Bonjour, Bonjour my TBSH friends :). It’s me, Bridge, reporting from Montpellier, France while on my adventures in France! The enchantment of this country continues to amaze and I can’t wait to continue posting on some of the cool and interesting places, foods, and activities we’re doing as a family here. So, hopefully you’re enjoying the tales of France so far because there is a lot more I still have to share!
Montpellier, France … And what a wonder to behold!
There is a Triumphant Arc in Montpellier that welcomes you into the city. The great French king, Louis XIV (also referred to as Louis The Great) is honored through the Latin inscriptions found along the top of the arc. I did my best to interpret and translate the Latin writing, which reads: 72 years of the reign of Louis The Great, in reconciliation of the oppression that spanned over 4 decades of war over this land and sea, we are now at peace, 1715.
It goes without saying the charms that embody France, and much adieu to the wealth of history and beauty the country consumes. This is no different for Montpellier, France, which is the city my in-laws live nearby and also a city Guillaume, my husband, has fondest memories during his university days. I have had my eye on visiting Montpellier for some time and now having recooperated from the long days in Paris with Amelie, I finally had the opportunity to visit this lovely city with both of the kiddos, and my mother-in-law, in partner. Disappointed? Absolutely not!
Montpellier is situated along the southern coast of France, which you may recognize most as the Mediterreanan region, along the Mediterranean Sea. It is currently the 8th largest city in all of France, but more specifically the 3rd largest in the French Mediterreanan (Marseille and Nice hold 1st and 2nd next to Montpellier). From what I could gather, the population count is around 268,574 (2012) and this is 1/3 comprised of students. Why, you ask? Well, Montpellier is quite heavily known in France for its university concentration, with one of the oldest universities in the world dating back to 1160, Univeristy of Montpellier. The university’s initial teachings were in law, but has further established itself as one of the top areas in France for medicine and medical field practices. Apparently, they didn’t want to stop there and have grown in other areas of study, such as chemistry, business, engineering (YAY! This is where Guillaume went), architecture, civil aviation, agronomy, and arts and sciences.
As you can imagine, the schools lend opportunity for any visitor to see beautiful, historical buildings these students get to study in. But, that isn’t the only eye-candy in the city you should drool over! I had a great opportunity to explore this city with Max, Amelie, and my mother-in-law, and we walked away with no regrets. With a few hours and a curiosity to explore, this is how we spent our time in beautiful Montpellier, France.
And Let There Be Water: The Roman Aquadect System That Still Remains in Montpellier, France
The Romans had a great influence on the infrastructure of France during their occupation over the lands back in the 1st century BC, a time when Julius Ceasar ruled. They brought to France their water aqueduct framework, a system used to connect and offer water supply to major cities. You can still find remenance to the Roman aqueduct system throughout France (Pont de Gard is the most famous in France). An aqueduct system was built in Montpellier, although this was during a time when the Romans no later had rule over French land. A fun activity we did while exploring the city was in finding remaining clues to where the aqueduct system still remains, although it isn’t in use.
Here is part of the aquaduct system we found nestled in a small private park close to an elementary school! This is bordered with an iron fence, but has a side entrance with 4 steps leading you down into this small bathing area.
Another part of the aquaduct system we found! This part of the aquaduct system looked to be a place where you could enjoy the sound of lightly streaming water and perhaps clean your clothes, or maybe just place your hands in the water for a moment of fresh reprieve.
Max and Amelie took a little rest and exploration break in the small park where we found parts of the aquaduct system. This is a quaint place to relax should the feet need a little rest while the youngest feet still need a place to roam, freely and safely 🙂
Take a Stroll: Walk the Charming Streets, Cobblestone and All
You’ll find many of the streets are still paved in cobblestone. To my surprise, Max noted his adoration for the cobblestone and he was imagining a time when horses were the main transportation, with their hoofs clacking against the stone. I feel this one of many small charms of the city that offers opportunity for your mind to ponder on the feet that walked the same streets.
These small streets offer good respite if you just need a small break from walking. Many of them are lined with tall residential buildings, offering shade from the sun with beautiful flowers ready to fragrance the path.
And, wouldn’t you know it, Amelie found a statue that looks like a unicorn. I think this one is for her beloved teacher, Ms. Kvinta!
And … As you are leisurely strolling, look around at the sculpting inscribed along the buildings. This is one of the more entertaining ones we found … I don’t know what is going on with the sheep heads here but one is in utter shock and the other looks as if his eyes were gorged out!
Ponder The Religious Side: Marval at the Many Churches and Religious History Integrated Throughout the City
The beautiful cobblestone streets will lead you to the Cathedrale Saint-Pierre de Montpellier, a Roman Catholic cathedral dating back to 1364. Although it was built in 1364, it wasn’t until 1536 was it given the recognition of cathedral. Unfortunately in the 16th century it encountered major destruction during the period when Catholic and Protestant contention was high. Luckily, restoration on the cathedral was made, and the bell towers still ring daily to offer reference to the time, or in celebrations occurring at the cathedral.
Another interesting fact about the cathedral is it’s attachment to the monestary and medical school. Originally medicine could not be practiced without the blessing of religious leaders, and therefore these two areas were closely integrated.
The magnitude in size of the cathedral is impressive. This shows your view should you stand close to the building and look straight up … Don’t hurt your neck, though!
Entrance into the cathedral is very grand, and should you visit the cathedral it is open to the public but at specific days and times … So you’ll want to check ahead of time to put yourself at the right day and time to visit.
Another view of the front doors of the cathedral.
