Over looked and under rated on most traveler’s radar, Nîmes is the jewel in the crown of the Languedoc-Roussillon region – a region that includes the western Mediterranean coast of France, stretching from the Rhône valley in the east, to the Spanish border in the south-west.
Bigger cities and beach towns attract hordes of Eurotrippers while this Roman city of about 150,000 residents remains relatively quiet. While it lacks the student population of Montpellier or the glitzy glamour of Nice or the edgy port vibe of Marseille, Nîmes still has a vibrant arts scene that sits well against the gentrified ex-pat haven that is Southern France.
100 miles from coast, Nîmes is about as Roman as you can get without actually being in Rome. The city is dotted with astonishingly well-preserved Roman buildings and gardens (calling them ruins would be a disservice). The epicenter is one of the best preserved coliseum in the world which regularly plays host to stadium sized bands. Watching Radiohead in a 2000-year-old venue under the stars was an absolutely unforgettable experience which was well worth going over budget for. Twice a year, it becomes the focus of “Feria de Nîmes”, a festival founded on one of the more unusual aspects of the local culture and one more associated with Spain: Bullfighting. Although the traditions lie with ‘Le Matador’, very little of the modern festival celebrates it. The city comes alive with pop up bars, ompa-bands, crepe stalls and all night partying non-stop for 3 days. The festival is renowned all over France and any mention will usually be met with a knowing smile. The festival runs in late May and late September. Book ahead early as the city will be packed with locals coming in from around the country.
Keep a look out for crocodiles, the symbol of the city, as you walk around Nîmes. There are emblems of all shapes and sizes absolutely everywhere. Legend has it that the Romans who founded the city wanted to demonstrate their power by having the most bad-ass pet you can imagine. Only, it turns out that crocs don’t make the best pets, so they were quickly turned out into the waterways and immediately bred. Soon Nîmes was over run by crocodiles and the symbol of the city was born.
About an hours drive away from Nîmes, is the walled town of Aigues-Mortes. The drive there takes you past the world-famous Perrier factory, wild flamingos and surprising slat flats.
From the outside, this is a castle of Games of Thrones proportions. You only imagine that anything inside is open purely for tourists. You would be surprised. Aigues-Mortes is a fully functioning town complete with roads, police stations, houses and schools, right within the walls of a castle. In peak season you can scale the perimeter for €8, giving you a fantastic view of the sand dunes stretching out to the sea. From here the next bit of land you will come across is Algeria. During the summer these sand dunes and beaches, known as l’espiguette, provide a welcome relief from the relentless Mediterranean sun. In the winter it’s a desolate, windswept spot perfect for dramatic photographs.
A short drive away is the sleepy little fishing town of Le Grau-du-Roi. Stop to take in the views over fresh moules frites for lunch on the waterfront.
Another architectural wonder in the region is the Point Du Gard. This UNESCO world heritage Roman aqueduct crosses the Gardon River and was opened in 60 AD. Head to the little town of Collias where you can hire a canoe and make the two hour journey down stream finishing the trip at the Point Du Guard itself. This is the best way to enjoy the structure, especially on a hot day when the crisp cold water refreshes you with the best of views.
Eat: There is a tapas bar called Carré Jazz in Nîmes with a fantastic view of the Maison de Carrée in the main square. Expect dishes typical of the region: a distinctly Spanish twist to classic French dishes. We had a Patatas bravas topped with Foie Gras and it was DIVINE.
Drink: Nîmes nestles between a fair few outstanding wine regions, however Languedoc manages to churn out some exceptionally shit wine. Avoid the Costières de Nîmes and stick to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a stones throw away from the region.
Do: A perfect day in Nîmes would start with a stroll around Le Jardin de Fountain while eating a hot Croque Monsieur from a local boulangerie. Work off that delicious cheese with a hike up the Tour Magne. Take a stroll around the city counting how many crocodiles you can find before heading to Place de la Maison Carrée for lunch. Spend your afternoon exploring the Norman Foster designed library and take in a café noir on the roof top with fantastic views across the city. Finish your evening with dinner La Casa Blanca and music at Le Victor Hugo.
Thanks to Jade Noble for this fabulous guest post. Jade was born and raised in England, but now lives in Toronto with her Australian boyfriend and their collection of travel books. After visiting 23 countries together in the last 3 years, they are taking a step back to plan their next adventure: getting from Canada to Australia without flying.
Jade and her boyfriend have a blog over at Through The Liquid Looking Glass. Be sure to check them out for travel ideas, especially those that revolve around adult beverages!