A trip to Arles — Vincent van Gogh, Roman ruins, colorful markets, and a comfy, walkable town. Welcome to beautiful Provence. Arles is an easy 2.5 hour train or car trip from Carcassonne — perfect for a two-day getaway, or as a base to explore so much more of Provence.*
Carrières de Lumières
Two weekends ago, our friends David and Mike and I took a trip to Arles to see the Carrières de Lumières van Gogh exhibit before it leaves in January (more on that in a later post, but here’s a preview photo). (Sadly, Jeff stayed home with a cold, so I can’t wait to take a trip to Arles with Jeff in spring!)
Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh spent 18 months in Arles, and it’s incredibly moving to walk in his footsteps and see some of the beautiful places that inspired some of the nearly 200 paintings that he created while here. (Toward the bottom of this post, I’ve put a link to the list of his Arles paintings.) Unfortunately, and ironically, only a very few of his Arles paintings are here. But the city has paid tribute to him and his Arles works by setting up easels throughout the town right where he created some of his best-loved paintings.
Café at Night Easel
The Roman Arena Easel
The Roman Arena (Amphithéâtre)
The Arles Roman Arena, 2000 years old and amazingly well preserved, held 20,000 people, and like other arenas throughout the Roman world (think of the Colosseum in Rome), was used for gladiator fights against wild animals and each other, to keep the masses entertained. Arles’ Arena is still used today for concerts and bullfights (most of the year the bull isn’t killed in French bullfights).
Classical Roman Theater (Théâtre Antique)
Right across from the Arena is the Classical Roman Theater, which of course is also 2000 years old. For 500 years, ancient Romans gathered here for entertainment. It seated 10,000 people back then, and today seats 2,000 for concerts and other events.
Espace van Gogh Easel
Vincent was admitted to this hospital in Arles in 1888, and loved painting its flowery courtyard. His kind doctor allowed him to leave the hospital during the day to paint, but the trade off was that Vincent had to sleep at the hospital at night.
Ward of Arles Hospital, another of his paintings
St. Trophime Church
St. Trophime Cloisters
Our next stop: the St. Trophime Cloisters for the peaceful cloisters themselves…
And, for a little holiday season fun, we also enjoyed the Cloisters’ 62nd annual display of at least 100 handmade nativity scenes. My favorites were the ones where, to celebrate Jesus’ birth, entire villages showed up with all kinds of food, wine, and other revelry making delights.
The next was one of my favorite Arles discoveries. We walked along the Rhône River, and just by luck we arrived at the next easel, Starry Night over the Rhône, just as the sun was going down. So we had the treat of seeing the river as it may have looked just as Vincent was setting up his easel to capture the river’s night time magic. Vincent was the very first to paint outside after dark.
Here’s what we saw. A true gift.
From Starry Night over the Rhône, it was a one-minute walk to our last easel for the night, Vincent’s beloved “The Yellow House.” Vincent rented the yellow house when he first arrived in Arles in February, 1888. The yellow house is the little building in the front with the green door and green shutters. The house isn’t there any more, but the four story building behind it still is, as is the railroad bridge to the right of the painting.
It’s Time for Wine!
We were chilly after our walk, so we stopped into a very classy wine bar, Le Buste et L’Oreille Bar a Vins (3 rue du President Wilson, near the Espace van Gogh Easel) for some wine tasting and buying. Beautiful place, and they also have light nibbles to enjoy with your wine dégustation (tasting).
Then back to the Roman Arena in its night lights….
And to our hotel, Hotel le Calendal, right next door to the Arena and the Roman Theater – perfect location!
Arles is a perfect home base for your Provençale travels, for day trips to Avignon, Orange, Pont du Gard, Aix-en-Provence, Nîmes and so many small Provençale villages.
December was a wonderful time to take a trip to Arles. Temperatures were in the 50s, and we avoided the sweltering heat, tourists and crowds of summer. And we had our beautiful Provençale blue skies above us.
Hotel le Calendal
- Excellent location, just steps away from the Roman Arena (Amphithéâtre) and Classical Roman Theater
- It has a spa (but we didn’t go)
- 94 euros per night in low season (December)
- About 140 euros per night in summer season (but check with the hotel)
- Parking: Park at the Parking des Lices (Du Center). It’s a 5 minute walk up the stairs and up the little hill to the hotel. Bring your parking ticket to the hotel — the hotel will exchange it for a less expensive parking ticket, so your overnight parking will be about 12 euros.
- Arles also has a train station, just a 10-minute walk from the center.
Arles markets are on Saturdays and Wednesdays. Don’t miss the Saturday market! It’s a three-minute walk from Hotel le Calendal (it’s right at Parking des Lices.)
If you’re staying overnight in Arles, ask your hotelier for a bracelet. This will give you discount tickets for the main sights. With our bracelets, the Liberty Pass – which we bought at the Arena – cost 9 euros (valid for one month) and gave us entrance into many of the city’s sights – Arena, Roman Theater, Cloisters, and several museums. I love the fact that the pass is valid for a month!
Forum Square (Place du Forum, the site of Arles’ Roman Forum) offers many dining choices, and David and Mike tell me that in summer, the square is filled with outdoor dining tables. We chose Bistrot Artésian, close to the café in Café at Night. On a corner of the square there are two Roman Columns, the only remains of the entrance to the Roman Forum.
Vincent’s Arles Paintings
- June 14, 2019
- November 4, 2019
- March 28, 2019