It might not carry quite the same cachet as some of southern France's cities, but in its own graceful, easy-going way, Montpellier is every bit the equal of Marseille and Nice. With its elegant buildings, grand hôtels particuliers (private mansions) and stately boulevards, it's a quietly stylish metropolis with just a hint of Barcelona about its atmospheric old quarter, shady backstreets and leafy squares.
Unlike many other southern towns, Montpellier has no Roman heritage. Instead it was founded in the 10th century by the counts of Toulouse, and later became a prosperous trading port as well as a scholarly centre (Europe's first medical school was founded here in the 12th century).
The population swelled in the 1960s when many French settlers left independent Algeria and settled here, and it's now one of southern France's most multicultural cities – and with students making up over a third of the population, it's also a place that seems eternally young at heart.
Three high-speed tram routes circle around the old quarter before heading out into the suburbs.