With its close proximity to all major French cities (Paris: 3h15mins; Nice: 4-5h; Lille: 4h50mins), and even Barcelona, should you want to practise your Spanish, it comes as a surprise to see that Montpellier has not been completely swallowed up by exchange programs and Erasmus students. As such, you can make the most of speaking French, whilst enjoying all the foreign food, song and dance the city has to offer, thanks to its second generation immigrants. The best of both worlds indeed!
Why should I choose Montpellier for my year abroad?
First off, because anyone who’s been there has come back a changed person. Why? Because you’ve got everything on your doorstep - whether you’re more of a walker or a trammer (that’s a person that takes trams, by the way). By everything, we mean museums, cafés, cute little restos and great bars. And the university. Or you bureau. Getting an internship/job here may require a little more effort than other towns, unless you want to make it as an estate agent (et pourquoi pas? You could get help with your lodgings), though dig a little deeper, and you could find yourself working a great job, with a really nice team of people. There’s something to be said about the French in these parts of the country: they tend to be a lot nicer, a lot warmer and a lot keener to share a drink than other parts of France. If socialising, cultural immersion and a good dose of Pastis lay the foundations for a brilliant year abroad, there can be no better place to go than Monty P.
Here, you can make the most of the gorgeous esplanade outdoors, with its bustling market selling all sorts of food, bric a brac and more - though be a little careful at night as the area hasn’t got the best reputation for nightlife (there’s a police station nearby though). La Place de la Comédie is particularly pleasant with its outdoor cafés making for great spots to people watch. It’s always quite busy, making it a good meeting point to start off your early evening. La Place Royale du Peyrou offers more greenery, with traditional pétanque played on weekend, next to a cute organic market, with book stalls selling second-hand literary works, too. The Arc de Triomphe, at one end, and the Water Tower mean this is perfect for any photography aficionados wanting to make their friends back home jealous of their time away. Visit the local ancient bathouse, Les Bains de Montpellier - an ideal place to take your parents, to show them the cultural side of town.
In terms of museums, Montpellier has quite a lot to offer. As well as the smaller galleries scattered round the city centre, you could easily while away the hours at the Musée d’Anatomie and the Medical School within the city centre. The Musée Fabre has art dating back to the 16th century and its newly opened section on the decorative arts has hundreds of home trinkets and ceramics. If you’re looking for something a little more wild, why not make a trip of going to the Serre Amazonienne, slightly outside of town, but well worth the trek; here, you can get back in touch with your animal-loving side, with the zoo on one end and the greenhouses showcasing hundreds of tropical plants. Still running on the horticultural theme, you may want to spend an afternoon (or quite a few) sat in the botanical gardens of the Jardin des Plantes (the oldest botanical garden in France, no less), opposite the cathedral.
Food and drink play a big part in the culture of Southern France, and there’s no better place to test out this succulent combination than in the Caves Jean Jaurès - brilliant wine list, chalkboard to display the tasty dishes, great atmosphere. If you are after something a little more unusual and oriental, you can try out the many Asian eateries populating Montpellier - students have recommended Le Royal Orchid. You can grab tasty Arabic food across the many stalls in the city, which are becoming increasingly more popular with the town folk, thanks to economic prices.
As for bars, Montpellier offers quite a few, from student hangouts to rather more francophile affairs. Of note are Roule ma Poule (Roll my Chicken...guess the people here have a sense of humour), Chez Boris and Welcomedia. Le Corto is near the Medical School and offers good quality beer. The Macadam pub has a student crowd and a cosy little club downstairs. Le Huit plays live music, with Wednesdays dedicated to Indie Rock bands. As for clubs, check out Oxymore an R’n’B flavour, Cargo for Dance and La Nitro for House and Techno (slightly outside of the city centre - about 10km). Le Matchico is good for Cheese (also out of the city).
So, shed-loads of culture, good music, incredible food, a massive university and a relaxed sense of life paint the Montpellier city canvas with all sorts of fun, student-friendly hues. You wouldn’t want to miss out on this, so whether you’re studying here or nearby, or fancy a weekend away to get to know the place, you are sure to get your fix of French life, minus the tourists. A great place to be, on all counts!