If you want to see another slice of this wonderful part of France during your French language course in Montpellier you have got to visit Aigues-Mortes! If you haven’t heard about this medieval city that’s just 20km from Montpellier centre it’s probably because it often gets overlooked by French students in favour of the bigger and more modern town of Nimes. My French host family that were assigned to me by the ILA French Immersion School in Montpellier were kind enough to take me around and give me a great insight to the place. This town gets its name from the marshes or ‘dead water’ that surround the area and it is teeming with history, rustic personality and so much gorgeous French food!
Located roughly equi-distance from Montpellier and Nimes this town has got a huge amount to offer; first and foremost it is a completely walled-in city with the structures preserved in amazing condition. From talking to a few of the local French people with my host family we discovered the speculated birth of the city was approximately 100BC. As is common with historic sites like this, many of the structures have been built on top of or replaced over the ages but notably this city have been preserved all the way from the 13th/14th century. Many sites of a similar age throughout France underwent restoration in the 19th century but the gorgeous architecture in this little corner of the country has survived untouched making it a wonderful rare glimpse in French history.
So as my French host family and I began meandering the cobble streets. I was finally able to pry my eyes away from the 700 year old fortress and the first thing to strike me was all of the speciality French food and drink on every street. As you can see from some of the photos the shops that line the streets take gastronomy pretty seriously. In the areas nearby lie swathes of rice fields and closer to the coast there is a lot of salt production. If you come by road from Montpellier you will get a glimpse of the white mountains of the ‘Baleine’ company whose logo you will have seen scattered around. I was under the illusion that salt isn’t a very varying product but once again I was wrong! There are heaps of different shops showcasing jar after jar of various flavours and strengths that each bring out different aspects within a meal.
A Bit of Indulgence During Your French Immersion Course
Another highlight are the wonderful Willy Wonka style sweet shops, of which there are many waiting to suck you in and teleport you straight back into childhood. I was greeted more than once with a smile, a free sample, a little chance to practice what I have learned on my French immersion course and a tour around the barrels brimming with sweet treats. Even if you don’t go in the smell drifting onto the streets from the kitchens relentlessly baking is incredible.
French Speciality Food you must try for the Authentic French Home-stay Experience
If you’re more after the savoury stuff a speciality of many of the restaurants is rice alongside various styles of bull meat both of which has been locally sourced. You can tell that the restaurants probably have loyal relationships with suppliers stretching back generations as they have all the information you could possibly want about where the ingredients come from, how they are made and how they ensure the quality.
Obviously you have all the stuff the French typically do brilliantly; pastries, bread, cheese, coffee and crepes etc. I felt very lucky that I came to do my French language stay in autumn as this place naturally lends itself to hearty seasonal food. Walking around in the fresh, misty evening with a cone of roasted chestnuts was a great way to experience this place.
Get that New Shirt Feeling While Practicing your French Skills
Another thing that I noticed was the classy style of all of the inhabitants and it wasn’t hard to see why. Standing shoulder to shoulder with the fooderies were the boutique shops which, although not the cheapest, had very high quality clothes in a range of styles that I loved. There seemed to be a tendency towards the ‘classy bohemian’ style which was ace but there was loads to choose from so if you want to give your wardrobe a fresh feel this is a hotspot.
I couldn’t possibly list all the stuff that is on offer in this wonderful rustic city but there are loads of other hidden gems like artisan oil and vinaigrette shops, wine merchants and chocolatiers. It should definitely be on your list of places to visit during your French immersion course here in Montpellier, you get to practice your French skills, get to know your French host family and eat wonderful artisan food.