8 Best Sights in Montpellier, Toulouse and the Languedoc


At the far-east end of the city loop, Montpellier seems to transform itself into a futuristic metropolis designed in one smooth, low-slung postmodern style. This is the Antigone district, the result of city planners' efforts (and local industries' commitment) to pull Montpellier up out of its economic doldrums. It worked. This ideal neighborhood, designed by the Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill, covers 100-plus acres with plazas, esplanades, shops, restaurants, and low-income housing constructed out of stone-color, prestressed concrete. Don't miss Place du Nombre d'Or—symmetrically composed of curves—and the long vista that stretches down a mall of cypress trees to the glass-fronted Hôtel de Region.

Arc de Triomphe

Looming majestically over the peripheral highway that loops around the city center, this enormous arch is the centerpiece of the Peyrou. Designed by d'Aviler in 1689, it was finished by Giral in 1776. Together, the noble scale of these harmonious stone constructions and the sweeping perspectives they frame make for an inspiring stroll through this upscale stretch of town. At the end of the park is the historic Château d'Eau, a Corinthian temple and the terminal for les Arceaux, an 18th-century aqueduct; on a clear day the view from here is spectacular, taking in the Cévennes Mountains, the sea, and an ocean of red-tile roofs (it's worth coming back at night to see the entire promenade illuminated).

Cathédrale St-Pierre

After taking in the broad vistas of the Promenade de Peyrou, cross over into the Vieille Ville and wander its maze of narrow streets full of pretty shops and intimate restaurants. At the northern edge of the Vieille Ville, visit this imposing cathedral. Its fantastical 14th-century entry porch alone warrants the detour: two cone-top towers—some five stories high—flank the main portal and support a groin-vaulted shelter. The interior, despite 18th-century reconstruction, maintains the formal simplicity of its 14th-century origins.

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Faculté de Médecine

Peek into this noble institution on Rue de l'École de Médecine, next door to Cathédrale St-Pierre. Founded in the 13th century and infused with generations of international learning (especially Arab and Jewish scholarship), it is one of France's most respected medical schools and Europe's oldest active one.

Jardin des Plantes

Boulevard Henri IV runs north from the Promenade du Peyrou to France's oldest botanical garden, which was planted on order of Henri IV in 1593. An exceptional range of plants, flowers, and trees grows here.

Musée Fabre

From crowd-packed Place de la Comédie, Boulevard Sarrail leads north past the shady Esplanade Charles de Gaulle to this rich, renowned art museum. The building—combining a 17th-century hôtel, a vast Victorian wing with superb natural light, and a remnant of a Baroque Jesuit college—is a mixed bag of architectural styles. The collection inside is surprisingly big, thanks to the museum's namesake, a Montpellier native. François-Xavier Fabre, a student of the great 18th-century French artist David, established roots in Italy and acquired a formidable collection of masterworks—which he then donated to his hometown, supervising the development of this fine museum. Among his gifts were the Mariage Mystique de Sainte Catherine, by Veronese, and Poussin's coquettish Venus et Adonis. Later contributions include a superb group of 17th-century Flemish works (Rubens, Steen), a collection of 19th-century French canvases (Géricault, Delacroix, Corot, Millet) that inspired Gauguin and Van Gogh, and a growing group of 20th-century acquisitions that buttress a legacy of paintings by early Impressionist Frédéric Bazille.

Place de la Comédie

The number of bistros and brasseries increases as you leave the Vieille Ville to cross Place des Martyrs, and if you veer right down Rue de la Loge, you emerge onto the festive gathering spot known as Place de la Comédie. Anchored by the neoclassical 19th-century Opéra-Comédie, this broad square is a beehive of leisurely activity, a cross between Barcelona's Ramblas and a Roman passeggiata (afternoon stroll, en masse). Eateries and entertainment venues draw crowds, but the real pleasure is getting here and seeing who came before, wearing what, and with whom.

Promenade du Peyrou

Montpellier's grandest avenue was built at the end of the 17th century and dedicated to Louis XIV.

Montpellier, Occitania, 34000, France