Arles is a great place to visit if you’re travelling around Provence. Rich in history, Arles is home to numerous ancient Roman monuments listed by UNESCO as world heritage sites. Its famous bullrings, known as Les Arènes, were built in the 1st century as the principal site of the Roman games, and are today home to La Féria, where thousands of devotees gather each year to watch the famous Corrida (bullfights). Also worth seeing in Arles are the ancient theatre, St Trophime church, the thermal baths of Constantin, and the Alyscamps – the exceptional ancient Roman necropolis just outside the old town.
Arles is also famous for being the home of Vincent Van Gogh during part of his life. You can follow the footsteps of this renowned painter who settled in Arles in 1888 and where he painted over 200 canvasses, including the famous Sunflowers. Visit the Café Terrace on the Place du Forum where he painted one of his most well-known pieces, ‘Cafe Terrace at Night’. A Van Gogh centre has been created in the garden of the former Hôtel de Dieu – this site was the hospital to which the tortured artist admitted himself after cutting off part of his ear.
With a range of excellent restaurants and bars and great shops, you should definitely consider including this city in any Provence itinerary. There’s also a huge weekly outdoor market on Saturday morning, and on the first Wednesday of every month there’s a Foire à la brocante (antique fair) on Bd. des Lices. As is the case all over Provence, best buys are colourful provencal fabrics (or indiennes), local pottery and of course santons – the traditional provencal figures made from clay.
On my recent visit to Arles, I found a couple of restaurants definitely worth a visit. La Fee Gourmande on 3 rue Dulau is run by a very friendly couple and my main course of lamb that had been braised for 7 hours was absolutely delicious. La Gueule du Loup on rue des arènes was my favourite though – situated in an old stone house in the old town, I had a fabulous lunch – the delicious pork dish shown below followed by a scrummy creme brûlée flavoured with fleur d’oranger.
I think Arles is often overlooked by visitors to Provence, partly because it’s quite far west, and isn’t close to the beaches and seaside. But I highly recommend a visit – it’s definitely a slice of authentic Provence. For my recent short trip I stayed at the 2 star logis – Hotel des Muettes on rue des suisses in a characterful stone building in the old town – very friendly people and perfectly adequate.
If you visit Arles at the right time of year (June) and are travelling by car, you’ll be impressed by the approach into Arles from the North. The scenery is really spectacular with fields of fabulous sunflowers on either side of the road.