If you crave a roadside view of this year’s Tour de France, but don’t want to join the crowds at the mountain sections or at the hectic Paris finish, then head to Nîmes, in south-eastern France.
In fact, even if you couldn’t care two hoots about the Tour or cycling, you should still put this historical city high up on your travel wish list. Dubbed the ‘French Rome’, it provides a base to explore France’s stunning and often overlooked Languedoc Roussillon region.
Whatever your reason for visiting, here is a taster of what Nîmes has to offer.
Watch the Tour
If you are going to be in town for the cycling, then you’ll get plenty of chances to take in the action.
Sixteen days after its Grand Départ from Brussels on 6th July, this year’s Tour de France route provides a rest day in Nîmes on 22nd July. The following day, the cyclists will follow a loop starting and finishing in the city, before heading off from the nearby Pont Du Gard on 24th July.
Since Nîmes features so prominently in the route, you can join the locals at a free Tour de France ‘fan park’ in the city. There’ll be giant screen airing the stages, as well as demonstrations and workshops for cycling enthusiasts.
There’s a dedicated Tour de France website providing more info about the so-called ‘Roman Loop’ of the race – take a look if your French is up to it.
Pont du Gard
Built in the 1st century AD, the Pont du Gard is one of the best-preserved Roman aqueducts in the world.
About 23 km (14 miles) from Nîmes, the huge structure is a must-see for any visitor to the city.
If you’re around on 23rd July, you’ll be able to watch the peloton whizz across the viaduct. Then the next day, it’s the starting point for the next leg of the race, a 209km ride to Gap.
A practical note: if you’re heading to the viaduct to watch the tour, then plan to arrive early. Parking will be busy so take inspiration from the chase for the yellow jersey and go by pedal power – cycles are available to rent at the likes of Cycles Rebour.
Museum of Roman Civilisation
Whatever reason your visit to Nîmes, take some time to enjoy its rich history.
Head to the slick new museum of roman civilisation, which was only opened last year. It has no fewer than 65 multimedia displays – alongside 5,000 artefacts – to bring 25 centuries of history to life.
The building itself is unmissable, with glass tiles giving the appearance of a facade that has been draped over the building.
Head up to the smart roof terrace for a 360° panoramic view of Nîmes. Or if your budget stretches far enough, dine at the museum’s La Table du 2 restaurant, which itself provides a close-up view of Nîmes’ 2,000-year-old amphitheatre.
The Roman Amphitheatre
This is no crumbling old ruin. The city’s Roman Amphitheatre is known as one of the best-preserved monuments of the Roman world, dating from around 70 AD.
It measures 133 metres long and 101 metres wide and in Roman times could hold 24,000 spectators. They would have witnessed the brutal combat of the gladiators. And while that’s no longer possible, you can head down to the gladiators’ quarters to discover their weapons and their costumes.
A five-minute walk from the amphitheatre is another of Nîmes’ historic highlights, La Maison Carrée, one of the best-preserved Roman temples in the world.
Place du Marché
Once you’ve had your fill of history, head to the Place du Marché in the centre of old Nîmes and grab a seat outside one of the restaurants and cafes. Cafe culture thrives in Nîmes and this is one of the best places to soak it up.
Place du Marché is easy to identify. It’s home to a bronze crocodile and a palm tree – both of which form part of Nîmes’ city symbol, which adorns signs and buildings all over the city.
Head out of town
After you’ve spent a few days in Nimes, head out of town. After all, how often do you find yourself in France’s Languedoc region? Though it can feel sleepy at times, you’ll find open landscapes – from rugged gorges to white beaches – picture-perfect villages and towns, and colourful reminders of its rich Cathar history.
Plus, you won’t have to share it with as many other tourists as more popular parts of southern France. Unless you’re visiting for the Tour de France that is.