Home to an ancient Roman arena and theatre, the “Rencontres de la Photo” international photography festival, and the exciting new Fondation Luma, Arles is a lively melting pot of Celtic, Roman and contemporary culture that offers a packed programme of traditional and creative events throughout the year.
Nicknamed “Little Rome” by the Romans themselves, Arles certainly lives up to its reputation. Don’t miss a visit to the impressive Arènes Roman arena, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site or the Alyscamps, also referred to as the Champs Elysées of Arles: one of the Western world’s most prestigious mausoleums until the Middle Ages. Built in 1 BC, the Théâtre Antique is the venue for many summer shows – you can still admire two magnificent Roman columns comprising the remains of the stage wall. The Musée Départemental de l’Arles Antique museum shines the spotlight on Arles’ former status as one of the major towns of Roman Gaul. The only known portrait of Julius Caesar, as well as an incredibly well-preserved, 31-metre Roman barge retrieved from the Rhône river in 2010, are exhibited there.
The Arles of Van Gogh and Picasso
You can also enjoy exploring Arles through the paintings of Van Gogh, who brought the town to fame with his masterpiece “Café Terrace at Night“. The Fondation Vincent Van Gogh has been paying tribute to the master’s work since April 2014. Picasso expressed his attachment to Arles by donating 57 of his drawings to the Musée Réattu. Spurred by a passion for bullfighting, his love of the town inspired 8 portraits of his wife Jacqueline in traditional Arlesian dress.
Place du Forum square
A gathering place for labourers seeking day work in Roman times, the ancient Place du Forum is set in the town centre. The square is also home to the legendary Nord Pinus hotel, which has welcomed numerous illustrious guests, including Picasso. Its two Corinthian columns come from a ruined Roman temple formerly set on the Forum. This is a great place to stop off for a drink and lap up the atmosphere. Just next door is the city hall. Go through the foyer to admire the virtually-flat arch built by the craftsmen and artisans of the “Compagnons du Tour de France” guild. The carved door of Saint-Trophime church opens to reveal a sober Romanesque nave, offering a striking contrast to the Gothic choir stall mouldings and Paleochristian sarcophagi.
Arles is a genuine hub of contemporary art. Head off to the ancient railway workshops, now a centre for art and innovation. Rehabilitated since 2014 under the aegis of architect Frank Gehry, the site, scheduled to open in 2019, will form part of the new Fondation Luma, designed to evoke the rocky relief of the neighbouring Alpilles and harbouring exhibition areas and artists’ studios. Modern art fans will love Les Rencontres de la Photographie international photography festival taking place every summer until late September – an absolute must-do. Featuring around 40 exhibitions held at venues throughout the town, the event adorns Arles’ ancient and modern walls alike with photographic works from all over the globe. A unique experience!
Between the Camargue and the Alpilles
The southern side of Arles opens onto the wild and beautiful Camargue, home to roaming bulls and horses, and Europe’s largest concentration of migrating flamingos. To the north, the town stands under the watchful gaze of the Alpilles mountain range and valley, with its vast olive groves and typical villages such as Maussane, Fontvieille and Mouriès. Don’t miss a stop-off in the medieval village of Les Baux-de-Provence, proud holder of the “France’s Most Beautiful Villages” label. Just a few kilometres down the road, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence inspired one of Vincent Van Gogh‘s most famous works. This treasure trove of Roman architecture is now a hub of emerging creative and artistic talent.
TOP PROVENCE RESTAURANTS
Friends, couples, or solo travellers who love a good meal, discover these tasty tables that honour the flavours of the South. Get your forks ready and dig into our top 10 Provence restaurants!