Budget and blowout guide to Nimes
Relaxing at a cafe near Les Arenes in Nimes. (Glenn Beanland/LPI)
The cuisine is a mirror of Nimes’ position at the crossroads of Provence and the Pyrenees, taking Southern French food and dusting it with a Spanish zing. If you are not a fan of bullfighting, you may want to avoid June’s Corrida.
Rococo-style Pâtisserie Courtois has been an institution in the Old Town’s place du Marché since 1892. Snag a table on the terrace to sample Courtois’ tarte Nîmoise, crisp pastry garnished with potatoes, creamy cod and sweet onions, €12.50. (00 334 6667 2009)
Off the beaten track but a firm local-favourite, snug Le P’tit Bec dishes up delights to a handful of regular diners. Sample John Dory doused in tarragon buerre blanc, €16, and save room for a platter of goat’s cheese and chestnut honey, €3. Décor is charmingly dated.
Blowout: Le Lisita by the imposing Arènes Roman amphitheatre has seasonal menus, €25-98, featuring celery rémoulade spiked with summer truffles, or chef Olivier Douet’s thyme-infused brandade - salt cod poached in milk.
Outrageous 1950s décor sprawls over the bar, central courtyard and labyrinthine rooms at La Casa Blanca. Plump for generous tapas, four for €20, Provençal, such as garlic-drenched supions (tiny local cuttlefish) and Andalucían, like paper-thin slices of jamón ibérico de bellota. Local wines by the litre, €6. (00 334 66 21 76 33)
One bite of Au Flan Coco’s pat’ à Coco potato cake – layered with Cévennes goat’s cheese, €13, or homemade foie gras and duck confit, €16, – and you’ll be smitten. Expect rustic chic and quality wines, from €16 per bottle, €9 per carafe.
Blowout: Super-chef Michel Kayser shimmers at double Michelin-starred Restaurant Alexandre, just outside of Nimes. Set menus, €64-89, are splashed with delicacies like taureau de manade (cuts of Camargue bull) and traditional octopus pie,€44.
Like previous patrons Salvador Dali and Ernest Hemingway, join locals for an anise-flavoured pastis, €3.50, at La Grande Bourse. The bar’s capacious terrace looks over the Arènes; inside, there is more than a hint of Parisian mystique, with low lighting, red velour banquettes and vaulted ceilings.
Drop into Bistrot Le Pian to sample top vintages by the glass, €3-€8, served alongside charcuterie, cheeses and other tapas, €3-18. The on-site shop stocks local AOCs including Côtes du Rhône and wines from their own Domaine Le Pian.
Blowout: Perched atop Norman Foster’s Carré d’Art (Nimes’ contemporary arts centre), Le Ciel de Nîmes affords stunning city views. On Friday and Saturday evenings, Ciel de Nuit features fruity cocktails, from €3.50.
A rambling, renovated mas (farmhouse), family-run Le Pré Galoffre floats in a sea of vineyards, far removed from Nimes’ downtown bustle. Bedrooms have exposed stone walls with their own outdoor suntrap, doubles from €90. Breakfasts, €10, and three-course dinners, €25, are served by the pool.
Quirky Provençal murals and unpretentious service make Hotel Majestica good spot to stay. Each bedroom is unique. Doubles from €55. Breakfast, €7, includes croissants , baskets of baguettes and café crème.
Blowout: Canal-side in an elegant neighbourhood, bedrooms at the Hotel Imperator buzz with charm. Dine in the garden restaurant L’Enclos de la Fontaine, or enjoy an aperitif in the piano bar. Doubles from €185.
Les Halles, Nimes’ covered food market off boulevard Gambetta, has been a landmark to stock up on regional staples for over a century. Its 80 stalls include cheesemakers, organic producers and traiteurs. Look out for oblong Picholine olives, fragrant Gariguette strawberries and Fleur de Sel de Camargue.
Pop into À la Fourchette des Arènes to pick up a picnic: its petit pâté Nîmois (pâte in crispy pastry), €1.50, and lavender honey roasted lamb, €8.50, are unmissable. Eat by the canals in Jardins de la Fontaine, a medley of ruins and gardens.
Blowout: Between Nimes and the Cévennes hills, the Château de la Tuilerie vineyards have been tended by the Comte family for generations. Taste, then stock up on one of its dozen AOC Costières de Nîmes wines, from €7 per bottle.