06/17/2014 04:14 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why Montpellier's Old Town Is One of France's Perfect Little Cities

Want to spend a few days strolling through narrow, centuries old streets, viewing the old masters and modern art, savoring southwestern French cuisine, and listening to music in the squares? Come to Montpellier, the eighth largest city in France and just a little over three hours from Paris on the TGV train. You'll ride through the country's scenic breadbasket with fields of wheat, mustard, and poppies at your side. See Rail Europe.


Stay at Hotel Baudon de Mauny, an eight room guest house with super friendly and helpful hosts. It's right smack in the center of the historic district and a short walk to any section of town. Because only residents have cars, you don't have to jump up on curbs to avoid the traffic in the winding alleyways as you sight see.


The inside foyer and entrance to Baudon de Mauny once led to horse stables, which now house a gift, shop, tea parlor, and art gallery. The recently restored late 1700s residence has an elegant eighteenth century parlor, but cutting edge modern bedrooms, art and sculpture.


Eat at once of the city's many cafes and restaurants. Boris, around the corner from Baudon de Mauny, and not far from the main square, is cozy and has excellent southwestern French cuisine.


Montpellier's main square, Place de Comedie, has an opera house, the tourist bureau, and the tram line along the edge. By day merchants sell wares at tented stalls. By night dancers and musicians perform, while tourists stroll by licking ice cream cones. Stairs near the tall building to the left lead you through a shopping center and on into Antigone, the neoclassical section of the city built as a housing project in the 19th century.


One of a number of colorful trams in Montpellier


Musicians play on a tree lined boulevard just off the Place de Comedie.


Musee Fabre has over 800 works, including such European masters as Veronese, Courbet and Poussin, plus moderns like Soulages.


Walk to the northwestern end and wander through the medical school, dating back to the 12th century. The entrance to Saint Pierre Cathedral has outlandishly huge cone towers.


Stand in a park at the end of Promenade du Peyrou and gaze over at the huge aqueduct reaching out over the valley.


Shop at unusual small stores like Pomme de Reinette.


Side trip for sunny day: take the bus to Espiguette, a huge nearby beach. Get info at tourist office.