Years ago, as we were getting lost on our way to Arles, my husband and I ended up in Nimes. We did not see Arles – at least not on that trip. Our journey through Provence stopped right in Nimes, which felt immediately like
home. We did not leave until we found a place, our place, where we now spend half the year. Many of our friends and relatives are somewhat dumbfounded that we chose Nimes over a typical Provencal village – that is until they come to visit.
Here are a few things that make them change their mind.
History is everywhere
Emperor Augustus’ daughter, as Nimes is affectionately nicknamed, was built in 30 BC on the ancient Via Domitia that linked Rome to the Iberic countries. The Roman colony has bestowed a wealth of sites considered as the best preserved in Europe.
The Imperial oval-shaped Amphitheatre that the Romans built to hold their games dominates the city. The monument encloses an elliptical arena of 435 feet long by 330 feet wide, ringed by 34 rows of seats supported by a vaulted construction. Gladiator games are long gone. Today, the old stones vibrate to the rhythms of Flamenco, Rock-and-Roll or resonate with the voices of Bjork or Lenny Kravitz. Twice a year, the arena pulses to the rhythm of Nimes revered tradition: bullfights. Visitors can tour the monument, including the five circular galleries and corridors that lead to the spectator’s seats. I feel privileged to live near such a grandiose site.
La Maison Carrée
Emperor Augustus ordered the building of the Maison Carree in 12BC, designed after the Apollo Temple in Rome. Centuries later, the Nimes’s temple served as a model for the first Virginian Capitol. Indeed, when he was Ambassador in Paris, Thomas Jefferson visited Nimes. The Maison Carrée’s remarkable proportions impressed him and served as inspiration to him. The monument is open to the public. Upon entering the temple, visitors receive 3-D glasses to watch a movie on the life of Nimes during the middle-ages. Great for kids and adults.
Les Jardins de la Fontaine
The gardens sit at the foot of the Nemausus fountain – that gave its name to Nimes. They date back to the 18th century, when works to regulate the city’s fountain uncovered roman ruins — a sanctuary, roman baths, an antique theater and a temple of Diana – which you can visit. During the summer, the temple serves as background décor for dance and music recitals. Magic! All year-around, strollers enjoy the gardens planted with beautifully landscaped gardens and pine, cedar and chestnut trees. The gardens host major cultural events – an outdoor movie festival, horse shows and plays.
From Square to Square
Nimes’ life revolves around its many squares, each with its own charms.
La Place aux Herbes
During the Roman era, the Assemblees used to meet on this square. Today, the locals gather early morning for the ritual café serré and croissant. Just across the square, the Nîmes Cathedral evokes the Middle-Ages.
La Place de l’Horloge
With its towers rebuilt during the XIIIth century, the Horloge has been giving the time for the last 500 years. During the hot summer afternoons, kids find relief at the fountain, and those with a sweet tooth can soothe their cravings at the patisserie Courtin, reputed for its deliciously decadent ice-creams.
La Place d’Assas
This lovely square stands in the heart of the city. Built at the end of the 20th century, La Placed’ Assas is lined with cafes and restaurants with outdoor terraces. Two gigantic heads situated at each end of the square face each other. One represents the source Nemausa where Nimes was originally built; the other one, Nemausus, represents the male force.
Where to eat in Nimes
Included in the Michelin and Gault et Millau guides, this classy restaurant sits just across from the Arena. Gourmet dishes are served in a contemporary decor. During the summer, you can enjoy the outdoor terrace.
2 bd des Arènes F
Tel: 04 66 67 29 15
Le Wine Bar, Le Cheval Blanc
L’hôtel du Cheval Blanc, one of Nimes’s landmarks, housed famous guests, the likes of Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau. Today, the posh restaurant attracts a trendy crowd who appreciate good wine, seafood and meat seasoned à la Provencale.
Place des Arènes
A tapas bar that also serves local specialties. It’s the place to go to “see and be seen”
Where to stay in Nimes
These Nimes Hotels are steeped with history
Ernest Hemingway and Ava Gardner, to name only a few celebrities, stayed at this posh hotel. Today, during the Ferias, the Imperator remains the matador’s favorite address. You will enjoy dining on the outdoor terrace overlooking the quiet gardens.
Quai de la Fontaine
La Maison de Sophie
Hôtel Particulier, Art Déco
Sophie, the owner, welcomes you in a refined and tranquil ambiance evoking the 1900s. Rose bushes and bougainvilliers surround the outdoor swimming pool. A real plus during the hot summer months.
31 rue Carnot
Le New Hôtel la Baume
Built around a hôtel particulier dating from the XVIIth century, this architectural gem is located close to Les Halles, Nîmes’ famous fresh produce market.
21 rue Nationale
How to get to Nimes
From Paris (by TGV (high-speed train) 3 hours
From Lyon (by TGV 1 hour and 15mn)
From Marseille (local train 1hour)
Nimes is located 27 km away from Arles, 40km from Avignon, 95 km away from Aix-en-Provence and 100km away from Marseille.
Written by Brigitte Aflalo-Calderon for EuropeUpClose.com