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Nimes France French Destinations

Nimes is Montpellier's great rival and it has used architects such as Jean Nouvel and Philippe Starck to try and bring itself up to date and be the most innovative, dynamic and energetic city in the Languedoc.

There are two things to know about Nimes: it was a Roman city and has enough artefacts to quench even the thirstiest of antiquarians' desire for Roman remains, and it invented serge (denim) in the 18th century, which it originally exported to the States to clothe the slaves there, and which now clothes just about everyone.

The most famous Roman buildings are Les Arènes, the amphitheatre that looks just like the Colosseum in Rome, and the Maison Carrée, which is a temple built in the 1st century. Emperor Augustus founded Colonia Nemausensis and it attained glory in the 2nd century AD before being sacked by the Vandals in the 5th. Since then, Nimes has been pretty quiet, basking in the 300 days of sunshine it gets every year.

The central points of interest in Nimes are within close range of each other between the boulevards de la Libération, Gambetta, Victor Hugo and Amiral Courbet, making Nimes an easy place to explore on foot. Pleasant wanderings can be had in the old town, with its squares and cafés making good resting places on your expedition. Les Arènes (€5.34) used to host gladiatorial combats watched by 20,000 spectators and nowadays the bloodthirsty sport of bullfighting can be seen at the four tier amphitheatre, the best preserved example in France. The Maison Carrée (free) was built in 5AD for the purpose of honouring Augustus' two adopted sons and has since been a meeting hall, stable, house, church and archive. Napoléon pinched the grand design for his Madeleine in Paris, built to boost his own ego and that of his pals.

As Nimes is so sunny it is better to while a way the hours in a café rather than traipsing around the moderately interesting museums. If you do get a spell of bad weather, get the three day museum pass from the tourist office, 6 rue Auguste, for €9.95, which gains you entry to the four main museums once. Back outside, the Jardin de la Fontaine is a worthwhile stroll away from the centre. It was the first public garden in France, planted in 1750, and has nymphs, fountains, trees, grottoes and a lovely view from the Roman tower.

The Imperator Concorde, quai de la Fontaine (04 66 21 90 30) is the nicest hotel with rooms from €85 100, whilst the cheapest is the Cat Hôtel, 22 boulevard Amiral Courbet (04 66 67 22 85) with rooms for under €30. The old town's squares harbour the best eateries, and the boulevards Libération and Amiral Courbet have pizzerias and brasseries.