Home to some of Europe’s best-preserved Roman monuments, it’s easy to see why the bustling city of Nîmes is also known as ‘the French Rome’. And with a charming old town and great dining and shopping, it easily rivals other, more well-known destinations in the south of France – or even Italy – as a short-break destination. With its palm trees and golden stone buildings, there’s a distinctly Mediterranean feel to Nîmes – just a few hours northwest of Marseille. It’s also compact, so exploring on foot is a breeze. There are also cultural events throughout the year – the annual highlight is Les Grands Jeux Romain, when hundreds of actors in gladiator costumes recreate the bloody battles and fiercely contested races witnessed by their ancestors.
The epicenter of the city’s Roman past is the 24m tall Roman, which seats 24,000 Amphitheater of Nimes. It’s unmissable in the heart of the city, and as the best-preserved arena outside of Italy, it’s worth exploring the nooks and crannies behind the main arena, where animals, slaves, and soldiers would have waited before their battles. Climb to the top level to see if you can count the peaks of the seven hills surrounding the city – another eerie echo of Rome. This hilly landscape is said to embrace the warm weather, meaning Nîmes enjoys one of the mildest climates in France.
The arena is right next to the arena Musee de la Romanité, which opened in 2018, has a wavy white mosaic facade meant to represent the folds of a Roman toga. Inside, admire artifacts thousands of years old, including exquisite mosaic floors, as well as 21st-century interactive digital exhibits that bring elements of the Roman era to life. Nearby is the Musee des Cultures Taurines, home to a collection of bullfighting artifacts, from matador items to an entire exhibition dedicated to the legendary matador José Tomas and the historical corrida of September 12, 2012, in which he fought six bulls in the arena, setting a record broke. The arena also hosts the biannual Feria de Nîmes, a Spanish-style bullfighting event that has been officially held in the city since 1952.
If you’re more into music than matadors, check out the month-long Nimes Metropole Jazz Festival, which takes place every fall; that Nîmes Flamenco FestivalMeanwhile, he sees the goosebumps sound of castanets and heels filling Theater of Nimes every January.
From the Arena, it’s a short walk to Nîmes. old Town, a maze of cobbled streets winding between enticing grocery stores, chic boutiques and sun-drenched squares like the Place du Marche, with its bronze crocodile and palm fountain – a sculptural representation of the city’s two landmarks. Get a table outside Patisserie Courtois for a coffee and macaron while observing the daily hustle and bustle of the city. Don’t forget to give it a try Calissons: Diamond-shaped almond confection, a specialty of the region – see some of the best Patisserie Francin, a few steps from the Musée de la Romance. Alternatively, you can enjoy the town’s speciality, Brittle, an orange blossom and almond biscuit best enjoyed in an urban institution House Villaret, on the rue de la Madeleine.