Nîmes, our next stop, was an important outpost of the Roman Empire. It’s known for well-preserved Roman monuments such as the Arena of Nîmes, a double-tiered circa-70 A.D. amphitheater still in use for concerts and bullfights, the Pont du Gard tri-level aqueduct, and the Maison Carrée, a white limestone Roman temple, all around 2,000 years old.
I first stumbled across Nîmes on a poorly-planned, solo driving tour of France and Spain, back in the mid-80s, and wound up staying by chance at a wonderful hotel, The Imperator. It’s still there (listed as a Five-Star now so a bit above our budget for this trip) but I have no idea if it has retained its charm. Ahh, your impression of a place is certainly informed by where you stay and so, prior to our recent visit, I had a pretty nice impression of the town. My enthusiasm was tamped down on this trip, I’m afraid.
We had a frustrating time getting to our Airbnb in the Richelieu neighborhood because the car navigation system and Google Maps both kept trying to send us down one-way (the wrong way) and pedestrianized streets. We were passing places for the third time and patience was wearing thin when we finally arrived.
Our Airbnb was something else, over-decorated, with almost all of the walls lined with shelves containing thousands of CDs and DVDs. Sitting on the toilet brought you face-to-face with an enormous Star Wars movie poster and there was no shortage of red lights. Still, it was clean and the AC worked. It wasn’t in a very nice neighborhood, though, and we were stunned to find, tucked away across a major plaza, the Les Magnolias restaurant, where we quickly fell to reviving ourselves with an outstanding lunch.
We were really very lucky to have great weather during the entire trip, which allowed us to eat outside almost all the time, which helped allay COVID anxiety.
The next day we set out to see the Pont du Gard, the amazing Roman aqueduct about 30 minutes north of town. It’s a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage site and is probably jammed during the summer. Our visit was timed just right, and it wasn’t crowded at all.
What an awesome sight! The Romans knew how to use water as a political tool and they used this aqueduct and others to deliver water to Nîmes, growing the city’s economy and creating a lever for controlling the city as well. We spent half a day there and had a very good lunch at the nearby park restaurant. The associated museum, on the opposite river bank, has excellent exhibits that explain the engineering techniques used to build the structure. I was surprised to learn that a work force of paid, skilled laborers, not slaves, was employed to build it.
Nîmes is loaded with antiquities, such as the Emperor Augustine Gate, shown above, sprinkled through various neighborhoods.
Per our plan, we split up here, with our two friends taking the car to view the cave paintings at the Cave de Chauvet, while we took the train to our final tour stop, Lyon. They met us there at the end of the day.