No visit to Provence is complete without spending at least a day in this ancient city of Nîmes founded by the Romans as a colony for the veterans of Julius Caesar’s Egyptian campaign. Named Nemausus (see video clip) after a local Gallic deity, the city prospered and has lots of Roman buildings. Moreover it boasts a wonderful park to relax in at the end of your itinerary. If you’re wearing jeans, well this is probably the most appropriate place in France to do so – read on.
Nîmes is a large city but all of the sites are within walking distance. Head for the city centre where there are several underground car parks. Parking Arènes on Esplanade Charles-de-Gaulle is a good choice because it is adjacent to one the main sites of the city, the extremely well preserved Roman Amphitheatre known as Les Arènes.
Before you head for the Amphitheatre admire the striking white marble Fontaine Pradier in the centre of the Esplanade which is a large urban garden. After exploring the Amphitheatre, known as Les Arènes, head along the Rue des Arènes leading to the Place du Marché. At the eastern end of the Place discover the famous and very lifelike Chained Crocodile languishing in its fountain.
Walk west out of the Place du Marché along the Rue des Greffes for about 50m till you come to the Rue de l’Étoile. Turn right and proceed for about 800m and you will arrive at probably the best preserved Roman temple of all. The Maison Carrée (Square House), still in use today, exhibits classical architecture at its best and is stunning in its completeness.
From the Maison Carrée, walk west along the Rue de l’Horloge for 200m and turn right into the Place d’Horlage.
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Turn left into the Rue de la Madeleine, the main shopping street of Nîmes and enjoy some window shopping. After 100m you will enter the Place Aux Herbes overlooked by the Romanesque Cathedral of Nôtre Dame and St Castor.
If you are intending to spend the full day here you may want to seek out some lunch. There are several good restaurants in the old centre.
Le Lisita at 2 Boulevard des Arènes and l’Ancien Thêatre at 4 Rue Racine both offer good value local cuisine.
Retrace your steps back to the Maison Carrée and continue to Rue Racine. Turn right and in a few metres bear right into Rue Gaston Boissier which brings you to the Quai de la Fontaine and the entrance to the Jardins de la Fontaine. The Gardens are extremely peaceful after the bustle of the city. You can easily spend a couple of hours here just chilling and strolling along the balustraded walks beside the canals. Before you leave though another stunning Roman monument awaits. Climb the path to the top of the garden and be amazed by the Tour Magne or great Tower.
Water and Denim? Well, you’ll have seen plenty of water in the Jardins de la Fontaine and you may have seen, or even be wearing, some denim. The word ‘denim’ actually derives from the fabric ‘Serge de Nîmes’ which was made here many years ago and dyed with indigo dye to make it blue. So whenever you wear your jeans just think back to your wonderful day strolling in the sunshine around Nîmes.
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