Capitals, cities, towns, villages, neighbourhoods. We all come from somewhere and it’s time to meet each others hometowns and who knows, we might put some new places that we have never heard of in our bucket list!
In this post, Sophie is taking us to her eno-gastronomic seaside hometown in the south of France: Montpellier!
1. Who are you, how long have you been living in the Netherlands and why did you move here?
I’m Sophie van Aanholt and I moved 18 years ago to the Netherlands for love.
2. What’s your hometown and where is it? Were you born there? How long have you lived there?
Montpellier, in Southern France is my hometown. I was born there and grew up in a small village next to it. Later I started my studies there and finished them in Lille (North of France), before moving to the Netherlands.
3. Is it a big city or a small town? What is the population?
Montpellier is quite a large city, around 300.000 inhabitants, with a metropolitan area of about 800.000. It’s very close to the Mediterranean see and about 750 km from Paris.
4. What are some things in Montepellier that are part of history? Is it famous for anything? Does anyone famous come from there?
The university of Montpellier is one of the oldest in the world, it was established in 1220. The medical school is the oldest still operating in the world, with famous alumni such as Petrarch, Nostradamus, and François Rabelais.
5. What is your favourite season in your hometown and why?
I love the summer in Montpellier, especially the beginning, when the temperature is not too hot yet, all the students are still in town and the effervescent atmosphere fills the city center.
6. What is the happiest memory you have from Montpellier?
I loved long days at the beach, near Montpellier, Le Grand Travers. It’s between Carnon and La Grande Motte on the Mediterranean coast. Thin sandy beach with beautiful dunes. I remember playing for hours there as a child with my cousins. We always arrived there in the late morning and it seemed like we were moving permanently at the beach: parasol and pic-nic, windsurfs, paddles, beach rackets, snorkeling material, fishing nets. We were spending the whole day there and left in the late evening. The end-of-the-day sun with its soft warmth and golden light, became one with the smell of sunscreen and sea salt on my skin and made me feel like staying there forever.
7. Do you miss your hometown? What do you miss the most?
I used to miss Montpellier when I first moved to the Netherlands, mostly the weather and the atmosphere. With time, I fell in love with the Netherlands, especially Haarlem.
8. What do you like most about Montpellier? What would you like to change about it?
I miss the diversity in and around the city. Diversity of people, students from all over the world and diversity of the surrounding nature: on the southern side the Mediterranean Sea, on the northern side the Cevennes. These are mountains, full of chestnut trees and small rivers with beautiful clear water called “gardons”, where you can find a little freshness during warm summer days. The small villages with traditional houses made of local stones and gorgeous market.
9. Do you think you will return to live there one day? Why or why not?
I honestly don’t know. I love it there and I love it here. I love many places in the world. If you’d ask me back when I lived there if I’d ever move to the Netherlands, I’d probably would have laughed! You never know where life takes you.
10. How often do you visit Montpellier and how do you spend your days there?
I try to visit once a year in the summer so my daughters and my husband can see where I grew up and get in touch with family and friends. We enjoy the summer life next to the water, whether by the sea or by the rivers.
11. What are the main attractions in your hometown and what would be your personal recommendations?
There are so many things to do and to see in the city and in the surroundings. It’s difficult to pick one. If you love nature you’ll find many places around the city, beautiful walks, via ferrata, rivers and lakes.
The ‘Cirque de Navacelle’ is an impressive place, a big hole into the plateaus named ‘Causses’. You drive down onto a small road to come to the village of Navacelle. The ‘Vis’ river passes through the village and you can take a swim in chilly water below the water fall.
The ‘Pont du Diable’, the devil’s bridge, is also a nice place on the Herault river, there’s a beach below the bridge, canoe rentals are available along the river, to see the ‘Gorges de l’Herault.
The seaside offers many opportunities for water sports or simply beach life. One of my favourite beaches are ‘Le Grand Travers’ in Carnon, l’Espiguette, close to le Grau du roi.
The city is beautiful, the historic center is very interesting and definitely worth seeing. Stop there and have lunch or dinner at a terrace to have a taste of the effervescent summer ambiance. When I lived there, I loved sitting for hours at one of the terraces at Carré Sainte Anne, at the foot of the Church, having drinks in the evening at ‘le Café de la Mer’ on the Place de la Préfecture. The center is full of bars, bistros and restaurants for everyone!
12. What are the main traditions, festivals, traditional food & drink of Montpellier?
Ferias are one of the famous traditions in Occitanie (around Montpellier) and the South-west of France. You’ll find almost every weekend a village or a city with its own feria. A big party in the city-center’s streets, with bodegas (outside bars) and live music. In some places bulls are let free to run in the main street, some other places the tradition is what’s called ‘taureau-piscine’ where young brave people try to get a ‘vachette’, a young cow, into a pool in the center of the city arena.
The traditional food is of course Mediterranean: one of the famous dishes is ‘la Tielle de Sète’: a pie stuffed with octopus in a very tasty tomato sauce. Sète is a very nice seaside city 30 min from Montpellier, birthplace of Georges Brassens an iconic French singer-songwriter and poet.
The ‘Chichoumeille’ is another traditional dish of the area. Made of sunny Mediterranean vegetables, tomatoes, eggplants, bell peppers, onions, garlic. Every family has its own secret recipe with fresh herbs.
‘La Brasucade’ is also a traditional summer dish: big mussels from Bouzigues cooked in a big paella dish on a fire made of vine stumps. As soon as the mussels open a delicious sauce made of tomatoes, onions, garlic, peppers, olive oil, fresh herbs, and white wine sometimes even pastis, is added. So good!
13. Do you find any similarities with Haarlem and Montpellier? What is the biggest difference between them?
Both Haarlem and Montpellier are near the sea. Though very different coastlines, walks on the beach and profusion of fish allowed me to discover a new way of enjoying the seaside. I had never seen snow nor frost on the beach, and with a very big winter coat, hand gloves and waterproof winter boots was amazed by the beauty of nature.
A big thank you to Sophie for taking us with her memories to the south of France, to her beautiful hometown, Montpellier!
We are looking forward to hearing about other expats’ hometowns! Just go to our questionnaire copy and paste the questions, fill in your answers and submit them via Facebook Messenger or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you also wish to share some photos of you and/or your hometown, please do so!
The idea is for expatsHaarlem readers to get involved and share insights about their hometowns