Our second stop on our trip was Nîmes, a city in the south east corner of the Languedoc region, but it is more associated with Provence. It’s in southern France but not on the Mediterranean, and it’s known for its roman architecture and the best preserved roman amphitheater in the world! One of our French friends told us that it’s the hottest city in France, and we definitely felt it. It was hot hot hot! We went from weather in the 70s and a pleasant coastal breeze in Nice to that kind of 85-degree weather that makes you want to wear as few clothes as possible. Yay for dresses!
The super hot weather didn’t stop us from having a great time, though! We toured the arena and learned that Nîmes was conquered by Julius Caesar and became a Roman colony, named Colonia Augustus Nemausus after Julius Caesar’s son Emperor Augustus and Nemausus who was Gallic. The city was an example of the fusion of Gallic and Roman cultures. It was a pretty important center for the Romans, and the amphitheater (built around 100AD) had a lot of events like animal fights (man vs. animal), gladiator fights, and the executions of those condemned to death, which was done by either throwing them unarmed to wild animals to be ripped to shreds, or forcing the condemned to kill each other. Gross. Apparently ‘arena’ means ‘sand’ in latin, and the sand in the arena was necessary for a few reasons: to soften the falls of the gladiators and fighters, to deafen the hoof sounds of the animals, and to soak up blood. The sand was turned often because of the blood. This arena is one of the 20 largest in existence and is the best preserved. It is still used for events today (but I don’t think they kill anyone there anymore).
We also saw the Maison Carré, the Tour Magne, and the ruins of Diana’s Temple.
We spent one of our days in Nîmes at the Pont du Gard, an hour bus ride away from the city. The Pont du Gard is the largest Roman aqueduct in the world! I was there during my first trip to France when I was 16, but I wanted Igor to see it, too. We had a nice picnic and I dipped my feet in the water in the river below it. It was nice, especially since it was so hot!
Despite the strong Roman influence, we actually found Nîmes to have more of a Spanish flavor than an Italian one. There were lots of tapas restaurants with sangria and we had two really delicious dinners there! It’s also a pretty small city, and it seems like tourist season hadn’t really started yet (or maybe it’s just less of a tourist destination in general). It was really nice to be somewhere calm and not crowded, and feel a little bit more like a local instead of eating at restaurants filled with other tourists like on the Côte d’Azur. There were plenty of young people and a good amount of places to eat and hang out at night, and even a movie theater that had movies in original English version! (We saw Dark Shadows.) The city was also really clean and in general visually pleasing with a great mix of Roman architecture and beautiful modern influences too (like cool straw roof thingys in the park). We really liked the feel of Nîmes!
After two days in Nîmes, we headed north to the Loire Valley to visit some châteaux! We stayed in Tours, one of the larger cities in the Loire Valley, which has a lovely old town with cool buildings from the 15th and 16th centuries, and lots of nice green spaces and pretty fountains. It is also known as the ‘town of 30 markets’, and there are multiple markets every day throughout the city. We went to one and got some amazing bread with olives and chorizo in it, a bottle of homemade pear juice, exceptionally good pain au chocolat, and my favorite cheese ever, Valençay. After the market, we spent the afternoon exploring the city. Here are some highlights:
Our second day in Tours was dedicated to château viewing. We signed up for a tour in a minibus (since it’s hard to get to most of the castles without a car) and saw four châteaux in one day – Azay le Rideau, Villandry, Chambord, and Chenonceau. My favorite was definitely Villandry because the gardens were incredible. We didn’t even go in the château because there is so much to see in just the gardens! The one hour the tour allowed us wasn’t enough. Oh well, I guess we’ll just have to go back to the Loire Valley someday. There are worse things.
Overall, I’d say it was a pretty good day! Next stop: Nantes!