South of France, but not as we know it: exploring Nîmes and the Gard

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Unesco listing for the city’s Roman temple put this city on the map last year, but there are uncharted delights in the surrounding towns as well

The director of a newly refurbished boutique hotel in the old town of Nîmes tells me he has gained and lost a star recently. The hotel’s restaurant, Rouge, run by Benin-born chef Georgiana Viou, recently won its first Michelin star. But the hotel itself, the Margaret Chouleur, has been downgraded from a five-star to just four.

Here’s the interesting thing: it was the hotel that did the downgrading. The top-level rating was putting people off, so it has been reclassified as a four-star.

It’s a very Nîmes move. With the Côte d’Azur to its east and arty, chic Arles its nearest neighbour, Nîmes flies just below many tourists’ radar and sits firmly in the good-value category.

Nîmes was first valued by Gaul tribes for its natural springs, but made its fortune in the heyday of ancient Rome. Julius Caesar rewarded his Gaul campaigners with land in the area, and so began a long tradition of welcoming wealthy retirees. The campaigners and their successors spent lavishly on the city, which was a handy waypoint between Rome and its Hispanic provinces.

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