My first week of French courses in France, my teacher mentioned that this weekend was the Journées du Patrimoine. I was amazed to learn that the third weekend of September, museums and cultural sights all over France fling open their doors for free – we have nothing like this in the UK.
Sunday morning then, I headed to Musée Fabre, Montpellier’s art museum. I had seen it on Monday’s guided tour of Montpellier (I have another blog post dedicated to that), and had made a mental note to explore when I had a chance. Given it was the Journée du Patrimoine, I had half expected there to be a long queue, but I got in without any problems, and most importantly, for free! My favourite of the permanent collections was all about romanticism; trying to understand the explanations that accompany the artworks also gave me a chance to put my French skills to the test. I spent a long time just looking at my favourite painting there, ‘Eve tentée par le serpent’ by someone called Pierre Delorme. One of my teachers back home used to say that it’s better to really look at one painting than to try and see everything. I can’t pretend that I know much about art, but it felt like I started to see details that I had missed when I took a few minutes to really study it.
You still have to pay for the temporary collection on the Journée du Patrimoine, but I had a secret weapon: my student card I was given on the first day of my French courses at ILA French Language School. I got free access then to a collection about American artists living in Paris in the 19th century, which was so interesting. I would really recommend the temporary collections in particular – they change every few months so there is always something new to see.
I asked some of the volunteers for the Journée du Patrimoine in French where I should go next, and they recommended Montpellier’s Faculté de Médicine. It is the oldest medicine university in the world, a stunning 14th century building with a cathedral attached. On the Journées du Patrimoine, you can fully explore the university, delving into the old dissection room and fancy ceremonial rooms. Within the university is also the Musée et Conservatoire d’Anatomie, a large collection of slightly grotesque anatomical displays and skeletons. It didn’t sound too appealing to me, but if you’re interested in medicine or science it’s definitely worth a visit! I went to the Jardin des Plantes instead, definitely the more relaxing option. The botanical garden was created to supply plants and herbs for doctors at the Faculté de Médicine, so it made sense to pay it a visit after having looked round the university. It feels so different to the rest of Montpellier; it’s calm, and green, and you can’t even hear the sound of the city. The garden is free all the time (but closed on Mondays), so it has since become one of my favourite places to relax or read.
If you’re not going to be here for the Journées du Patrimoine, not to worry, as in France most museums are free on the first Sunday of every month. Student discounts are also very common here, and there is lots of time after your French courses to explore, so learning French here at ILA will give you many opportunities to see everything that Montpellier has to offer!