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In Montpellier, where the sun almost always shines (300 days of sunshine a year!), the Promenade du Peyrou is a beautiful spot to cool off. Due to its higher elevation, the Promenade often catches a pleasant breeze. It also offers a beautiful view of the hinterland and coastline. Various monuments ooze history: the extensive park has been around since the days of the Sun King, Louis XIV.
Construction of the Promenade began in 1689, and by the beginning of the 18th century the location had become the regular meeting place for the Montpellier bourgeoisie. Wealthy ladies and gentlemen flocked here to stroll in the shade of the long rows of sycamore trees. Today the 3-hectare park exudes a less stately ambiance: it is the favourite playground of joggers, petanque players and dog walkers. Every Sunday there is an antiques and flea market and at night groups of students gather to make music in the light of the park lanterns.
The centrepiece of the wide central avenue of the park is the equestrian statue of Louis XIV. The Sun King is portrayed with his arm pointing towards the Pyrenees, the region that became part of his empire after he made peace with Spain. In a straight line behind the statue just outside the park entrance stands the Porte du Peyrou, a 15-metre-high Arc de Triomphe dating from 1691. The reliefs on this Arc de Triomphe refer to the various accomplishments of Louis XIV, such as the construction of the nearby Canal du Midi. The Rue Foch starts right behind the gate. This elegant 19th-century avenue leads straight to the medieval centre of Montpellier.
The Promenade du Peyrou lies on one of the hills on which Montpellier has been built. ’Peyrou’ is Occitan (the regional language of the Provence) for ‘small stone’, even though the park is the highest point of Montpellier, 52 metres above sea level. According to legend, the buildings of Montpellier were not permitted to rise higher than this place, and even more specifically, they could not rise above the stretched out arm of the king’s equestrian statue. This guideline has been respected and the park still offers a sweeping view of the region. In the distance you can see Pic Saint-Loup, the 650-metre-high mountain that marks the beginning of the Cevennes. The mountain also lends its name to the famous Pic Saint-Loup wines. The grapes are grown on the lower hills and the wines can be found in every wine bar in Montpellier. The view on the southern side of the park stretches as far as the sea, only 10 kilometres from the city. A tram line transports beach lovers in half an hour from the city centre to the beach.
The neoclassic Château d’Eau is another eye-catching monument in the park. This water fountain from 1768 features a large basin for drinking water, fed by the 14-km aqueduct. The 21-metre-high arches of the aqueduct can be seen behind the tower. The water basin supplies water to various fountains in the lower section of the park. From the right side of the park you can see the green tree tops of the Jardin des Plantes, the oldest botanical garden in France, founded in 1593. Near the botanical garden, the square towers of the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Montpellier rise above the roofs of the old city centre.