The 7th largest city in France, three-and-a-half hours from both Paris and Barcelona by train, 300 days of sunshine a year, left-leaning mayors since forever – that's Montpellier in a nutshell.
Here are some of my favourite things about it:
1. Just the right size
There’s something to be said for living in a medium-sized city. With just under 300,000 people the city is small enough to travel across in half an hour, but large enough to support its own orchestra, tram system, Imax cinema and a squillion bars and restaurants.
2. The beach
A riverside cycle path runs south from the city across the evocatively named Etang d’Or (golden pond) – where you’re sure to see flamingos – to the beaches of the Mediterranean.
Choose between the corny seaside town of Palavas or the 5km-long unspoiled stretch of golden beach at Le Petit Travers. Both are accessible by car in 15 minutes; not quite on a par with Nice, but you won’t have to stump-up €60 to use a sun-lounger either!
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Montpellier is neither as mountainous or bare as its name might suggest. It stands on a gentle hill – which no doubt looked more daunting in the age of the horse and cart – and at its once-Roman centre lies Ecusson; a warren of winding pedestrianised streets populated by independent bars, restaurants and artisan businesses tucked into vaulted medieval cantines.
It is home to the oldest medical school in the world, celebrating 800 years this year, and its adjacent botanic garden.
4. The man who can
No description of Montpellier would be complete without mentioning Georges Freche; the rotund firebrand socialist major of the 1980s and 90s whose plans for the city were as grand as his girth.
His long-term vision gave the city a fantastic tram system (and relieved it from a lot of traffic), a 2,000-seat opera complex, the ambitious neo-classical district of Antigone, and many fountains.
5. The young and the beautiful
With a big student population and thriving science and IT sectors, Montpellier is the youngest city in France; nerdy boys trying to chat-up sophisticated girls are a recurring sight.
I came to live here at the age of 62, and was mortified the first time a polite young person stood up to offer me their seat on a tram.
6. Outdoor markets
OK, they’re everywhere in France, but the Saturday artisan market under the arches of the aqueduct at Arceaux and the many covered markets selling fresh seafood and cheeses seven days a week are a special part of the experience of living here.
A large, well-integrated Arab population- a legacy of France’s colonial history in Morocco and Algeria – is a testament to the liberal and secular values of French education.
Where to live: Ecusson for city-centre period charm, if you don’t mind stairs; Fin-de-siecle, low-rise Beaux-Arts for boho chic. Swanky, modern Port Marianne for light and space, and riverside parks. Rents are about €14 per square metre.
Where to work: There are jobs in universities, medicine and IT. Catering and language tuition too.
If you’re retired: The beaches, culture, inland villages and climate. Cycle-friendly and lots of trees and parks. Good social services.
What's wrong with Montpellier: It's not particularly affordable and the local wine is best described as mediocre!
Marc has lived in Montpellier since 2017 and is a retired TV director