A trip to France’s southern coast is almost a guarantee of sunshine.
Advertised as being blessed by the gods, Nîmes boasts of 300 days of sunshine a year and a well-preserved Roman past.
A good starting point for a weekend in Nîmes is the Jardin de la Fontaine. The garden, featuring rows of chestnut and elm trees intersected by grottoes and canals, is open year-round. The ruins of the Temple of Diane and a Roman bath are on its grounds.
A short stroll north of the city center is Mont Cavalier, a rocky hill on top of which sits the bulk of Tour Magne, the city’s oldest Roman monument. The hill also offers a panoramic view of Nîmes.
Take a walk along one of the city’s busiest streets, the Boulevard de l’Amiral Courbet, to the Porte d’Auguste. The Roman gate was built during the reign of Caesar Augustus, right around the birth of Jesus. A short distance away is the Maison Carrée, a near-perfect Roman remnant, also built during Caesar’s reign. According to a Frommer’s travel guide, this building, with its tall Corinthian columns, inspired some of Thomas Jefferson’s architectural designs.
Maybe the most vivid example of ancient Roman architectural savvy is the Pont du Gard, a bridge created of huge stones fitted together without mortar. It has its own museum, La Grande Expo du Pont du Gard, with exhibits on the bridge’s construction and role through history.
Visitors can continue their weekend exploration of southern France in nearby Montpellier. Start at the city’s tourist information center, where visitors can choose from many local guided tours that will highlight the city’s numerous attractions.
Several of the tours start with Saint-Pierre Cathedral, a former Benedictine chapel that boasts a canopy-covered porch supported by two cylindrical pillars outside and various works of art inside. Another sight is the medieval Mikve, a 13th-century ceremonial Jewish bathhouse that draws its water from an underground well.
The Montpellier Botanical Garden, founded in 1593 for research by medical students, is France’s oldest botanical garden. The garden grounds include multiple greenhouses, an arboretum with many aging trees, a school and a lush park.
Art enthusiasts may want to visit the Musée Atger, located in an old Benedictine monastery that holds a fine collection of works from Flemish, Italian, Dutch, German and French artists. Another popular museum is the Musée Fabre, which exhibits more than 800 works, many of which came from a large collection granted to the museum by Napoleon. Other collections in the museum were given by local painter Francois Fabre.
Be sure to make time to visit Place de la Comedie, the city’s central pedestrian square, where visitors can enjoy a break at one of the many outside cafes and watch street artists at work.
— Heather Klinglesmith, compiled from travel Web sites