Southern France is swanky, a traveler's dream and
Nimes -- pronounced neem -- lives up to the promise.
Bathed in exquisite light, Nimes' historic center is more Rome than Paris,
its palm trees framing a city filled with treasures dating back
to Caesar Augustus some two thousand years ago.
Yes, that's no typo, Nimes boasts architecture dating back 2,000 years.
Romans once ruled this city, making the geographically and physically
blessed strip of land a strategic stop on the road from Italy to Spain.
If you've ever wanted a do-over on any one vacation, you'll
understand why I say "if only" when I daydream about Nimes.
We didn't stay long enough -- by a mile -- and yes,
it's definitely at the top of my short-list for a return visit.
Nimes is a lot more gentle than its famous mascots.
It's flat out gorgeous, a treasure chest of dramatic contrasts,
with architecture straddling between the ancient and the modern.
Ancient Nimes is the raison d'être for the nearby Pont du Gard,* the
ingenious aqueduct designed to bring healthy drinking water to this "new Rome".
You'll be astonished to see the monumental framework Rome left behind
and how seamlessly city planners have blended it with the here and now.
Long considered the best preserved Roman structure in the world,
the jaw dropping Maison Carrée (built around 20 BC) stands just across
from a contemporary art museum and a tangle of wide open café terraces.
Based on the Roman Temple of Apollo, picture this monument
as the heart and center of the city's Roman forum.
Today's walk of culture is likely to include British architect Norman Foster's
contemporary arts installation that meshes art with information technology.
These startling contrasts are just a fraction of what makes Nimes so unforgettable.
* for more information about the Pont du Gard, check out this blog link:
"When in Rome, live as the Romans do; when elsewhere live as they live elsewhere."
Saint Ambrose, Italian Saint
Fight to the death.
Sound like a typical day in your neighborhood?
I hope not -- but that's exactly what you'll discover deep in the heart of Nimes.
Luckily, these days, it comes under the label "theater of the mind".
The Arènes de Nimes (Nimes Amphitheater) is theater of a different kind.
Whether you prefer Kirk Douglas' "Spartacus" or Russell Crowe's "Gladiator",
admit it, this is entertainment, a banquet of smashing superhero fantasy fun.
We idolize our he-man warriors and super-villains, a truth
that hasn't changed in 2,000 years.
Sex & Violence sells and I'm sure you'll enjoy what is considered to be
the world's best preserved Roman amphitheater.
I've been to Rome and was well impressed by the world famous Colosseum.
Even at half capacity (Rome's 50,000 bloodthirsty spectators vs. Nimes' 24,000),
I'll put my money on Nimes' architecturally flawless arena any day of the week.
This is not a ruin.
The Nimes Amphitheater is a working, active structure that has been
in use for nearly all 2,000 years of its existence.
When the empire fell and the stadium "games" went down in flames,
the property was re-purposed as a fortress, later evolving into
a small village of 800 that included a chateau and two churches.
Even by today's standards of emotional dramatics, you'll
feel humbled by the history and severity of this spectacle.
No need to watch the next installment of "Hunger Games".
Just come to Nimes and experience the turmoil, blow by blow.
have kept the entertainment fresh and au courant.
It continues to host spectacular events ranging from bullfights and festivals
to rock concerts and over-the-top weddings.
I wonder what Caesar Augustus would think....
With two levels, sixty arches and 124 doors, the arena is truly a marvel.
If only my home town stadium could decant the number of fans this
theater routinely moves with ease; talk about good city planning!
Back to ancient history:
This is the place where you showed your face to boost your social status.
Armed hunters killed wild beasts in the morning -- lions,
elephants, bears, whatever they could round up.
At noon they slaughtered condemned criminals and later
brought out the big guns (sexy gladiators) in time for happy hour.
Many of these fighters were slaves but others were glammed-up
warrior-contestants who lived (or died) to grow their star power.
Rock stars of the day, the ladies loved them and pint-sized
enthusiasts (kids) collected clay action figures idolizing them.
Sort of a Marvel Comics Superheroes Universe.
It's an amazing stage, a shot of vitamins to bolster your imagination.
There are wonderful displays, too, where you'll see a mix of
gladiator paraphernalia and the trappings of bullfighting, today's choice of combat.
Swords, shields, and uniforms are beautifully exhibited; if you have any
imagination at all, you're in for a real taste of the "games" people play.
the Jardins des Fontaines, Nimes' answer to the Garden of Eden.
For truly, this is a garden that could only be made in heaven.
Built on top of an ancient spring, the grounds feature classical statues
and urns, rock gardens, canals and pretty little bridges.
The atmosphere is so gentle and peaceful,
you'll want to bottle it up and take it home.
The ancient Temple of Diana is the oldest part of the garden and
manages to fit in beautifully with the mostly 18th century park design.
You'll feel it in your bones, this is a special place for the locals,
not just another tourist attraction.
"Where a man's heart is, there is his treasure also."
Saint Ambrose, Italian Saint
I'll bet you didn't know your favorite pair of skinny jeans
were birthed in the lovely town of Nimes.
The André family broke down barriers in the world of textiles when they
discovered the advantages of a new sturdy material
which they called serge de Nimes.
When Levi Strauss brought the novel product to the gold-miners in California,
the name de Nimes was condensed to denim.
And the rest, my friends, is history.
I wonder if Nimes has ever come between Brooke Shields and her Calvins?
Yes, Nimes is full of surprises.
I couldn't image why a crocodile chained to a palm tree
was the symbol in their coat of arms.
It's actually pretty simple.
This, too, goes back to the glory days of the Roman Empire,
when the vanquishing Romans defeated Marc Antony & Cleopatra
in a battle that is remembered here to this day.
You get a real bargain when you visit Nimes -- a bit of France,
a bit of Rome, a bit of Egypt and even Spain.
That's the kind of travel magic we all look for.
Who wouldn't want to explore its walkable trip through history?
Get acquainted with a couple of local cafés on a warm summer evening
and delve into their notable cuisine and wine... heavenly.
Perhaps one day I'll re-discover Nimes through one of its famous festivals... find
the time to shop at the covered market... count all the crocodile
medallions... and buy a pair of gladiator sandals I'll never wear...
My wish list is long and growing.
I hope to experience it all.
More importantly, I want to experience it in the unhurried
manner of this part of France -- one day at a time.
Rome wasn't built in a day and a visit to Nimes certainly wasn't either.
Yes, you can count on it.
When you go to Nimes, it won't be for the last time.
Let The Games Begin!