The Most Charming Towns of France – Montpellier


Montpellier is located in the south of France about six miles from the Mediterranean coast. With a population of just under 266,000 it is the regional capital of the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Because of its architecture, location and climate, it is one of the most popular urban areas in the country. Over the past twenty years, so many French people moved here that it became the fastest growing city in the country. It’s not difficult to see why.

The beautiful Mediterranean city combines the enduring elegance of a former era with the vibrancy of youth. The older city-centre boasts stunning period architecture that radiates an air of quiet confidence and long-established wealth. The combination of magnificent wide squares and quaint neat little streets successfully blends opulence and charm.

The streets surrounded by the centuries-old architecture pulsate with youth mainly because of Montpelier’s Universities. They alone draw over 50,000 students to the area. The formal founding date of the original university is put at 128 9, though the exact date could be as much as a century earlier, making it probably the oldest university in the world. It was reorganised in the 1970s, and is now effectively three universities University of Montpellier 1, University of Montpellier 2, and University of Montpellier 3 (also called Paul Valery University).

Youth is probably best symbolized by the spectacular new urban development called Antigone, deigned by the world-famous Catalonian Architect Ricardo Bofill.Stretching eastward from the city centre, Antigone is virtually a new mini-city of modem buildings in the neo-classical style. It incorporates student accommodation, commercial offices, local-government buildings, hotels, parks, fountains, shops, cafes and a section of the University. The Antigone development is one of the biggest urban projects of its kind ever undertaken worldwide. A small minority of critics initially suggested that its formal symmetry and sheer magnitude lent it some distinct features of “fascist” architecture, even comparing it to the New Berlin of Albert Speer that never got beyond the drawing board.

Few people now voice such reservations The overwhelming consensus is that Antigone is a visually pleasing experience despite its size, and conveys a very human sense of scale that in no way is overwhelming. Enlivened by the youthful energy of students and admiring tourists, the whole Antigone area has become a perfect counterpoint to the older city. Its symmetrical gardens are popular too with the ubiquitous joggers who like to run along the landscaped pathways as far as the River Lez and continue along its banks before turning back towards the city centre.

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