In France, a Visit With the In-Laws (Finally) Becomes a Vacation

Yes, Montpellier was the home of my husband’s family. But now I viewed it as a place of beauty and culture, not just an obligation.

Comments: 36

  1. It was fun to visit Montpellier and its environs with you, and very pleasing to see that the local flora is beginning to make an impression. Those "pink bay bushes" in the median strip are probably in fact nerium oleander, which the French call "laurier rose", which may have led to your mistake, since bay = "laurier".

  2. Spending time in Montpelier, Vt, I sometimes wondered about the French city spelled with two l's, whose namesake it is. It sounds wonderful and worth a trip.

  3. I have very fond memories (although some of them have now become very painful due to a breakup) of Montpelier, VT. I am sure it competes with Montpellier, FR on many levels including natural beauty.

  4. Ha Ha! Do you know how lucky you are that your husband's family doesn't live a four or five hour drive north of New York? Every year you would leave the new warmth of spring to drive back into grey, wet winter weather. I'll take Montpellier any time. Thanks for a lovely armchair trip.

  5. I know there is also a Carmelite monastery there, with religious women and men who are also wonderful artists. I would have liked to see that. Never got to that city, so I surely enjoyed your meticulous details and highly visual writing style. Thank you!

  6. You can expect more changes in attitude as you and your baby continue to grow up. :-)

  7. Although the whiny tone is aggravating, the worst thing about this article is the appalling ignorance of the author-- the Musée Fabre is lodged in a seventeenth-century Jesuit collège, not "an eighteenth-century chateau", the "café" in front of it is a restaurant of the multi-starred Pourcel brothers, St-Guilhem is not "an" abbey church, but the pearl of Languedocian Romanesque architecture (part of the cloister of which was not stolen but bought from a local individual who had it in his private garden)—the list could go on and on. The ultimate insult to the city is her ecstasy over the highway bay trees (oleander) planted in the 1990s, a nod to the 19th-century architecture (an imitation of Paris), with no mention of the real treasures of the city—a street plan dating from the Middle Ages, countless examples of gothic arching not only in public buildings, like the place Pétrarque, but also in numerous cafes and shops, the many splendid monumental staircases of the 17th and 18th centuries, and the mikvé, one of the rare medieval Jewish ritual baths to be found in Europe. Can't the New York Times do better than this?!!

  8. A self centered American visiting her husbands family. She can only think about consuming, feeling cheated because she can't float around buying things. Interrupts a vintner on her day off, complains that the person giving the tasting doesn't isn't smiling enough, then goes on to buy One, yes one measily bottle of wine! As an American living abroad one becomes sensitised to the degree Americans require to be pampered. It is so embaressing.

  9. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights; thoroughly enjoyed the "story" from your perspective. The part about maybe getting 6 hours of sleep with the baby's schedule brought back memories... She's 25 now; and has one of her own

  10. I spend about 6 months a year in Montpellier and know all of the places mentioned in this article. Montpellier is a fabulous place, the city where "the sun never sets," in the summer, at any rate. Loved this article… I'm in the States now, and this has made me "homesick" for my other hometown...

  11. In the late 90s - early 21st century our summer stays in Montpellier, while as charming in some ways as the visit described here, were ultimately a disappointment to us - due to uncontrolled dog waste everywhere but the very center of the tourist section, so bad you couldn't walk a straight line down most side streets, plus the smell in the summer heat was unbearable - and crime at night; as unaccompanied women we were definitely not safe going out after dark. I wonder if/hope these problems have been solved?

  12. I'm afraid you are right about the "uncontrolled dog waste"--its still a rampant problem in Montpellier, which really has a lot going for it, but really falls short in terms of maintenance of (most) civic spaces. The parks aren't much better maintained than those of poor old Worcester, MA, I'm afraid.

  13. ...if the stink is overwhelming, why don't residents do something? They are fine with this? Is it some kind of protest of (perceived) overly intrusive laws, like pooper scooper?
    Baffled by this -

  14. I stayed in Montpellier for 4 weeks in June of 2014 for french immersion and during World Cup and I did not experience uncontrolled dog waste or bad smells. I walked through Place de Comedie at least twice a day and wandered through many of the streets in the tourist areas and other areas and did not have a problem with cleanliness or crime. I found the people quite helpful when I was lost. My worst experience was being tempted by the smell of fresh croissants every morning and giving in to the temptation. It's unfortunate the writer did not explore Montpellier itself as it's a great city with amazing history and good food, markets, festivals and shopping. I would go back.

