Just on the borders of Montpellier’s old town, Écusson, lies the stunning Promenade Royale du Peyrou, the tree-lined esplanade starting just after Montpellier’s own arc de triomphe and leading up to the magnificent 18th-century hexagonal Château d’Eau designed by architect Henri Pitot. The entrance to the park is guarded by two marble lion statues and, as you enter, you’ll be greeted by the gargantuan bronze statue of the ‘sun king’ Louis XIV. Take a stroll along the esplanade, relax on the lush green lawns or simply admire the view from the top of the Château d’Eau. Surrounding the now unused water tower is a picturesque moat and two symmetrical curved staircases to climb higher and glean better views over the adjoining (but now defunct) Roman aqueduct; on clear days you can see all the way to the Mediterranean.
The Jardins de l’Esplanade, just off the Esplanade Charles de Gaulle, are situated just a stone’s throw from Montpellier’s beautiful Place de la Comédie. The small park feels a lot bigger than it is since the area is filled with small winding paths in every direction; pick one at random and discover the sights and smells of the many beautiful flowers and shrubs. The shade provided by the towering trees allows for an often much needed moment of cool respite away from Montpellier’s bright sunshine. The banks of the small lake in the middle of the gardens make a great place to sit back and relax with a picnic. The Jardins de l’Esplanade also feature small ponds, fountains, games areas and the former military terrain the Champs de Mars, which has since been converted into a public garden.
The magnificent Domaine de Méric is made up not only of luscious green gardens and flower-filled meadows but it also comprises a stunning blush-pink farmhouse, an orangery and a 19th-century town house which belonged to painter Frédéric Bazille. One of the precursors to the impressionist movement, Bazille took inspiration from the spectacular surroundings of his town house and they form the subject of many of his tableaux, most notably his 1867 painting La Réunion de Famille. Aside from admiring the beautiful buildings, you can explore the nearby woods whose small streams eventually run into the River Lez, the English landscape garden (complete with maze) and the picturesque orchards. In particular, the large meadow filled with wild flowers makes this one of the most beautiful parks in Montpellier.
Following the expansion southwards of the city of Montpellier in recent years, in the creation of the modern, stylish areas of Antigone and Port Marianne, the Rives du Lez has undergone a dramatic transformation. The old, unattractive concrete metropolis has gone in favor of tree-lined walkways and grassy river banks. Located just a few minutes’ walk away from Montpellier’s city center this is a great place to take a relaxing stroll under the shade of the trees or enjoy a pleasant jog alongside the River Lez. Alternatively, you can unwind on the green river banks away from the hustle and bustle of the city (from where you can admire the magnificent hotel de région) or hire one of the city’s bikes to ride alongside the water. Continue southwards in the direction of the nearby town of Lattes and the views of the river become even more beautiful.
Montpellier’s jardin des plantes, one of the oldest Botanical Gardens in Europe, was the first to be created in France. The garden, which was to serve as the model for the Jardin des Plantes in Paris forty years later, was created in 1593 by the professor of botany and anatomy, Pierre Richer de Belleval, who himself took his inspiration from Italy‘s Orto botanico di Padova. The gardens now belong to the University of Montpellier and are free to visit for the general public all year round. You can walk around the gardens at your leisure and admire the 2,680 unique plant species which help to make up the garden’s orangery, English garden, arboretum and vast section dedicated to medicinal plants. The oldest part of the Botanical Garden is the Montagne de Richer, a collection of cistaceae plants which are nothing short of spectacular when in full bloom.
The Domaine d’O is located outside of Montpellier’s city center, but the beautiful 200 square meters’ gardens and 18th-century Château d’O make it well worth the time it takes to get here. The gardens themselves date from the 11th century and have been improved and extended in the centuries following, along with the addition of the château, a theatre and an outdoor amphitheatre. It was only in 1722, however, when the park was acquired by the Montpellier-born clerk Charles Gabriel le Blanc, that the park was transformed into the work of art that it is today. The château and its gardens are now classed as Monuments Historiques in France and are open all year round to visit. You are free to explore the surrounding buildings and discover their respective histories but simply walking around the geometric French formal gardens, the numerous pools and fountains and the beautiful olive groves makes this a park to remember.