An ode to France, Provence and Montpellier

This question frequently comes up: “What is your favorite city you’ve visited so far?”

This question kills me.

I immediately mentally scan the list of capitals I’ve seen this year: London, Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid, Prague, Copenhagen, Vienna, Berlin, Rome, Bratislava. Then I scan the list of obvious second-cities: Barcelona, Rotterdam, Florence, Munich, Salzburg.

This question kills me.

Then it’s changed: “What is your favorite European country?”

Excruciating.

At least with this proposition, I can struggle for different reasons. I don’t think I know any country well enough to properly compare it to any other. Talk to any Austrian who doesn’t live in Vienna, and they’ll tell you that Vienna is not Austria. The capital is rarely a full or accurate representation of a country, but when you only have time to visit one city…

With the exception of Belgium, there’s only one country I feel that I’ve gotten under the surface of. France.

So perhaps by default, I can say my favorite European country, as of right now, is France.

It seems like a fair assessment. I’ve spent a cumulative of roughly two and a half months of my life in France on various trips. I can knowingly say that Paris is definitely, definitely, definitely not France. Paris is Paris. And France, is, well…

It’s the Loire. It’s Bordeaux. It’s the Dordogne. It’s the Cote d’Azur. It’s Marseille. It’s Lille. And one day, I’ll be able to say it’s Lyon, Normandy, Dijon and Toulouse, too. But at least now, I can also say it’s Provence. It’s Montpellier.

A vacation in Provence can convince anyone that France is a beautiful country, with beautiful people, beautiful produce and beautiful wine. And really, what else do you need?

We stayed in Vaison-La-Romaine, northeast of Provence’s mainstay, Avignon. Straddling the Ouveze river, Vaison-La-Romaine is divided into a lower, modern town juxtaposed against ancient Roman ruins, and the Haute-Ville, a medieval century village that blends into cliffs.

The Haute-Ville is the quintessentially French beauty you’d expect to see in Provence. It’s the windy town of tinkling fountains, shady squares and ivy-laden doors you’d only hope for and never actually expect to stay in. It’s all that, with fine dining, a chateau and views of the vast countryside.

And a short drive away lies a trail of vineyards and wineries, showcasing the best of the Côtes du Rhône. Coat your mouth with Grenache at all hours of the day — you made it to Provence, and hey, you probably deserve it. Traverse the super famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape and be surprised that the wine isn’t overrated. Still, the smaller towns are less touristy and more picturesque. I recommend Séguret, a village that miraculously clings to the foot of a hill, and Sablet, a fortified town that can be viewed from that hill.

And then we arrive at Montpellier. Stunning Montpellier.

Walking around Montpellier for the first time was an interesting experience. I felt like I had been there before, like I already knew each narrow street and precious tea salon. I could see myself drinking wine on the steps of its unassuming cathedrals in the early evenings, reading a novel sprawled out on its lush, green squares.

And when my father couldn’t stop glowing, in complete awe of the mere feel and look of Montpellier, I realized that this was his first French city that wasn’t Paris. And that’s when I realized that I knew French cities. I knew Montpellier already. I loved it already.

The carefree energy and simultaneously infectious relaxation. The calm, quiet evening strolls through perfect bourgeois streets that bustled with fashionistas in the daytime. The smiles. The food. The wine. The love for food. The love for wine. The swing dancing in the street. The simplicity and miraculous accessibility. France. France. France.

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