  15. in 1971-2 I spent a magical year in Montpellier as a Fulbright Research Fellow. Much of my research was done in the Library of the Faculté de Droit, downtown in the medieval city where Rabelais' professorial Chair was respectfully preserved. Your drive into the countryside recreates one I enjoyed so much back then, and I agree with your husband: the "theft" of the arcade that is now installed in the Cloisters is a shame. On the other hand thousands more people see it there than would ever have visited it in situ.

  16. Your article is so spot on. We have a similar family situation in another country and it took us longer than it took you to finally buy a guidebook to the place and take off on our own to see it at arms length for the first time. From then on funky and somewhat oppressive family visits turned into satisfying, fully rounded vacations where our general experiences were invaluably enhanced by the local family perspective.

    And tiny, little known Pic St Loup produces some of the best reds of the South of France. In addition to Domaine de Morties we also suggest Domaine de L'Hortus, Mas Bruguiere, Ermitage du Pic St Loup, Chateau de Lancyre, and Chateau La Roque, to name a few.

  17. Nice article, well written, the pleasant escape while gazing out my window at ice floating down the Hudson. Cependant, Cirque de Navacelles n'est pas le Grand Canyon de la France; c'est Gorges du Verdon.

  18. If your mother-in-law did not explain to you that 95% of French babies happily learn to sleep through the night during their second month of life, you are both blessed and cursed.
    Blessed because she is the rare mother-in-law who refrains from inflicting her wisdom and experience on you.
    Cursed because, well, your baby was still ruining your sleep at 8 months.
    Forget about Lonely Planet France. Read Pamela Druckman!

  19. Is it just me, but this piece seems to have an unpleasant tone. The author seems to resent the fact that her husband is French and that they regularly visit the in-laws on one of the most famous coastlines in the world, in an apparently beautiful city which again she seems to have barely noticed over five previous visits. And she refers to "the baby" as if it is an intrusive inanimate object or something. Crikey, or maybe I am just in a bad mood, but I could do without the glimpses into the author's temperament.

  20. I am sorry for the writer and her husband that they did not dine at Les Jardin des Sens, where my husband and I had the best meal of our lives. It is worth a trip to Montpellier all by itself. I think of it often and wish I were there again.

  21. Thanks for this article -- it was lovely. I suppose the lesson you took away could/should be applied beyond just Montpellier. Like here in NY. It's nice to see trees and other flora mixed in with all the concrete and steel here.

    And (afterthought) although it's ugly, I even admire the lone weed growing in the concrete barrier on the highway. Makes me think that no matter how inhospitable, life finds a way.

  22. Bravo on your honest and lively piece. I'm saving this one!

  23. Can you whine just a little bit more?!!

  24. Montpellier had also the oldest medicine University in the middle age, where François Rabelais was a student.

  25. This is one of the most annoying travel pieces I have read yet in the Times. This women went to Montpellier FIVE times and never bothered to show enough interest in it to buy a history of it, or a guide book, or even a Lonely Planet?! She was too busy being "escorted around like a head of state"? Who cares what she thinks or where she traveled or what "the baby" did! Just buy the Lonely Planet and plan your own trip. Too too annoying.

  26. Oh dear, the snow is getting to you.

  27. Although it once lost its third star, and a few years ago its second star, the one-star restaurant "Le Jardin des Sens" run by the charming celebrity chefs Les Frères Pourcel Jacques and Laurent is worth a booking and you no longer pay eye rolling prices.

  28. Lived there for a year. Don't go in August. But if you are planning a southern French trip I highly recommend the places the author mentioned. It is a beautiful city close to the sea, and home to a huge flamingo estuary.

  29. I can understand that in-law visits might not always be the most relaxing, but I just hope for their sake that this author's in-laws either don't read English or the NYT and are thus spared all the whiny self-involvement.

