Montpellier is one of the lesser-known cities on the French Riviera but you’ll still find everything you could want from the French Mediterranean coast.
If you’re thinking about living in Montpellier, you might have some questions about the lifestyle that awaits you there.
In this guide, we’ll cover the important topics about what it’s like to live in Montpellier, France. We’ll look at things such as the cost of living, the best areas for retirement in the city, and some general tips for getting the most out of this exciting French city.
What is Montpellier like?
Montpellier is located in the Occitanie region of France and boasts a colourful history.
The city was a main hub on the Mediterranean coast during the Middle Ages and its university is one of the oldest in the world. Established in 1220, its medical school is the oldest in the world that’s still in operation and saw notable alumni such as Nostradamus.
In recent decades, Montpellier has experienced some of the strongest economic growth in France, and in 2017 it was nominated for the Best Emerging Culture City of the Year award. It regularly ranks high on lists of living quality worldwide and in France.
Its university is still one of the city’s main economic draws. Each year, roughly 70,000 students make their home in Montpellier, meaning it has one of the highest student populations in Europe.
Montpellier is located around 6 miles from the French coast and is quite hilly in its topography. There are a lot of beautiful beaches not far from Montpellier and you can enjoy a brilliant time out at the seaside.
Plage de L’Espiguette, for example, has been voted one of the most beautiful beaches in France. The beach stretches almost 18 kilometres long, all sand and dunes and great waves crashing onto the shoreline.
What is it like to live in Montpellier, France?
Living in Montpellier can be the most amazing experience of your life if what you are looking for is culture, good infrastructure, great weather, all the amenities within a walking distance and a sophisticated yet not too urbanised lifestyle.
Montpellier is nicknamed “gifted” by the French, and if you get a chance to experience its lifestyle you can see why.
Montpellier is a dynamic city that fuses traditional French culture with modern industries and innovation.
It’s home to the largest pedestrian area in Europe – making it a great city for walkers. When you explore its winding streets you’ll find a mix of family-run bakeries, boutique clothes shops, open-air markets, and a fair few cafes and restaurants.
Like other cities on the French south coast, Montpellier experiences some amazing weather. Its proximity to the Mediterranean regulates the temperature much more than inland locations, meaning there’s less variation between summer and winter temperatures.
In the summer you can expect highs of 24 degrees C, which drops to around 7 or 8 degrees C in the winter. Rainfall is moderate, with January and November regularly ranking as the wettest months. Summers, however, are dry, with around 11 hours of sunshine a day in July.
Then, of course, like anywhere else in France, you have amazing food and wine. If you like to cook at home, there are plenty of markets selling local produce. But if you prefer to eat out, you won’t be short of choice, including a selection of Michelin-starred restaurants.
Finally are the city’s cultural and sightseeing opportunities. Montpellier is home to two large concert venues: L’Arena (14,000 seats) and Le Zenith Sud (7,000 seats).
There’s an annual opera festival each summer that features over 150 events, and an annual cinema festival held in the autumn. The festival, Cinemed, is the second-largest in France behind Cannes.
In Montpellier, you’ll also find attractions such as Le Jardin des Plantes de Montpellier, the oldest botanical garden in France, a 12th-century ritual Jewish bathhouse, 17th-century mansions, and the citadel of Montpellier, among others.
In short, living in Montpellier has plenty to offer those after good weather and culture without the same level of tourism you’d find if living in some of the better-known French Riviera cities.
Is Montpellier, France safe?
Montpellier is as safe as any city can be. You will probably be wise not to risk walking alone at night in badly lit areas or dark alleyways or leave your car unlocked or your personal possessions unattended.
Crime relating to theft is generally regarded as moderate, although the risk of general theft is ranked as high.
Montpellier’s figures are almost no different from London’s. It’s not unusual for large cities to rank highly in crime statistics, particularly those with a robust police presence. If you’d be happy to live in a large British city then there’s no reason you wouldn’t feel safe living in Montpellier.
The pros and cons of living in Montpellier, France
While breaking a city down into its main pros and cons can only be helpful to an extent, it is always a useful way of seeing its main draws in black and white. Here is a breakdown of the main pros and cons of living in Montpellier, France.
Pros of living in Montpellier
1. Plenty of cultural activities
Montpellier is home to a large number of music and cinema festivals that’ll appeal to all tastes. Along with the historic buildings and botanic gardens, you’ll also find music festivals based around jazz, world music, rhythm and blues, and electronic. It won’t be difficult to find something to do almost all year round.
2. Booming economic growth
The city is the fastest-growing in France, and this brings a number of benefits. Most importantly are factors such as better infrastructure, sustainable living, and plenty of investment opportunities (if that’s something you’re looking for in retirement).
3. Amazing food and wine
It almost goes without saying that a French city has some great opportunities for food and wine. Whether you visit the Saturday market in Les Arceaux or the Marche du Lez, book a table at the Michelin-starred La Reserve Rimbaud, or simply drop into one of the numerous cafes or wine bars, you won’t be short of options for typical French food.
4. International connections
Montpellier has its own airport with connections to the UK, but you also have Nimes, Marseille, Beziers, and Avignon all within a driveable distance. You really won’t be short of options for international connections.
5. Almost everything is within walking distance
Montpellier is a fairly small city, and while its public transport is acceptable, you can reach almost anywhere on foot or bike. This is a particular bonus for those wanting a more active lifestyle in retirement.
