When COVID-19 runs out of fuel, you might want to take advantage of the expected low airfares and make for Nimes, where boutique hotel The Imperator offers a distinctly luxurious escape in one of France’s most historic cities.
When you think about it, you’d be mad to stay in a big cookie-cutter hotel when visiting France, a country that pretty much pioneered the global boutique hotel scene. This is especially so in smaller cities like Nimes, a culinary mecca known for its Roman ruins, bullfighting, and contemporary architectural movement.
At the heart of this iconic Southern France locale is The Imperator, a local icon built in 1929 that has been lovingly guided into the 21st century by a family of hoteliers who know a thing or two about luxury. The sublime hotel recently emerged from an 18-month US$34 million renovation and now offers one of the most luxurious accommodation experiences in the Republic.
Where to start? Well, the hotel has long been a seaside retreat for the famous and infamous, from Chanel (the city has serious rag trade credentials and is the birthplace of denim), Ava Gardner and Picasso to Earnest Hemingway, who was known to enjoy a perch at the bar from time to time.
The hotel is also popular with the matadors who pray in their own chapel at the hotel before heading out to face down the bulls at the twice-yearly Feria festivals, held in the nearby Roman-era arena. If you’re secretly rooting for the bull, you’ll be glad to hear the city also hosts Course Camarguaise events, bloodless battles between athletic local lads and young bulls, the former trying to snatch a rosette from the head of the latter during 15-minute bouts.
If you prefer your bouts to be in bed rather than in the ring, you’ll love the hotel’s 60 luxurious guest rooms and suites, some of which overlook Place Aristide Briand or the hotel’s gardens. Bold yet refined, guest rooms are unashamedly contemporary but retain hints of Art Deco elegance.
Of course, this is France, a global gastronomic destination, and at The Imperator, acclaimed chef Pierre Gagnaire helms the entire dining scene, which includes a brasserie and bar and the chef’s recently opened fine-dining restaurant DUENDE, now the city’s hottest table. And, if you count being a foodie among your many attributes, you’ll be just minutes from one of France’s best covered markets, as well as the fromagerie of rock star cheesemonger Vincent Vergne, a recipient of the Meilleur Ouvrier de France, which pretty much makes him the top cheese maker in the country.
The hotel’s location also makes it handy to the world’s best-preserved Roman ruins, as well as the breathtaking Jardins de La Fontaine, France’s first public park, which dates from 1745; contemporary architecture by Norman Foster, Jean Nouvel, and Philippe Starck; and the Carré d’Art, the city’s first-class contemporary art museum, which is right across the street.
After all that exploring, do what any self-respecting Centurion would and make for the healing waters of the L’Imperator’s Codage Spa, home to a steam room, jacuzzi, barbershop, and a host of contemporary massage treatments, including one inspired by Hemmingway that finishes with a well-made cocktail.
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