except for the fortress-like Cathedral St Pierre. The Edict of Nantes of 1598, which recognized the right of Protestants to worship and granted them other basic freedoms in certain designated towns and cities, resulted in a brief period of relative calm, but conflict once more erupted twenty years later in the last of the religious wars. Finally in 1622 the king of France Louis XIII oversaw the siege of the rebellious Protestant city, which resisted two months of bombardment before a negotiated settlement was reached. Royal rule was once again established and the return of Catholic domination of the city was finally ensured by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.
...becomes the Royal Capital of the Languedoc Many features of the current city center have their origin in the Wars of Religion and the subsequent 17th and 18th century renovations that transformed the city. Many squares such as the Place Jean Jaures and Place Chabanneau were formed from destroyed churches, while the citadel built following the siege of 1622 was to guarantee the loyalty of the city to the crown rather than to ensure its protection. Montpellier was subject to further expressions glorifying the monarch such as the Arc de Triomphe as it became the royal capital of the Languedoc and the accompanying nobility were responsible for many of the most elaborate hôtels and distinctive architecture of the historic center. Other landmarks such as the Hôtel St Côme and the Promenade du Peyrou, not to mention the Place de la Comédie all date from this epoch and still shape the life of the city.
A Provincial City built on Wine... The development of wine making in the region during the 19th century helped fuel the economy of the city and led to another wave of urban renovation and renewal. While some of the grandiose projects never reached completion, many are still major features of the city, whether it be the distinctive spire of the Carré St Anne, the incomplete St Roch or the Palais de Justice. Boom was followed by bust as the outbreak of the fungal disease Phylloxera, in the 1890's destroyed over a third of the vines and the expanding vineyards in Algeria rendered the vineyards of Languedoc uneconomical.
...seeks to become a New Metropolis A unassuming provincial city for most of the 20th century, Montpellier has been transformed into a city of expansive ambitions and a growth rate to match. In the 1960's the population rose by over a third as ex-patriots and immigrants arrived from Algeria. Over the past twenty years, Montpellier has continued to grow under the uncompromising vision of the socialist mayor, Georges Frêche, and the city once ranked 25th is currently the 8th largest city in France. This rapid growth has been matched by increasingly lavish and distinctive projects, from the entirely new, neo-classical district of Antigone and the developments along the river Lez, to the rejuvenation of the city center and the return of the tramway to the city streets. An administrative center, doted with a major research, university and medical facilities, Montpellier seems determined to once again becoming an intellectual, cultural and technological center of Europe and the Mediterranean.