An­cient roam

Sunday Mirror - - TRAVEL -

Strolling along Nimes’ very el­e­gant Es­planade Charles de Gaulle on a warm Fri­day af­ter­noon, this wide av­enue, which sits in a beau­ti­fully man­i­cured park, is full of kids run­ning around, cou­ples walk­ing hand in hand and small dogs yap­ping.

So far, so French, but I stop short when I see a fa­mil­iar-look­ing struc­ture ris­ing up in front of me: a huge, oval colos­seum, al­most iden­ti­cal to the one in Rome. Stand­ing nearly 70ft high, it was con­structed in 70AD, and could orig­i­nally seat 24,000 peo­ple.

To­day it’s used to stage con­certs, bal­lets, opera, and – what­ever you think of it – one of this re­gion’s most pop­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties: bull­fight­ing.

It’s easy to pic­ture char­i­ots thun­der­ing around its in­ner perime­ter, or glad­i­a­tors in hand-to-hand com­bat. And in fact, some of the Rus­sell Crowe film Glad­i­a­tor was shot here.

De­spite be­ing in the South of France, Nimes still bears the hall­marks of its very Ro­man past. The colos­seum (or arena, as it’s known here) is the most prom­i­nent.

Op­po­site it is the new Musee de la Ro­man­ite ( museede­laro­man­ite.fr/en/ €8 ), which is full of lo­cal arte­facts, mo­saics and fres­coes from the 500 or so years of Ro­mans rule.

To­day, Nimes is a buzzing lit­tle univer­sity town, com­posed of hand­some ar­chi­tec­ture.

Streets are lined with el­e­gant, pale stone build­ings, while in the his­toric old part, known as L’Ecus­son (which means shield be­cause of its roughly tri­an­gu­lar shape), there are dozens of charm­ing, nar­row al­ley­ways.

L’Ecus­son is full of sou­venir shops – many of which sell prod­ucts based on the lo­cal laven­der crop.

A five-minute walk away, up the broad Boule­vard Vic­tor Hugo, is an­other beau­ti­fully pre­served site: the Mai­son Car­rée. This mul­ti­columned stone tem­ple dates from 2AD, but is so clean it looks brand new.

By now I’m hun­gry, so I head to Les Halles, Nimes’ huge in­door food mar­ket. Typ­i­cal dishes in­clude bran­dade, a paté made from salt cod; tape­nade, an olive paste; and my favourite, petit pâté Ni­mois, veal and pork pie.

I buy a few things and take my pic­nic to the Jardins de la Fon­taine, a beau­ti­ful, sprawl­ing park and the lo­ca­tion of the orig­i­nal spring which drew the Ro­mans to Nimes, the cap­i­tal of the Gard re­gion of south­ern France.

The grow­ing city needed more wa­ter for foun­tains, pools and baths, so the Ro­mans’ in­ge­nu­ity caused them to build the next mon­u­ment on my jour­ney.

Just 18 miles away is the Pont du Gard, all that re­mains of their 30-mile aque­duct. Eighty-eight gal­lons of wa­ter per sec­ond gushed through this in­cred­i­ble struc­ture, which took 20 years to build, and stood nearly 164ft tall.

It is made en­tirely from stones which were cut to size then slot­ted to­gether. Grav­ity moved the wa­ter down the slight slope to the city. On my guided tour, I climb to the top and walk through the tun­nel where the wa­ter flowed.

From here, there is an in­cred­i­ble view of the jade-coloured Gar­don river which flows into the Rhone.

The wa­ter which ran along this aque­duct came from an­other ma­jor source, in the small, nearby town of Uzes. This is worth vis­it­ing in its own right, not least for its pic­ture-per­fect old town, full

Travel Edi­tions is of­fer­ing a six-night Langue­doc Rous­sil­lon by Rail es­corted tour from £925 per per­son. The trip In­cludes Eu­rostar travel from Lon­don St Pan­cras In­ter­na­tional to Paris and on­wards to Mont­pel­lier by TGV on May 30 or Septem­ber 5, B&B of his­toric, sand-coloured houses framed by green or laven­der shut­ters.

If you’re a foodie, you can visit the mar­ket – voted fourth best in France – on Wed­nes­days and Satur­days. Town cen­tre stalls are piled high with ripe cheeses, glis­ten­ing olives, char­cu­terie and more, pro­vid­ing a mouth-wa­ter­ing back­drop to this charm­ing place.

A 2,000-year-old Ro­man mosaic was dis­cov­ered here re­cently and should be on dis­play soon.

Just as well the Ro­mans built to last, or we wouldn’t be able to see any of the mag­nif­i­cent legacy they left in France.

PER­FECT SET­TING Rus­sell Crowe filmed in Nimes’ colos­seumRO­MAN TEM­PLEMai­son Car­rée

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