“The City of Medicine Teaching”
Once again in the middle of a very busy (and tight) weekend in order to fit as many places as we can, taking the advantage that our flight would depart later in the night from Montpellier; we came after having greatly enjoyed the day before among some of the finest Roman remains in the whole of France at both cities of Nimes and Arles, and the nearby Pont du Gard aqueduct. And while I can agree with you sometimes we are pushing it to all the limits in trying to see as much as we can, in this occasion I must also be honest in telling you this is all possible, nicely without rush and enjoying every sight at our own pace, but only because we managed to get a rental car we used the day before across all the sites I mentioned. Otherwise I cannot possibly imagine doing all of it by public transport, which is perfectly possible by train and bus, but extremely costly altogether and time consuming.
Montpellier is one of the last important cities along the Mediterranean coast of France we had pending for visiting, and it was a great choice. It is in fact one of the most elegant cities in the country with some of the finest 19th century architecture through perfectly designed neighbourhoods; although this is actually the case for most (if not all) of the cities in France anyway. It is large, but good enough for an entire day sightseeing. Sometimes referred as the city of medicine teaching, it’s home to the worlds oldest school of medicine still in operation, yet it’s not only about medicine, but other fields and subjects too. Everywhere across the city you will find old schools and university buildings, legacy from this rich knowledge and teaching tradition.
While this is not an “old” city considering French standards; no Roman nor older foundations, instead dating from the 10th century, its rich history and architecture, retaining most of its medieval fabric coupled with such elegant traditional districts and even the striking new ones by famous world architects. All in all, quite a lot to see and enjoy, pretty much in every corner
We took the day very relaxed, not only that we left the hotel quite late after enjoying longer time than what we are used to every weekend, but ti was well enough to completely visit every place in the city ending up with some further free time for what we actually took the last bus from the city to the airport (2.5h before the flight!) instead of staying longer and getting a taxi as originally planned, but well, after all we did complete all the sights and managed to save quite a lot of money in doing this.
The farthest area to reach, or longer to walk, will be the beautiful new district of Antigone, east from the Esplanade and Place de la Comédie. While majority of tourists do not even know this place exist, I strongly recommend it to anyone especially if you are into architecture. The entire area was designed by Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill where he used his landmark architectural style in a huge scale: neo-classical structures where he enormously oversized its details. Squares, monuments, fountains and other urban elements has made this area a great achievement to the city and its many prizes won. And if you are into mussels, right at the very end of the district, where it meets the river you can find the restaurant Leon de Bruxelles. Nothing beats this chain for their quality, choice, large portions and incredible value for money. We did not expect it there so it was a great surprise, and a nice lunch of course!
For more information about Montpellier check this Wikipedia site. France’s currency is the Euro. Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Montpellier:
- West from the historic town An area characterised by large gardens and boulevards, home to the engineering marvel of Saint Clément Aqueduct.
-Saint Clément Aqueduct built in the 17th century used to bring water from the St Clément spring 14 km away, discharging the water into a tank near the triumphal arch, and distributed to fountains and public water points in the lower part of the city. It runs in parallel to the tree-lined Boulevard du Arceaux.
-Promenade du Peyrou This esplanade was originally built in 1689, right by the western edges of the old town. The aqueduct ends here, at its western side.
-Water Tank This monumental structure was in fact, a water distribution centre fed by the aqueduct. Hexagonal in shape, with Corinthian columns, stands by a water pond.
-King Louis XIV equestrian statue Right by the centre of the landscaped trees and gardens.
-Arc de Triomphe du Peyrou Marks the easternmost side of the Promenade, acting as a gate to the old town that leads into Rue Foch.
-Justice Palace On the southern side of Promenade du Peyrou, a grand building in neo-classical style.
-Jardin des Plantes This botanical garden dates from the 17th century, being the oldest of its kind in France. It is located a street ahead from the northeast corner of the Promenade du Peyrou.
- Old town With a circular shape legacy of the former enclosing by the medieval walls.
-Rue Foch One of the main streets crossing through the old town (being the second one Rue de la Loge). Starts a by the Arc de Triomphe du Peyrou and ends up in Place des Martyrs.
-Palais de Justice On Rue Foch right after the Arc de Triomphe, a grand neo-classical style building.
-Saint Pierre Cathedral Almost next door to the Jardin des Plantes, towards the northwest quarter of the historic area.
-Tour des Pins The only remaining intact of 25 towers of the city medieval walls, built around 1200. At the back of the Cathedral, by the Jardin des Plantes side.
