Sometimes you visit a place and you aren’t immediately stuck with what’s so great about it. That’s how I initially felt about Montpellier. It took me a couple visits to really appreciate it. My first visit was just a day passing through on a road trip and everyone was tired and so it fell flat. We entered from a less “exciting” road, we meandered what seemed like forever in the middle of nowhere and finally we got there and we were all miserable. Thankfully I’ve come around since then but perhaps only because one of my sisters loves it so much so I knew it needed a second chance and besides it has those warm southerly tones going for it so… that also helps.
Earlier this year I was wandering the city and it was a little cloudy and cool and I’d shopped, I’d eaten, I’d visited a few galleries and I wasn’t quite sure what to do next. Normally I feel like I can figure it out on my own but being that I had this little chip on my shoulder, it’s safe to say I wasn’t trying very hard. I stopped in at the tourist info and discovered they had a tour on their cultural centre tour that would be departing shortly for a mere 7€.
I’m so glad I decided to jump on board. The tour comprised of passing through a “hôtel particulier” courtyard (homes of the upper class from previous eras,) climbing the triumphal arc and descending underground into a medieval Jewish mikveh (womens baths) discovered under a former home in the Jewish quarter. The guide did such a wonderful job of mixing in details about the importance of medical studies in the city, which is still home to one of the (if not THE) largest and oldest anatomy collections in the world as well as the religious wars in the region as this was one of the protestant strongholds in France. I was so impressed and it really brought the city to life. I couldn’t recommend it enough.
Couple a good experience with the inexpensive, flavour-packed wines of the Languedoc region available everywhere, a tasty meal at Ma Première Cantine and since then I seem to enjoy the region more and more. Most recently we even toured around a little through wine country (North Americans will recognize Paul Mas vineyards, among others, along the roads if you decide to tour the region) for a friends birthday celebration complete with live music on site one evening (with one of the singers who toured with the Gipsy Kings who was a friend of the birthday boy) and lots of pétanque, fresh mussels, and of course wine. Clearly my opinions have come around.
To book a similar tour check out the “cultural” section on the Montpellier Tourism website located here. Prices start at 7€.
We were also fortunate on our recent détour in Montagnac (less than an hour from Montpellier) to catch an open spot at the airbnb “Hôtel de la Rat” a hôtel particulier that was simply stunning.