A uniquely French experience in Nimes

By Rich & Tanya, a Travel Enthusiast

Read more on Nimes.

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Recommended for:
Activity, Cultural, Short Break, Budget, Mid-range

The southern French city of Nimes has all the ingredients for a great short break, including the chance to witness la course camarguaise, the local (less gory) version of bullfighting

A great little city in the south of France, Nimes has just the right mix of café culture, sightseeing, restaurants, and good weather.

The Roman arena is a must-see and, at 133 metres long, is hard to miss. We arrived in Nimes at the end of May, and headed for the arena to catch la course camarguaise, a traditional French sport where 12 men (raseteurs) pitch themselves against Camargue bulls (known for their tenacity in the ring) from local ranches. Surrounded by people, we sat upon wooden seating above the sandy ring of the arena, in awe at the multitude of arched doorways and vaulted passageways. The pena, a traditional percussion band, played upbeat tunes to entertain the crowds. The raseteurs dashed around the bull, hoping to lure it close to grab favours (ribbons, pompoms and string) attached to its horns. The bulls, unpredictable in who they charged, chased the raseteurs from one end of the ring to the other. Loud bangs echoed across the arena as the bulls crashed into the red barricades. The raseteurs escaped with almost superhuman leaps that would propel them up into the sitting crowds, and were jubilant in victory when they secured the prized favours. The crowd roared approvingly. Bull fighting is a big activity in Nimes and part of the culture of the city. In this event the bull does not get killed or injured and returns to its ranch.

Around town

Check out the beautiful Maison Carrée, built around 16 BC, and later dedicated to honour Emperor Augustus’s adopted sons. One of the most complete Roman temples in the world, it has had many functions (meeting hall, stable, church and city museum). It now houses an IMAX cinema, which details the history of Nimes from Roman times by bringing to life fictionalised accounts of historic citizens - slightly cheesy, but a great laugh for €5, plus you get to wear cool 3D specs. If you’re just after a coffee or a quick bite to eat, head into one of the small cafes that dot the square around the Maison Carrée.

A great way to pass the heat of the day in summer is to stroll along the many tree-shaded boulevards (tracing the city’s ancient wall foundations) that surround Nimes. You can also head to the peaceful tranquillity of the 18th-century Jardins de la Fontaine (Gardens of the Fountain) and, if in a slightly adventurous mood, climb the extremely steep hill there (Mont Cavalier), to reach the Tour Magne (Great Tower), a ruined Roman tower. From here, on a clear day, there are great views of the city and the Roman arena. If you're in the mood for some culture, head to the Carré d'art, a museum of modern art across the square from the Maison Carrée, designed by British architect Norman Foster in 1986.

See how many crocodiles under palm trees you can spot in a day - this is the official symbol of Nimes, and the local council has taken its representation around the city very seriously, displaying it on every road stud, parking barricade, and most local signage. The original settlers of Nimes are reputed to be Roman legionnaires returning from active duty in Egypt under Emperor Augustus, who were rewarded with arable land in Nimes to live out their remaining lives. Thus, the city picked up the link to the Egyptian crocodile and palm tree.

Further afield

A fantastic day trip from Nimes is to the nearby Pont du Gard, a well-preserved Roman aqueduct built about 19 BC. Take the the bus from the city centre railway station to the Gardon valley, which the aqueduct crosses. It's an easy 40-minute ride, and the bus stops at the top of the entrance road to this UNESCO site, where a five-minute walk brings you to the main tourist complex on the hill above the aqueduct. This is a beautiful place to take a picnic in summer, and you can laze in the river, watching the kayaks raft the currents under the aqueduct. Head out early, however, as this is a popular local spot on summer weekends.

Getting there

Thanks to Ryanair, it is easy to reach Nimes for a short break or even just a weekend. Bargain return flights are available from Liverpool’s John Lennon airport for about £60-£70, if you book early and are flexible with your dates. You can get into the centre of Nimes via the airport bus for €5 one-way, a great price for a 30-40-minute journey.

Where to stay

Our accommodation for this short break was at the delightfully named Cat Hotel, on boulevard Admiral Courbet. Right in the city centre, five to 10 minutes from the Roman arena and all the other sites, this was a fantastic location for couples and families on a budget, with doubles for around €50 per room per night. It's a traditional family-run place, the owners were very helpful and a great little continental breakfast is included. Practise your French before arriving, however, because English is not spoken much.

Another great place to stay is Acanthe du Temple Hotel, right in the middle of Nimes and with very friendly staff. Doubles range from €60-65. (http://pagesperso-orange.fr/Acanthe-hotel/)

Novotel Atria Nimes Centre has a fantastic location near to the train station and comfortable, spacious rooms with all the mod cons. Doubles start from €110 (http://www.accorhotels.com)

Where to eat

Pizzeria El Campo (8 boulevard Arènes), across the road from the Roman arena, is a fantastic place for eating al fresco, in the shadow of the arena, and serves a wide variety of excellent pizzas and pastas.

Le Bouchon du Marché (23 rue de l'Etoile) was a great restaurant find, which we came across while strolling through the back alleys in between the Roman arena and the Maison Carrée. It serves wonderful, hearty portions of traditional French fish, poultry, and meat dishes, and the service was warm and friendly. We left with full bellies and a warm glow at the end of the evening.


 

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More information on A uniquely French experience in Nimes:

Author:
Rich & Tanya
Traveller type:
Travel Enthusiast
Guide rating:
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)
Total views:
373
First uploaded:
12 July 2009
Last updated:
4 years 26 weeks 3 days 3 hours 44 min 14 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Activity, Cultural, Short Break
Budget level:
Budget, Mid-range
Free tags / Keywords:
amphitheatre, bullfighting

Rich recommends

Hotels

Price from Rating
(out of 5)
1. Novotel Atria Nimes Centre
£89
N/A
2. Acanthe Du Temple Hotel
£43
N/A
3. Cat Hotel
N/A

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Community comments (2)

Rating:
3
0 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Description is fine, but the bull fighting 'attraction' is probably offputting to many people! Shame you haven't added a photo of the hotel in the 'where to stay' section. A blank space doesn't make people want to book really.

Was this comment useful?

Hi Tanya,

Thanks for leaving a review on my article. Your my very first review and I appreciate the feedback.

In response to your comments:

(1). Bull fighting is a big activity in Nimes so I would be doing the destination a dis-service if I did not mention it. However I do understand why some people find in objectionable and that is why I focused on an event where the bull does not get killed or injured. This is unique to the Camargue region of France which Nimes sits in.

(2). Simonseeks does not allow you at this stage to add your own photo of the hotel in the left hand column. This was not my own fault, but a restriction of the website. I have queried this with the site editors. Please see below an official response from Richard Madden at Simonseeks in regards the lack of an image for the hotel on the side bar:

"...the hotel pictures in the Make it Happen box are provided by our Hotel partners, of which we (and hence you) have no control over. At present, it’s not possible for you to reply to a review but we are looking to introduce this capability soon. I’ll ask our editors to add a review to your guide clarifying the above, so that it’s clear that the lack of photos are not your fault."

Thanks for your comments. Really appreciated my first feedback. Noticed you are a new member like myself. Welcome!

Best regards

Rich