Originally known as Nemausus, the town was a jewel in the Roman crown, laid out in the typical Roman grid pattern and with its drinking water supplied by a 50km (30-mile) long canal. Its 2,000 year history has given it a heritage as good as anything you'll find in France. Now the city is on the brink of gaining World Heritage status.
Several important remains of the Roman Empire can still be seen in and around Nîmes: the city's Roman amphitheatre dates from the 1st century, and is by far the best preserved in France. The nearby Pont du Gard is a stunning sight, and was used to carry water across the Gardon river; elsewhere you find medieval houses, Renaissance mansions, and 18th-century gardens, such as the Jardins de la Fontaine wherein lie the Roman remains of the Temple of Diana, and on the cypress- and pine-pinned hillside above the Nemausa spring sit the remains of the Tour Magne, a former Roman tower guarding the city.
The Maison Carrée (Square House), is a small Roman temple dedicated to sons of Agrippa was built c.19BCE; it is one of the best-preserved Roman temples anywhere.
Against this backdrop, Nîmes is buzzing with a contemporary Mediterranean atmosphere. Pedestrianised shopping streets heavy with designer clothing boutiques are networked with tranquil alleyways, Andalusian-style tapas bars, bodegas and trendy bistros.
Nîmes’s other major claim to fame is that it was the birthplace of denim, which originally meant “de Nîmes”, or “from Nîmes”. In the early 1900s, the town’s merchants exported the cloth to the United States in order to make sails for ships, tarpaulins and workmen’s trousers. In 1870, a Bavarian immigrant by the name of Levi Strauss used this cloth to make trousers for the trailblazers opening up the Wild West – made in Genoa of “de Nîmes” cloth, one of the world’s best known garments was born.
Nearby Vergèze is the source of Perrier water, much loved by Europeans. The source at Les Bouillens is a subterranean pool of water from which natural gas is released and then reincorporated into the water. It was local doctor Louis Perrier who discovered the mysterious therapeutic properties of the water at Les Bouillens, having bought the spring in 1898; but an Englishman by the name of Harmsworth wholater bought it and set about marketing the water.
Today, the brand belongs to the Nestlé group, and this fizzy bottled water is available in over 140 countries. A visit to the factories shows you the making of the bottles and the bottling, labelling, packaging and storage processes, alongside a permanent exhibition of promotional materials that bring back to life the heyday of the familiar green bottle.
Tel: 04 66 87 61 01
Open: Apr–Aug Mon–Fri 9.30am–5pm, Sep–Mar Mon–Thu 9.30am–5pm. Booking essential.
Tourisme de Nîmes
6 rue Auguste, 30020 NÎMES
Tel: 04 66 58 38 00
Nîmes-Alès-Camargue-Cévennes Airport serves the city.
The Gare de Nîmes is the central railway station, offering connections to Paris (high speed rail), Marseille, Montpellier, Narbonne, Toulouse, Perpignan, Figueras in Spain and several regional destinations.
The motorway A9 connects Nîmes with Orange, Montpellier, Narbonne, and Perpignan, the A64 with Arles and Salon-de-Provence.