Nimes is a treasure trove for historians and archaeologists. The Maison Carrée is one of the best preserved temples to be found anywhere in the territory of the former Roman Empire, and this, together with its amphitheatre and Temple to Diana make Nimes an exceedingly important historical site.
But you don’t have to be an expert on Gallo-Roman remains to appreciate the town. With its close links to the Camargue, Provence and Spain, Nimes embodies the very essence of Mediterranean France. Probably no other town of the Midi conjures up quite the same heady, romantic and hot-blooded emotions that this town does.
The ancient amphitheatre is now used for bull-fighting (tauromachie) in the Spanish style with ‘la mise à mort’, where the bull is put to death. These ‘corridas’ take place in what many afficionados consider to be one of the best arenas anywhere, including Spain and Mexico. If you want to see bull-fighting without the gory bits, try les ‘Courses Camarguaises’ where the bull is uninjured and the object is simply(!) to remove a tassle from around the bull’s horns.
The massive Feria de Nimes celebrates the importance of bull-fighting to the town and which anyone can enjoy without ever seeing a bull. The streets come alive with music, bars and dancing as Nimes welcomes a million visitors over the Whitsun (Pentecost) period.
In early July, there is the Festival of Nimes which plays host to some of the top bands in the world; 2013’s offering included Mark Knopfler, Patti Smith and Neil Young and attracted audiences from all over Europe.
Meanwhile, back to history - something you cannot avoid in the Nimes area! The amazing Pont du Gard, about 20km away, was built to transport water via an aqueduct from near Uzès across the river Gard for the Roman garrison of Nimes. It is now a World Heritage Site visited by people from all over the world; indeed, it is almost as interesting just people-watching here as it is to cross the Pont and see the museum. You cannot visit Nimes without seeing the Pont du Gard.
Another ‘must-see’ venue from Nimes is the Camargue, a vast natural reserve of salt lagoons and marshland. The Camargue has its own race of horse, the Camarguais, always white or grey and quite adept at swimming across the canals and ditches that criss-cross the landscape. This is the land of white horses and black bulls, bred for the bull-fighting arenas of France and Spain.