Nimes is the capital of the Gard Department, Occitanie (Languedoc-Roussillon). It’s famous for it’s Roman remains and is nicknamed “the Rome of France”. Summer is wickedly hot in Nîmes (whatever you do when you book accommodation – make sure you get air conditioning). Winter can be cold when the famous Mistral wind is blowing, so much so that rumour has it that Nîmes’s iconic palm trees are kept warm with a heater.
What to see and do in Nimes
Nimes has a compact town centre, the Place du Marché features two figures from the Nîmes coat of arms: a crocodile and a palm tree symbolising the Emperor August’ defeat of his arch rival Marc Antony and his lover Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. They’re embedded in metal stamps in the ground, created by France’s favourite designer, Philippe Starck. In fact, you’re likely to see these emblems in several places, including in the town hall where giant crocodiles hang, dancing in a rather macabre circle above your head.
The Rome of France
The heart of Nimes is it’s Roman arena, fabulously preserved and still in use to this day. It was inspired by the Coliseum in Rome. Festivals, events and concerts take place here, it’s amazing to think that 2000 years after it was built, cheers still ring out from the stone benches. You can take a tour with an audio guide and discover it’s history, and walk in the footsteps of the gladiators, in fact you can dress like them too at the annual Roman Games!
The Roman temple known as Maison Carrée is world class, and one of the best preserved in the world. Looking at it, you’d think it was only built a few years ago, not 2000 years. Today it’s an art gallery and fabulous back drop for the cafés and bars that line the grand square it sits in.
The Jardin de la Fontaine is a wonderful place to take a break under the shade of a tree or watching the swans in the basin of the grand fountain. There’s also the remains of what’s believed to be a Roman library. It’s romantic and atmospheric.
The Museum of Roman history, Musée de la Romanité, opened in June 2018. A stunning building with an awesome collection of Roman remains, 5000 exhibits including mosaics, ceramics, statues and murals.
It’s not often that you see a Roman temple next to an über modern Norman Foster designed building, but in Nimes, architectural surprises abound. The Carré d’Art-Museum of Contemporary Art is next to the Maison Carré Roman temple. Home to a fabulous collection of art, modern art fans will love its clean lines and the cool white and glass interior which make the artworks pop.
The Denim connection
The Musée du Vieux Nîmes (Place aux Herbes, free entrance) has a room devoted to the city’s most famous export – denim. The rough cotton fabric started out to create tough clothes for labourers but is now the uniform of the world. (You can read more about Denim from France here).
A taste of Nimes
Late night dining is de rigeur in this sultry town. In the summer, you’ll find people sitting outside restaurants lingering over coffee until the early hours of the morning, it’s almost too hot to eat in the heat of the day.
Have a picnic: the romantic Jardin de la Fontaine is the ideal picnic spot. Les Halles, the vibrant covered market place of Nimes is perfect for picking up fresh produce (daily) from the 100 or so artisans and traders.
Locals Love: The shaded terrace restaurant of the Carré d’Art Museum which offers spectacular views over the city and a great, seasonal menu.
Aperitifs: Brasserie Le Napoleon, which is also great for dinner. Opened in 1813, this place is an institution in Nimes. It’s utterly gorgeous inside, filled with antiques, and is a listed building. The locals call it “Napo”.
Bake my Day: Noailles (6 Boulevard Alphonse Daudet), next to the Maison Carrée, is the best patisserie in Nîmes. Try the oreillette, a thin, crispy beignet (doughnut) with a delicate orange blossom filling.
Ice Ice Baby: Rumour has it that the best ice creams in town are to be had at Maison Courtois (8 Place du Marché). “Not cheap” says local Veronique “but truly delectable and made by a master. The chestnut and cognac ice cream is magnifique”.
The Inside Track
Take Home a souvenir: Nimes loves its sweet croquants Villaré, an almond bisuit with a hint of lemon and orange blossom. Get them from Maison Villaret, founded in 1775, a legend with the locals (13 Rue de la Madeleine).
Take a selfie at: Ask anyone in Nimes and they’ll tell you – the Arena, preferably in front of the bullfighter statue, is THE place for a Nimes selfie.
Take a break: In the Jardin de la Fontaine, with its lovely fountains, shade under the lime trees and gorgeous planting, it is the perfect place to chill.
Around and about in Nimes
The spectacular Pont du Gard (www.pontdugard.fr) is just 12 miles away and should not be missed. Ingenious Roman engineering brought water from the beautiful nearby town of Uzès across this aqueduct to the Castellum in Nîmes.
Nearest airport: Nîmes-Alès-Camargue-Cévenne, 15 kms from the centre, there’s a shuttle service available.
Stay at: Apartcity.com comfy, spotless, in the centre of the city and great value.
Tourist office website for loads of useful information: OT-Nimes.fr