Another church (e’glise) worth visiting, and much different than the traditional Roman Catholic style, is the L’Eglise des Dominicains a Montpellier. This church is much smaller in size, although it is still within stone, century-aged walls. We didn’t visit all of the magnificent churches only because we could have spent another 3-4 hours visiting them all (there are around 10 in total that have extensive historical preservation and enchantment.). But this church definitely lends for those who have an interest in seeing an eclectic combination of traditional modernism.
Quite contemporary and modern are the decorative, worship elements, you will still find the aroma of history in the air.
As we were pleasantly surprised, we were able to walk into the church with no restriction … And it seemed as if we were given a gift because we were able to marvel without sharing! And, as you walk throughout the church, take the time to smell the flowers – they are actually real … There are plenty … And they are fresh!
One thing you’ll particularly enjoy looking at in this church are the modern stain glassed windows. They are all unique and give opportunity for your mind to wonder on what they depict.
Explore The Crevices: Where One Door Can Lead You
Sometimes when you walk through the streets you’ll find some doors remain open. Don’t hesitate to explore … In some cases these doors lead to the courtyards of the residential apartments many “Montpellians” live! But, in this case, we were lucky enough to find the school my mother-in-law is taking English lessons, which is found in a commercial building protected by two large red doors opening into a courtyard.
We were greeted with a beautiful courtyard with the most beautiful staircase and decorative ceiling.
Here is a view of the most beautiful ceiling I have seen in a courtyard!
Another adventure we had while exploring this courtyard was in finding a wishing well! I mean … We couldn’t resist getting out our coins and everyone making a wish. Even Mimi joined in on the fun … And we gave her an extra coin to make a wish for Guillaume, since he wasn’t with us at the time!
Amelie took her wishing seriously and thought long, and hard, for a few minutes before dropping her coin.
It was quite comical taking note of the different sounds our coins made when hitting the side of the well, and eventually making their final decent into the water. The fall to the bottom must have been at least 3-4 stories deep. I must admit, the variety in “pa-aloof” sounds were really entertaining and offered some laughs.
I love this photo! The wishing well was a great place for a photo shot without worrying about getting in the way of pedestrians.
Reward Your Palette and Shopping Side: Allow Indulgence For a Snack and a Little Shopping
Your sweet tooth may get the best of you – and that’s okay! You’ll find many creperies, patisseries, and ice cream shops to entice you. Mary Cherry was one of the cutest!
As you can see here, we opted to stop for some ice cream, fresh squeezed lemonade, and water at an outdoor cafe that was nestled in between the park and a carousel for the kids to enjoy. Max CLEARLY didn’t like his lemon and raspberry sorbet!
After devouring some ice cream, the kids found a tree with blue painted handprints along the side. Something to pass the time 🙂
And as you make your way through to what they call the “Commercial” corridor of Montpellier, you’ll find the main street has these compression road barriers that are raised whenever the train is coming thru. I remember these barriers from when I lived in Paris, because our street had the same. Therefore, I couldn’t help but show the kiddos that you can stand on them while they move up and down!
My favorite shop of them all when window shopping was Happy Design! This was a fun place for everyone to go in and find something wacky and fun :). I have written a separate blog on my favorite finds in this shop – go check it out!
Get Your Childlike Energy Out: Enjoy the Many Attractions
Montpellier has a great children’s park within the city that has both a playground area, as well as a tree-lined walking path where you can admire the many ponds and flowers.
The park is open to the public and is actually quite close to the pavillion we had eaten our ice cream; walking between both is less than 1 minute!
And, as you walk along the park you embark upon the entrance to the Polytechique University, which is the engineering school Guillaume spent 3 memorable years as a budding student! The kids loved seeing where their dad enjoyed his youth. The grounds weren’t open to the public, but we were at least able to imagine the walk he took everyday thru the parks and the grounds he must have crossed as he hurried throughout his university days!
You’ll find among the major streets of Montpellier private chariots awaiting to take you along the city! So, if ever you just want a break from the walking, there are plenty of these ready to be your private driver. These guys were clearly trying to get a ride to their favorite pub in preparation to celebrate the 2016 EuroCup finals between France and Portugal 🙂
The city also offers a small train that provides tours around the city. Not another bad option should you wish not to walk and explore independently.
You’ll know you’re in the center of the city’s energy when you are at the Opera House, which also has a beautiful fountain statue welcoming you outside the building! Here you will find the street lined with many outdoor restaurants, cafes, and shopping. And, to make sure there is always something for the children, while you enjoy your coffee, spirit, or meal … The kiddos can go on the carousel!
Another angle of this beautiful statue shows how Montpellier is supporting France, as well, in the upcoming EuroCup match between France and Portugal with her blue, white, and red laua 🙂
When strolling the streets of Montpellier, don’t be surprised to hear wonderful musicians filling the air. Some are looking for tips to help fund their passion, and others are just using the opportunity to practice. Regardless, I was never disappointed in the quality of their musical talents.
And, to end the day of enjoying Montpellier, we found our perfect spot tucked away in the cobblestone streets against to take a little rest before walking back to the car!
I honestly didn’t know what to expect when visiting Montpellier, but was so impressed at every corner there seemed to be a hidden adventure or gem to explore. The kids were never bored, and it has such a great balance of things to see and do for everyone in the family. You’ll find I didn’t mentioned much about the cultural arts Montpellier has to offer. I actually ran out of time to visit them! I did visit one, which was open to the public for free and the kids actually tolerated it … So, not so bad! I’ll make sure I blog about that and link it here soon.
And “Voila” as they say – here is the best glimpse of how we spent out time in Montpellier and hopefully gives you some good ideas on what you should do should you be interested in venturing off the beaten path in France like we did! If you have been to Montpellier, I’d love to hear what other things you did that you think we should go back and see. Or, if you also have stories or memories to share of your time in Montpellier, please share them in the comments below. I’d love to hear all about it 🙂 — XOXO, Bridgette