I is for Hotel Imperator Concorde, Nime, France
Like certain women of a certain age, the hotel can be compared to a woman entering late middle age : place is beginning to show its age.
The odd cosmetic enhancement here and there (cable tv and jets in the baths) cannot hide the fact that she is slightly past her prime.
Despite this, there is many a good tune played on an old fiddle and a stay here will be very pleasent.
The courtyard is beautiful, and the Bar Hemmingway reminds you of a conquest she had earlier in her life (he stayed here)
and the antique lift still works, even if it takes some coaxing. Try to get a room facing onto the courtyard - opening the shutters onto it in the morning and allowing the sunlight to stream through make a great start to the day - but skip the expensive breakfast.
The website is also worth a visit with an extrememly impressive 360 degrees view of the lobby area.
"Where Denim came from!"
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.
The Maison Carrée ("Square House") is the other prized Roman building in Nîmes besides the Arena. It's considered the best preserved of all Roman temples. Built in about 5 CE, it was apparently dedicated to two nephews of Augustus Caesar.
Compared with the timeless elegance of the outside, the inside of the Maison Carrée is rather plain. When there isn't a modern art exhibit, it holds an exhibit describing the history of the building itself. But it's worth going up the stairs into the pronaos or portico (the enclosed outer vestibule) to see the columns and the carved ceiling.
Today the Amphitheater is the site of bullfights (not much has changed since Roman times, I guess) during three annual férias, or festival seasons. Bullfights in Provence come in two varieties. First there are the traditional Spanish corridas, with the same mingling of blood, gore, and testosterone that is popular throughout Spain and Mexico.
A less violent alternative to the mise à mort ("put to death") Spanish bullfight is the indigenous Provençal Course Camarguaise. The object is to remove a rosette of flowers placed on the bull's head. The bull may possibly emerge from this contest annoyed, but his life is in no danger. However, the bull's sharp horns afford no such guarantee to the rasteur who attempts to extricate the rosette using a hand-held hook. The resemblance to American rodeo is not entirely coincidental. The bulls come from the Camargue region of Provence, where the gardiens who herd and tend them are the French version of cowboys.