Retire to the Friendly University City of Montpellier, France

Certain images are fixed in my mind of the French town of Montpellier. When I think of it, I remember cobblestone streets filled with students and a cheerful energy.

I remember riding a sleek tramway entirely painted with bright, intertwined flowers. And I remember eating one of the most extraordinary meals of my life there at the charming Lozèrois restaurant, Cellier & Morel.

The more I think of it, the more I’m reminded: Montpellier has all the right stuff.

Located on the warm, sunny, southern coast of France, Montpellier is in the Languedoc Roussillon region, happily nestled between the Cévennes mountain range and the Mediterranean Sea. The city is France’s 8th largest and fastest-growing, with a population of about 253,000, of which around 70,000 are students.

Home to the first and most famous medical school in France (Nostradamus and Rabelais studied there), Montpellier is known as a university town and embodies all the liveliness and energy you’d expect.

You’ll never be short on things to do. In the historic center, the city’s wide boulevards are peppered with cafés, restaurants, and bars, and play host to a range of annual cultural events, from flamenco exhibitions to international film festivals to jazz concerts. Art lovers will treasure the city’s numerous galleries and museums, including the famous Fabre museum, known for its impressive collection of 17th- to 19th-century European art.

Montpellier is a city in which it’s easy to get around without a car. The tramway system is excellent, having four lines (with a fifth one planned for 2017) that snake through the entire city. The bus system, too, is extensive and convenient. And for the environmentally conscious, note that it’s also highly bike-friendly, offering more than 90 miles of bike paths throughout the city and even six miles of bike paths that lead directly to the beach.

 

An Easy Drive to the Coast from Montpellier

 

Outside of Montpellier, in addition to the sea and the mountains (each about a 30-minute drive away), you’ve got, well, all of the rest of the South of France to enjoy. The Languedoc is known for having the best-value wines in all of France, and the city is surrounded by rolling hills and tranquil vineyards that are open for exploration and tastings. What’s more the classic medieval villages of the South—from Uzès to Pézenas—are within easy driving distance from Montpellier.

It’s easy to fit in here. The people of Montpellier are known to be welcoming and friendly.

Housing costs are reasonable compared to other big cities in France. A rental in the historic center, one of the nicest areas, is €15.04 per square meter (or $1.80 per square foot), while buying an apartment in this area averages about €3,063 per square meter (approximately $366 per square foot). Either price gets you a lovely place. Currently on the rental market in the central area of Ecusson, for example, is a beautiful 18th-century apartment with four bedrooms, a fireplace, and hardwood floors for $1,720 per month.

You can get better value for your dollars by looking at nearby areas such as Castelnau le Lez, a small tranquil town on Montpellier’s western border. Currently on the market, you can rent a small but comfortable one- or two-bedroom apartment for between $650 and $900 a month. If you’re happy to splurge a bit more, for about $2,100 a month, you can rent a large three-bedroom villa with a garden. $2,371 a month will rent you a luxurious five-bedroom villa with five sprawling and tree-filled acres of land, plus a swimming pool.

 

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