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758km (471 miles) SW of Paris; 161km (100 miles) NW of Marseille; 50km (31 miles) SW of Nîmes

The capital of Languedoc, the medieval university city of Montpellier is renowned for its medical school, founded in the 13th century. Nostradamus qualified as a doctor here, and Rabelais studied at the school. Petrarch came to Montpellier in 1317 and stayed for 7 years. Today Montpellier is one of southern France's most dynamic and fastest-growing cities, and it continues to expand, particularly in its business district of Port Marianne. The city's handsome old town, also known as Ecusson, has tree-flanked promenades, ancient monuments, and winding medieval lanes that lead to small squares filled with numerous cafes. Its population is one of the youngest in France, thanks to the large number of students who give the city a lively feel. It's also just a short bus ride from the Mediterranean, where the beaches at Palavas-les-Flots, Maguelone, and Carnon are ringed with wetlands and flocks of pink flamingoes.