The Best Of Nîmes

Top Tips For Discovering Nîmes And Its Region From The Imperator’s Chief Concierge
Jacob Parker, chief concierge at Maison Albar Hotels L’Imperator in Nîmes, France. Photo by Jean Claude Azria.
Chief Concierge, Maison Albar Hotels L’imperator, Nîmes

“A good concierge is, first of all, a good listener,” says Jacob Parker, the chief concierge at Maison Albar Hotels L’Imperator in Nîmes, France. “You need to communicate to guests that you are there for them, and that they can feel confident telling you what they are looking for and that you will have good ideas to share.”

Born in Leicestershire, England, and raised mostly in Brittany, Jacob originally intending to be a flight attendant. To fund his training, he took seasonal work in hotels in the south of France and soon fell in love with hospitality, especially in customer-facing roles. A breakthrough came when he was hired at L’Imperator in 2014 as night manager: “You do everything, see everything, and can really get to know the guests.” When Christophe Chalvidal wanted a chief concierge to help reopen L’Imperator in 2019, he turned to Jacob. “He’s the real deal, and this is the role he was born to fill,” Christophe says.

One of L'Imperator's guest rooms.
Celebrating Nîmes

“There is a saying that Nîmes has four great institutions,” Jacob says. “Three of them the Romans built. The fourth is the Imperator.” The hotel is central to the life of Nîmes, especially during annual heritage celebrations like the Feria de Nîmes, devoted to bullfighting, and the Roman Games. As the city’s tourism grows, Jacob, as chief concierge, has his hands full keeping up with the latest developments to recommend to guests. Fortunately, he views that as a pleasure as well as a job. “There is literally nothing about this area that I don’t love,” he says. “I learn something new about it every day.”

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Top Tips For Discovering Nîmes And Its Region From The Imperator’s Chief Concierge

To Jacob Parker, Nîmes and its region are a year-round feast of history, nature, culture and cuisine. Here are his top five tips for discovering his adopted home.

Start The Day Right In The Jardin De La Fontaine

Nîmes is fortunate in having a public park that is large, pleasant, and well-signposted with information about the city. The Jardins de la Fontaine (26 Quai de la Fontaine; +33-4-66-76-70-01) sit just across from L’Imperator and contain terraced green spaces, stone-lined walkways, source-fed pools, and enigmatic ruins like the Temple of Diana, which may or may not have anything to do with the goddess. Jacob often starts his day with a brisk walk or jog through the park, sometimes with his dog, and he recommends it: “Not only is it a great way to get exercise, it is also a good way to start feeling the history and importance of Nîmes throughout the ages.”

The Jardins de la Fontaine, a city park for jogging, walking, and learning about history. Photo courtesy of Nîmes Tourst Office.

Stroll Through Les Halles de Nîmes

Les Halles de Nîmes (5 Rue des Halles; +33-4-66-21-52-49), the city’s central food market, is no show pony. All true Nîmois, or residents of Nîmes, go there to buy fresh produce and local specialties like petit pâté de Nîmes (veal and pork in a pastry crust). Open every day but Sunday, the market is particularly lively on Saturdays. Jacob recommends morning coffee at a café, like the locals, and lunch at La Pie Qui Couette (Rue des Halles, Halles Centrales de Nimes; +33-4-66-23-59-04), a tapas bar that has a Bib Gourmand from the Michelin Guide. If you like goat cheese, Jacob can set up a tasting with Vincent Vergne (Rue des Halles, Halles Centrales; +33-4-66-67-44-88), who won France’s prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier award for his pelardon de Cévennes.

Lunch at La Pie Qui Couette, a highlight of the food market in Nîmes. Photo courtesy of La Pie Qui Couette.

"The French Rome"

Nîmes is known as “the French Rome” for good reason: The ancient city of Nemausa was a pillar of Julius Caesar’s ambition to spread his empire throughout Europe. In Jacob’s view, no visit to Nîmes is complete without seeing the city’s three great Roman monuments, all within ten minutes’ walk of L’Imperator: the Tour Magne (Les Jardins de la Fontaine, Place Guillaume Apollinaire; +33-4-66-21-82-56) for a panoramic view, the Maison Carré (Place de la Maison Carrée) for architecture and decoration, and the Arènes (Boulevard des Arènes), the most beautifully preserved Roman amphitheater in the world. Across from the arena, the new Musée de la Romanité (16 Boulevard des Arènes; +33-4-48-21-02-10), or Museum of the Roman Empire, is well worth a good half-day – especially if that includes lunch at La Table du 2, the museum’s rooftop restaurant, helmed by Franck Putelat, a double-Michelin-star chef.

The Musée de la Romanité and the Arènes are must-sees for anyone visiting Nîmes. Photo by Stephane Ramillon, courtesy of Nîmes Tourist Office.

A Bridge To The Past

See The Pont Du Gard From Every Angle

The Pont du Gard (400 Route du Pont du Gard; +33-4-66-37-50-99) is Nîmes’s stunning answer to Monty Python’s tongue-in-cheek question, “What did the Romans ever do for us?” The top deck of the famous triple-level aqueduct bridge outside the city is usually closed to the public, but guests of L’Imperator can go there because Jacob can arrange a private tour. Jacob can also arrange a kayak rental to see the bridge from the Gardon river underneath, and to tour nearby gorges. A splash in the water and a picnic lunch packed by the Imperator’s chef complete the experience.

The Pont du Gard, the famous three-tiered aqueduct bridge near Nîmes, looks great from a kayak. Photo courtesy of Nîmes Tourst Office.

Spend A Day In The Camargue

Nîmes is the gateway to one of France’s underdiscovered gems: the Camargue, a flat, wild area of the southwest known for its white horses, pink flamingoes, and Spanish-inflected cowboy culture. Jacob will happily set up a day of discovery: a leisurely car ride through lavender fields and marshlands, horseback riding or dune buggies along the coast, finishing with a rustic dinner around a campfire on the beach to the sound of a gypsy guitar.

White horses and pink flamingoes in the Camargue, a grand day out from Nîmes. Image by Christian Klein via Pixabay.