-Faculty of Medicine Side by side west of the Cathedral, is the world’s oldest continuous medical school in operation.
-School of Law At the eastern side of the Cathedral, the largest of its kind in the city.
-University Faculty of Law Continuing east from the School of Law on Rue de l’École Mage
-University Rectorate Opposite the Faculty of Law.
-Former Ursuline Convent Built in 1641, nowadays home to the National Choreographic Center and Dance of Montpellier. A street northeast after the Faculty of Law.
-The Panacea The former Medicine and Pharmacy School, nowadays the Contemporary Art Centre.
-Fabre Museum Created by French painter Fabre in 1825, it is now one of the finest paintings museum in France. It faces the Esplanade de Charles de Gaulle on its eastern wing.
-Place Jean Jaures Following from the Fabre Museum along Rue Aiguillerie, one of the many charming squares inside the old town surrounding by nice buildings.
-Rue de la Loge This is one of the main streets cutting through the old town, linking the Place de la Comédie with Place des Martyrs Resistance where it meets the next main street Rue Foch, continuing to the western end of the old town by the Arc de Triomphe du Peyrou.
-Place des Martyrs Resistance The true heart the old town, meeting point of most of the streets. At one of the corners is the Central Post Office, and along the north side the Central Police Station in a neo-classical style building.
- East of the historic town Also notable for the large gardens and boulevards, and also the newer districts as Antigone, becoming one of the latest and newer landmarks in the city.
-Esplanade de Charles de Gaulle Surrounding all along the eastern edges of the old town, perfectly opposite to the Promenade du Peyrou that we saw on the western side.
-Place de la Comédie The most famous and central of any square in the city. Starts by the southern side of the Esplanade de Charles de Gaulle towards the southwest.
-Opera de la Comédie Marks the southwesternmost side of the square.
-Three Graces Fountain Created in 1790 by sculptor Étienne d’Antoine.
-Tour de la Babote Two streets farther ahead behind the Opera building. One of the most notorious sights in the city, a medieval tower modified in the 18th century with the addition of an astronomical observatory.
-Gare de Montpellier Saint-Roch Towards the southeast, at the end the Rue Maguelone that links with the Opera. A great work of architecture retaining the historic building with the new extension.
-Antigone District East from the Esplanade and Place de la Comédie. It is best known for its design by Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill with grand neo-classical structures, nicknamed the Champs-Élysées of Montpellier.
Montpellier-Mediterranee Airport is 12 kilometres southeast from the city and very well linked by buses to the centre to Place de l’Europe (Antigone District) for only 1.60 Euros single ticket. If you wish to continue your journey by tram afterwards from here, then get a combo ticket for 2.40 Euros. However bear in mind the last bus from the city to the airport is quite early, 2.5 hours before the flight for what you will arrive with over 2 hours to a tiny airport. Other nearby airports are Nimes Garons 55 kilometres northeast, or farther beyond the much larger Marseille, 150 kilometres northeast. With a choice of three international airports in the region it is not difficult to find a suitable flight, either return to/from the same airport, or as an open-jaw as we did flying to Nimes and departing from Montpellier.
If coming overland, there’s no doubt railway would be the best and fastest. France has a large high-speed rail network, so interconnecting in between is easy and reliable, yet not the cheapest. Then comes to the buses, crisscrossing the country. You can get to Montpellier by international trains from Spain, Italy or Switzerland. It is merely 3 hours ride to Barcelona as an example.
Once in the city, the historic centre is small and compact, with most of the streets pedestrianised therefore walking is your only and best choice. To any farther area of the city, there is a large network of public buses and 4 tram lines, being the line number 4 one of the most convenient for the tourists as it is a circle line through the city centre that covers majority of the sights and connect with the other 3 lines, train and bus stations.
Montpellier is a medium to large city, and boats a good and big selection of hotels of any kind, from the top class to the more modest, and countless B&B and airb&b. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, Hotels Click, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We stayed at the Ibis Styles Montpellier Centre Comedie, in 6 Rue Baudin. From location it could not be any better, right there next to the historic town centre, minutes away from the main railway station and in a nice district altogether. Plenty of restaurants, bars and nightlife at the footstep from the hotel. The property itself, a medium size 3* hotel, very nice and modest with friendly and caring staff. Average size quiet rooms with comfortable bed, and a nice breakfast if your rate has this included, but otherwise not an expensive one.