Writer Anthony Peregrine, who lives in France shares memories and his love for Montpellier, one of France’s most charming and French cities!
“Montpellier, the capital of Languedoc, a few miles from the Mediterranean coast, was where I discovered France. We’ve been in a relationship ever since. We’ve perhaps matured together – Montpellier into the most seductive provincial town in France, me into an older version of the seducer I never was. Back then, the city was emerging from a lethargic recent past of rentiers, wine decline and sun-lit slumber. I was fresh out of university, so given, too, to slumber and wine decline. With a French future wife, I’d rented a wooden shack which grew, like a blister, from the roof in question.
Unlike its neighbours Nîmes, Narbonne and Agde, Montpellier has no Greco-Roman past. It appeared only in the Middle Ages, owing its notoriety to medical skills born of Arab and Jewish influence. Medical excellence has since been a constant. Founded in the 13th century, the medical school is the oldest still operational in the world. As I visited, it was moving out of these classical buildings. However, the Museum of Anatomy – once a teaching tool – remained.
Fuelled by hi-tech industries, brains and brilliance, the city has spent 45 years or more growing faster than anywhere else in France – from 14th to eighth position, population-wise – while keeping hold of the Med essentials. Elegant, subversive and sensual, it has become the most cultured and tolerant city in France. Ambling visitors abound, thank heavens.