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When in Provence, be sure to spend at least a day or two in Arles and save a day for the Camargue. This small city, half the population of what it was in Roman times, is just teeming with Roman ruins and culture and the Camargue is a natural wonderland.
Any visit to Arles should start with the Arènes (Roman Amphitheatre). It has one of the most well preserved Roman amphitheaters (1st century) in existence. Unbelievably, it is still used today for bullfights. The top tier gives a great view of the city and the Rhone River.
The Théâtre Antique (Roman theatre) built during the reign of Augustus is also an exceptional site. Les Thermes de Constantin are remainders of Constantine’s palace which was built in the 4th century. The Alyscamps (an early Christian necropolis) is lined with aged poplar trees. There are many other Roman ruins to visit in this charming town and you can get (quite reasonably priced) an “art pass” to see the most important museums and sights. Purchase the pass at any of the attractions themselves. The town has many architectural riches such as the doorway and cloisters of Eglise Saint-Trophime and the 17th century Hôtel de Ville.
Home to Van Gogh for many years, the city has honored him by naming their cultural center “L’Espace van Gogh” and painted it in his favorite primary colors. The heart of the city is the Place du Forum, where a statue of Mistral looks over the outdoor cafes in the shaded square. Sitting in the square under the stars, you’ll feel like you have become part of one of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings: Café Terrace at Night. It is now called the Cafe Van Gogh.
Art lovers can also follow a signposted walk in the footsteps of Van Gogh to explore the places he painted during his stay in Arles (1888-1889).
The Musée Réattu, a fine arts museum, is housed in the former Grand Priory of the Knights of Malta. It exhibits the works of Jacques Réattu, an Arlesian painter of the time of the French Revolution. Artists of the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as modern and contemporary artists such as Picasso, Zadkine and Alechinsky are represented. The museum also possesses a remarkable photography collection including the work of Henri-Cartier, Bresson, Edward Weston and more.
The Muséon Arlaten, an ethnographical museum, is housed in the former Laval-Castellane town house dating from the 15th century. The museum was created in 1896 by Frederic Mistral, a regional poet. Exhibits include costumes, furniture, tools, and objects connected with local religious traditions and superstitions, illustrating life in Provence during the 19th century.
The Musée d’Arles et de la Provence Antique, the Arles archeological museum, located on the banks of the Rhone River, was built by Henri Ciriani beside the remains of the Roman circus. It contains the archeological collections of the city and the surrounding region , spanning the period from neolithic times to the end of the Roman and early Christian era.
Festivals in Arles
Many festivals are held in Arles throughout the year, from the Camargue Herdsmens’ Festival to the international photography festival, as well as the Prémices du Riz (Rice Harvest Festival) and the Santon-makers’ show. On such occasions, you might see the ladies of Arles wearing their traditional costumes.
Carnaval – Bvd des Lices
La Feria Pascale: Corridas and events (Easter weekend)
Jazz in Arles, week of Jazz au Méjean
La Fete des Gardians
Election de la Reine d’Arles
Les Fetes d’Arles
Feux de la Saint Jean with fireworks on June 23
Les Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie
Evenings at the Theatre Antique with photos, dances, etc
Bulls – Feria des Prémices du Riz with corridas, animations and tauromachiques.
Fetes des Prémices du Riz (Rice festival)
December to January
International Salon des Santonniers
Office de Tourisme d’Arles
43 Boulevard de Craponne
Tel: 04 90 18 41 20
The Tourist office offers a brochure describing 4 walking trails marked according to different themes. You can also follow the UNESCO World Heritage Trail, a 1 1/2-hour walk representing a synthesis of the major monuments included in the 4 theme trails described in the brochure.
The tourist office also offers 2-hour guided visits during which you will be accompanied by a guide-lecturer
More than 100 species of migrating birds, including flamingos, stop over in the Camargue. This marshland wilderness also hosts wild white horses and costumed cowboys.
Parc Ornithologique de Pont de Grau
This fabulous ornithological park is located beside the D570 road near Ste. Maries-de-la-Mer. Long paths circle out through the marshes away from the center, where you see nature as it should be with birds wading and fishing and flying, fish jumping out of the water and muskrats swimming along the edges or crossing the paths in front of you.
The Camargue Museum is located in the old “bergerie” Mas at Pont de Rousty, on the D570 in the northern part of the park. The long sheep-barn houses a geological and historical presentation of the Camargue, beginning with the formation of the Rhône delta 7,000 years ago, and continuing through the Antiquity and the Middle Ages.
Favorite Arles Restaurants
La Paillotte $$
This little gem offers wonderful regional cuisine at reasonable prices.
28, Rue du Docteur Fanton
Centre historique d’Arles
Tel : 04 90 96 33 15
Le Guele du Loup $$
This cozy restaurant is owned and run by the Allard family. We had an incredible dinner here, with gourmet French cuisine far superior to most other restaurants in the area. Enjoy a quietly romantic dinner that you will remember for a long time, but reserve ahead.
39, Rue des arènes
Centre historique d’Arles
Tel : 04 90 96 96 69
Le Brin de Thym $$
Fresh ingredients served in a sensual, modern style. A good wine list and fabulous cheeses as well as home made desserts make Le Brin de Thym one of our favorites.
22, Rue du Docteur Fanton
Centre historique d’Arles
Tel : 04 90 49 95 96
La Chassagnette $$$
Set near Arles in the Camargue, this restaurant serves organic food in the midst of a garden. La Chassagnette proposes a magical environment for lunch and dinner decorated by Anne Igou. Outdoors, a luxuriant and aromatic garden has a large terrace and inside there is a welcoming room with a blazing contemporary mural fresco, design and private lounges. Chef Armand Arnal has created an inventive menu to glorify vegetables and herbs from the garden as well as Camarguean agricultural productions and fish from the close Mediterranean sea. This restaurant is worth the trip.
Tel. +33 (0)4 90 97 26 96
Markets in Arles
Market days in Arles are Tuesday and Saturday. Arles Saturday market, is one of the larger markets in the area.
Written by Terri Fogarty for EuropeUpClose.com