    And I don't know what sort of cypresses grow as "high as a belltower" in Montpellier, I certainly haven't seen any...certainly not in the case of the church she mentions:'Assas,+34000+Montpellier,+France/@43.615376,3.86441,3a,75y,90t/data=!3m5!1e2!3m3!1s48201709!2e1!3e10!4m2!3m1!1s0x12b6aefdc31feb2d:0x25864b9b41c9760b

  30. Interesting take on the dilemma of long-distance in-laws. Or, as I had, parents & in-law in far-flung cities, none near our CA and WA homes. Time off was an ordeal of jet lag and huge credit card bills as we traipsed from city to city, with seemingly no real 'vacation' time.
    Just visit time.
    France or Atlanta, it's hard to sacrifice vacation time, even staycation time, for visit time.
    Maybe an article can tackle how families handle that in an age of scarce jobs that demand you relocate. It's a hard balancing act.

  31. This woman sounds like a typical spoiled New Yorker. If I ever have enough time and money to return to Southern France--which is the most wonderful, beautiful, magical place in the world-- I promise not to whine about it or its inhabitants

  32. Beautiful piece. The author painted a vivid picture of a place I have never been but now wish to see. I loved the raw honesty about traveling with an infant and sightseeing with in-laws.

  33. I married a French man just after I turned 50. He is 15 years my junior. We live in France.

    If anyone' inlaws had a valid justification for not blessing the marriage it was my French inlaw's privilege to do so. There are many things they will miss because of this marriage, grandchildren are one opportunity. My children were adults just starting their own families when I married and they weren't too terribly excitied about it either. Now we have been married nearly 15 years. We are happy together. We spend every Christmas weeks at his folks in the French Alpes. We go to the States about once ever 5 years or so. My children do not visit and that is understandable as they have young children. I suppose I'm trying to say that my father and mother in-laws have accepted me and we had a growing relationship. My two daughters have accepted my husband and they too have a developing relationship. My son lags behind and that saddened me but to be honest I decided I simply wasn't going to care.

    The main problem with marriage is that all vacations seem to be arranged to see one's natal family which leaves the spouse feeling like the 5th wheel. This year we decided that we were not going to allot every minute of our vacation to 'his' or 'Her' families. We're going to have vacations for ourselves, do and going where we want. Of course we'll still see our families as time and funds permit but those days are going to be limited in number because we, too, will be making time for ourselves.

  34. Do all these negative commenters have any idea of what it's like to live in a border-straddling bicultural family? As soon as you get married, you no longer get to tour that "wonderful, beautiful, magical place". You just go visit your in-laws and learn to live by their rules and on their schedule.
    I found the author's account refreshingly honest and self-aware. I wish her the best during her future vacations!

  35. Not sure if this was a family therapy article or a travelogue. Don't fault Montpellier for the writer's family drama and make it is on your list of destinations. Sadly the article did short change Montepellier's city center itself which is a lovely labyrinth of architecturally stunning homes with scores of small courtyards. Each courtyard offers a few cafes, bars and shops like a functioning neighborhood should (before the invasion of big box stores, Wal-Mart and Amazon.) Plan to spend at least a weekend wandering the city center and then hit the regional spots mentioned in the article for a more complete experience. (on second thought, please don't so the rest of us can enjoy it before it's overrun with visitors!)

  36. Right on "Swampdog" ! I lived and worked for IBM France in Paris for 4 years; 4 teenage kids had the time of their life, so when I retired I decided to look over 4 more southern cities, but I went first to Montpellier, and could never get any farther. We love it, and want like you to keep it secret to enjoy... the perfect French city, with the best of the old and the best and brightest of the new, and that means not only layout, buildings, walking streets, but 6 trams to hop on and off, no car needed; and just now, a tram right to the beaches .. but best of all, the young energetic University atmosphere, plus the good old fashioned "don't touch" tiny little walking around streets, saved for allure, even tho the 2000 turnaround of modernisation makes the main sections effficient, fast moving, fun, and as modern as any up to date US city, and then some. And the constantly changing cultural stuff going on...Symphonic Orchestra theatre, formal business meeting center ensconced in flower beds and benches out and about...
    I could go on forever. We go there every year, after a coupe weeks in Paris. Love both.