Arles is the gem of Provence, a sparkling jewel in a crown of a region that bends across southern France and enjoys the best climate in the country as well as a relaxed pace of life. With a medieval city wall, weekly market, narrow streets and open squares, Arles is a good base for exploring the region with numerous choices for hotels and restaurants. The small city is also home to some of the most well preserved Roman ruins in existence.
Like much of Provence, Arles was established long ago by the Greeks and later fell to the Romans, a culture that echoes through the ages with every remaining stone. An amazing arena dominates the city and you will also find Roman columns, a triumphal arch and a massive wall that still encloses Arles’ Old Town today. Van Gogh lived here and created over three hundred paintings during his stay, including one of the Café Terrace at Night, a sidewalk restaurant where you can still enjoy a glass of red wine on a warm summer evening under starry skies. Once a busy port city, Arles now rests peacefully on the Rhone River and continues to beckon artists to its cobblestone streets and picturesque windows.
The best way to explore the village-like town of Arles is on foot. The roads are very narrow, so you don’t want to drive around more than you have to (although a car is the best way to see the rest of Provence). Dripping in character that was built up over centuries, Arles will charm you just as it did Van Gogh with its old stones, summer festivals, and photo-perfect opportunities down every street.
Things to do in
Arles is home to some major Roman ruins, but the small town is just as well suited for midnight strolling on strange streets and impromptu romantic dinners. Upon arrival you can’t miss the magnificent Roman Arena, which was built around 100 BCE. Seating 20,000 visitors, the arena still functions today as a working venue for bullfights (the humane version), operas, concerts and theatrical performances. You can climb to the top for a sweeping view of Arles and the surrounding countryside, or take a guided tour when the arena is empty.
Wandering around Arles you will also come across ancient Roman columns and archways, as well as the colossal wall that surrounds the old town and overlooks the city market, held on Wednesday and Saturday. This traditional market is a feast for the senses, and with richly colored spices piled in pyramids, shiny berries in small wooden boxes, olives in a rainbow of colors, fresh baked French loaves and goat cheese ripening in the warm Provençal breeze, it provides all the makings of a perfect picnic.
Arles is a short car ride away from many other villages, towns, markets, orchards and fields. Nestled between the Lumberton and Camargue regions, it enjoys one of the best locations in France and is well sized to use as a base for further explorations: not too big, not too small. Restaurants with impeccable service and courses of lavender-rosemary ice cream beckon to you, and hotels with charming courtyards await your stay.
Hotel du Musée:
2*, central, clean rooms, beautiful inner courtyards for breakfast
Calendal: centrally located, leaf-covered restaurant/patio, good ambience
l’Amphitheatre: simple, charming rooms in converted 16th-17th
Le Rodin: 3* hotel with many facilities, a pool and plenty of parking
d’Arlatan: charming hotel in converted medieval mansion, pool and garden
Porte de Camargue: a few steps from city center in peaceful area, by the
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