5 ways to fall for Arles

A trip to Arles, in the south of France, will leave you very much in love with wine, art, history, food and the finer things in life. This charming destination is brimming with craft shops, sartorially savvy locals, cosy wine bars, shuttered houses, Roman ruins, inviting restaurants and galleries aplenty. So, while the town may have a relaxed air it remains a unique and elegant European treasure; it did after all give the world Christian Lacroix.

Arles

Dine in style

In Arles meals are an event and degustation is the menu of choice. While there is no shortage of fine culinary institutions the offerings at Le Comptoir du Calendal are truly delectable. With a view over Roman ruins that few could rival, here interesting flavour combinations blend with a wonderfully curated local wine list to create a calm dining experience. The produce is simple yet well sourced and presented with flair. The café can also prepare hampers for those who wish to get out and explore the region armed with a gourmet packed lunch.

Then there’s Restaurant L’Atelier de Jean-Luc Rabenel, found down one of Arles’ calmer side streets. Here the degustation event unfolds over two rooms. The first has a stone floor, photograph adorned walls and goldfish pond – tres Matisse. From here you sip your aperitif and nibble on artistically arranged starters that change with the seasons. A stand out was the buttery cheese party enchased muscles that remain lighter then air and are served with lemon and mint ice cream – a flavour sensation to say the least.

Main dishes are served in the second dining room. Decorated with a while, black and red colour scheme, there is a strong Japanese influence. The attention to detail is astounding – even the accompanying bread is a feast for the eyes (the parmesan bread is particularly Moorish). The chef, Jean-Luc, has his own vegetable garden, which goes to show just how fresh the fare is; rarely have I tasted lobster bisque this flavorsome or salted vegetables and bull so impossibly light. Most dishes are flower adorned (the perfect accompaniment to tarragon sorbet) and presentation in general is ingenious while the service is knowledgeable and friendly. This is a culinary experience.

Live the art

Arles, and most of Provence for that matter, is made up of numerous cafes, quite corners and public spaces, which have attracted the likes of Edith Piaf, Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso and Jean-Paul Sartre. Rarely do you find a place where art and general creativity is so alive.

Arles’ most famous resident, Vincent Van Gogh, arrived in the city in 1888 and managed to capture its vibrancy in many of his iconic works. The Van Gogh Trail snakes through the town, passing bridges, open spaces and cafes that are immediately recognisable. Stumbling almost accidentally upon Le Café La Nuit is nigh on incomparable. His hospital, the Espace Van Gogh, is open to visitors who wish to see the courtyard he so wished would clam his soul, while the newly opened Foundation Van Gogh also gives you a unique look into his life and works.

Soak up the history

Here history is king and the architectural piece de la resistance is the iconic amphitheater. Weathered yet wonderfully dramatic it is still in use today and makes for an excellent sun-trap (meaning it’s the perfect spot for an accidental post lunch nap). Scaling this structure, you’re rewarded with a charming view of Arles – shutters, stone alleys and all. There are also the Roman Walls, covered every now again with tasteful graffiti (this is the country that produced The Invader) and the Theatre Antique; the spacious remains of a Roman theatre, both of which are suitably impressive. It is all too easy to imagine the latter venue in all its Italian glory.

But modern Arles is utterly charming too. Along the Boulevard des Lices you’ll find a traditional Provincial market every Saturday, selling the freshest, most enticing wares imaginable. With plenty of sunny corners on offer and a definite weekend vibe, picking a picnic spot is easy. Likewise, the homewares and art shops surrounding Place du Forum, which stands atop the Roman Cryptoportiques, are wonderful to peruse. Arles ceramics are something to covert.

Also worth checking out is Les Alyscamps, a stunning and moving cemetery that is the final resting place of St Trophime and was captured numerous times by Van Gogh. The Musee D’Arles et de la Provence Antiques explores the city’s pre-history and is easy to lose hours within, making it ideal for history aficionados. The Romanesque St-Trophime, the town’s grand cathedral-turned-church, is designed to move. Built between the 12th  and 15th Century, it houses delicately carved cloisters that are both Gothic and atmospheric and mesmerising stained glass that begs to be photographed.

Stay a night

Art and style lovers must pass a night at the Grand Hotel Nord-Pinus, overlooking Place du Forum. Models and muses have glided elegantly through this Spanish inspired hotel, which is full of artistic treasures gathered from across the globe. A tiled entrance suggests that here the sun always shines while elsewhere in the hotel vintage armchairs mix rather wonderfully with Turkish lanterns and the portraits of famous visitors from decades gone by. There are numerous photographs of Charlotte Rampling, some captured in the iconic Suite 10. In this room, which hosted Napoleon III, bullfighters would spend the night, dress for their fight and greet the awaiting crowds from the suit’s dramatic balcony. Throughout the hotel Old World opulence is beautifully maintained and there are a variety of private apartments, rooms and suits on offer, which provide views to savor and details to love. No two rooms have the same design and it is this attention to detail that really sets the hotel apart.

Get touring

It’s quite easy to get out of town, even for just a day. Venture to Aix-en-Provence, a romance and history rich town that has been home to Paul Cezanne and Emile Zola. It attracts a vibrant mix of museum hunters and market goers after arts, crafts and produce one can really savor. Like Arles, Aix has truly ancient roots; this corner of the country is more commonly known as Roman France. In Aix locals and visitors still bathe in thermal spas, as early Roman inhabitants once did. From Aix, the best thing to do is venture out with Provence Wine Tours. This takes you, along with an expert guide, to a selection of local wineries, famed for their unique produce, mountain surrounded chateaux, artistic quirks and dedicated approach to wine making. The region is famed for its rose, a variety that is very much coming back into fashion. A tour is the best way to gain Provence wine insight and learn a little history. After half a day of guided sniffling and sampling you feel rather knowledgeable and are inevitably armed with the start of a rather fine wine cellar.

Image: Shutterstock

Comments (1)

  1. Jérôme says:

    The Historic center of Arles, listed as world heritage site by Unesco, has the largest number of ancient Roman monuments, after the city of Rome itself!
    A city of culture and history, Arles guides visitors on an extraordinary, timeless journey. Two thousand years of history, reflecting each of the city’s periods of prosperity, unfold in its streets, squares and monuments. In the footsteps of Van Gogh, who was inspired by its colors and light, Arles breathes with life.

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