Read our definitive guide to this beautiful Roman city in the south of France
It’s not a town I hear much about. Is it worth a stopover?
Definitely! Nîmes is the best-kept secret of the French south. Capital of the Gard département, it will wow you with a magnificent 2000-year-old temple, year-round sunshine and a stack of high-profile festivals.
What’s all this about the Romans?
Once a major stronghold of Roman Gaul, Nîmes today boasts some seriously well-preserved relics of antiquity. Your first stop should be the impressive 20,000 seat amphitheatre, built around 70 AD and now the stage for Nîmes’ two annual ferias. Nearby is the Maison Carrée – a stunning Roman temple built in sparkling limestone and complete with stately columns. The Jardin de la Fontaine makes the trio – the site of Roman baths, it’s now a lovely public garden scattered with remains.
Any modern attractions?
Directly opposite the Maison Carrée you’ll find the Carré d’Art – a stylish contemporary art gallery, built in glass and chrome and designed by the celebrated British architect Sir Norman Foster. Explore its collections before heading to the roof bar for a drink. (tel: (Fr) 4 66 76 35 70, www.carreartmusee.com).
Where do I go for a good meal?
Go all out at Michelin-starred Tendences La Lisita which has a terrace facing the amphitheatre, particularly beautiful when all lit up at night (tel: (Fr) 4 66 67 29 15, www.lelisita.com). For budget bite, seek out Halles Auberges – a counter in Nîmes’ central market serving small plates of delicacies such as duck heart à la plancha and grilled cuttlefish (www.leshallesdenimes.com).
Where to stay?
At Jardins Secret – a discreet hotel near the city centre that’s built around an elegant cloister and offers 14 individually designed rooms overflowing with antiques and sumptuous fabrics. Doubles from €195 (Tel: (Fr) 4 66 84 82 64, www.jardinssecrets.net).
Anything else to know?
Impress your friends with your knowledge of the fact that Nîmes was the birthplace of denim – the word being in fact a corruption of the word ‘Serge de Nîmes’. The speciality local textile that then got exported to the US to use for trousers and the rest is history.
Get me there quick!
Jump on a plane – Ryanair flies from London Luton to Nîmes from €19.99 one way (www.ryanair.com).