Cons of living in Montpellier
1. It can rain a lot in the winter
Anyone who’s lived in a coastal city before will know the impact this has on the weather. While the summers remain fairly dry, rain can be quite heavy in the autumn and winter. But if you’re relocating from the UK this is probably something you’re used to!
2. Administration can take a long time
It’s a fairly common fact that administration isn’t one of France’s strong suits, and it’s no different in Montpellier. Expect simple things like arranging permits and licences, and opening a bank account, to take longer than you might think.
3. High student population
This might not be a major con for many people, but 50% of Montpellier’s population are under 34. If you’re looking for established expat communities of people in your own age group, there might be better retirement destinations in France.
What to expect if you retire in Montpellier, France
Montpellier has a fairly sizeable international expat community, although it’s not as popular with British expats as other French cities. That said, you should be able to find some local community groups to help ease you into your new French lifestyle.
It’ll be a suitable choice for those wanting a more active lifestyle. If you plan on living in the city itself, it won’t be worth owning a car. There’s plenty to keep you busy and there are good public transport connections into and out of the city (including a beach shuttle).
Those expats living in Nice, Cannes, Marseille or other more internationally renowned French cities can get away with knowing little French. However, if you choose Montpellier, you’ll need to brush up on your French because English isn’t as widely spoken here.
Shopkeepers might have some basic knowledge, but you’ll be looked upon more favourably for speaking their language. There are several language schools in the city that offer courses for expats.
How expensive is it to live in Montpellier?
Due to its location on the south coast of France, the cost of living in Montpellier is slightly higher than in more rural French destinations. At the end of the day, living in the French Riviera doesn’t come cheap.
On the other hand, it’s slightly lower than places such as Nice and Marseille because it’s not seen in the same “exclusive” way.
When compared to London, the cost of living in Montpellier comes out lower. Restaurant prices are around 20% lower in Montpellier, but grocery prices are roughly 22% higher. However, if you buy from local markets you can get some great savings by haggling with sellers (something you’ll get used to the longer you live there).
As you can probably guess, rent and property prices are considerably lower in Montpellier. A 3-bed apartment in the city centre will cost you around €1050 (£947) a month.
When buying a property, expect to pay around €3,500 (£3,200) a square metre for central properties.
Of course, this will vary depending on the location. Areas outside of the city centre will be considerably cheaper, and the city has a wealth of opportunities for buying property.
Thanks mainly to its recent economic boom, there has been a lot of construction work. It shouldn’t be difficult for you to snap up an attractive modern property for little money.
Finally, when it comes to important utilities, you can expect to pay around €115 (£103) a month all in.
While Montpellier might not have the lowest cost of living in France, it’ll still be a pleasant surprise for most Brits, Americans and Northern Europeans. You should be able to live a fairly varied and interesting lifestyle on around €1,400 a month for a couple, excluding rent.
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Best neighbourhoods in Montpellier, France
So if the cost of living in Montpellier seems attractive to you in retirement, it’s worth deciding where would be best to settle down. The city is broken up into 7 official neighbourhoods, each of which has its own subdivisions.
If you’re not familiar with the city it’s probably worth finding an inexpensive rental (or longer-term hotel) that you can use as your base. Then spend some time exploring the neighbourhoods to see which most appeals to you.
It’ll obviously be worth researching local immobiliers (estate agents) to see the kinds of properties they have available.
Here are some of the most attractive neighbourhoods in Montpellier for retiring expats:
Les Arceaux is fairly centrally located and has everything you could need. It’s home to one of the best open-air markets in the city and has great tram connections. What’s more, it’s fairly inexpensive when it comes to property prices.
Antigone is a recent residential development in Montpellier, located east of the city centre. Development only started in the late 1970s and the buildings are fairly modern by the city’s standards. It has plenty of tram connections to the rest of the city too.
Located on the banks of the River Lez, Castelnau is part of the larger Montpellier metropolitan area. It’s located north of the city and is a slightly hillier region. But this means better air quality, more open spaces, and a quieter lifestyle. The village has been an active site for more than 2,000 years, but the community as you’ll see it today is mainly based on its 12th-century iteration.
Beaux Arts is one of the trendier areas of Montpellier and is home to a museum, an open-air market, and plenty of alfresco wine bars. It’s popular with university students but is equally home to more bohemian populations looking for the type of artistic lifestyle you’d expect from such a cultural city.
Port Marianne is roughly a mile from the city centre, but, as the name suggests, is built on a port. It’s got more green and open spaces than other central locations so strikes a nice balance between city living and nature. Also, it’s home to the city’s aquarium.
Final thoughts on living in Montpellier
Montpellier would be a good choice for those wanting cultural activities in their retirement. While not as world-famous as somewhere like Cannes, the city can definitely hold its own in terms of music and cinema festivals.
Combine this with the Mediterranean weather and amazing food and wine, and you definitely have an attractive retirement destination.
While the city itself doesn’t have much in the way of downsides, it’s worth experiencing life there for yourself before you decide to settle down. Consider renting a property for a few months and exploring everything in detail.
Regardless of how you go about it, though, you could do a lot worse than Montpellier for your retirement destination of choice.
Other popular expat destinations in France to consider:
- Living In Lyon As An Expat – The Insider Guide
- Living in Saône-et-Loire, France: What Expats Need To Know
- What It’s Like Living In Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France As An Expat
- Living In Vannes, France As An Expat: The Pros And Cons
- The Ultimate Guide To Living In Normandy As An Expat