Note: we had a 3-day stay in Arles so this is a big post.
It was long travel day from Nice to Arles involving mad dashing to catch connecting trains and buses that were either late, cancelled or jammed packed with standing room only – all because of the ongoing rail strike in France.
When we did eventually arrive in Arles, it was a clear blue day and hot. We found our room … and it was absolutely adorable, in a cool ground level apartment under Natalie’s house (our landlord), complete with private patio, friendly family cats and decorated with various artwork, some of it original (Natalie is an artist).
First thing on the agenda, laundry! Off we went to find a laverie. Arles is a small city, easily walked from one end to the other in less than 15 minutes. Laundry done, we found a grocery store to stock up on wine, snacks and breakfast items (notice the priority order) and returned to the coolness of our patio for a couple hours of relaxation.
In the evening, the temperature moderated and we set out again to search for a restaurant. We chose one near the Place du Forum on Docteur Fanton St., Les Filles du 16. Excellent food, great wine, super friendly and attentive staff… we had a wonderful meal (see the photos) while we planned our next day. Strolling home along the Rhone, we imagined Van Gogh sitting there with his easel and paints 130 years ago creating “Starry Night Over the Rhone”… our favorite of his.
Next morning dawned clear and bright. The plan was to do the self-guided walking tour called “Following Vincent’s Footsteps”. Off we went and had a wonderful day visiting nine points on the map where Van Gogh painted specific pieces during his 2 years in Arles. He created more that 300 paintings in total while he was here and it was thrilling to stand in the same spots where he created these nine. Included on the walk was a visit to the Van Gogh Foundation where we saw 31 of his original paintings. They are spectacular. His treatment of light and shadow while capturing peasant life, landscapes and stills is mesmerizing. I tried to limit my photo gallery to my five favorites. Becsuse of the afternoon heat, we didn’t make it to the final point on the map, deciding instead to save it until next morning.
Also during the walking tour, we saw several other notable landmarks such as the 2nd century obelisk in the Place du Republique, Saint Triomphe’s Church, the ancient Roman walls of the city, the amphitheater dating to 90 AD, the Summer Gardens of Arles, beautiful fountains, and just really enjoyed the slower pace of this lovely city in comparrison to other larger European cities. The color in this city comes not from the buildings themselves, but from the doors and window shutters. They are painted in every color of the artist’s pallet mostly in soft muted shades. Really different and totally fascinating. Monica had great fun planning a collage of Arles shutters.
By afternoon it was pushing 30 degrees so we retreated to the coolness of our room for a siesta. An afternoon thunderstorm passed over with its haunting deep booming echoes reverberating through the alleys followed by a gentle patter of rainfall for 30 minutes. Then it was gone and the sun came out again and we were back to full humidity.
Later on, we strolled out for dinner and dessert and then lingered on the banks of the Rhone to watch the moon rise. Peaceful, quiet, serene … all on a starry Tuesday night.
Next morning (last day in Arles) it was bright blue skies again as we set out to find the final Van Gogh spot where he painted “Les Alyscamps, L’Automne”. On the way, we passed more ancient monuments and ruins affirming the importance of Arles in antiquity. It was (according to wikipedia) an important Roman intersection of the Alurian Road and the Rhone River. Armies, statesmen, merchants… all would have passed through Arles.
After a 10 minute walk, we found our destination. Alyscamps is an ancient Roman necropolis dating to the 2nd century AD and is the final stretch of the Alurian Way (the route from Rome to the western reaches of the empire) leading to the city gates of Arles. We appreciated the cool shade of the trees as we wandered among ancient sarcophagi toward the abandoned abbey. We had the place all to ourselves except for a few pigeons, and took our time exploring this ancient treasure with its vaulted domes, stained glass and secret tunnels under the floor. Monica was quite nervous as I disappeared into a dark passage, i-phone torch in hand, not sure where I would emerge.
Leaving there, I got nice shots of the ancient city gate tower (ruins). We proceeded onward to one more Van Gogh spot just down the road. It was was not on our walking tour map but we learned that is where he painted “Le Vieux Moulin” (The Old Windmill). A short walk, and there is was…very dilapidated, over run with weeds and pigeons but still recognizable from his painting nearly 130 years ago (1888).
The rest of the morning was spent souvenir shopping and slipping into the occasional church for coolness. By noon, the temperature was already over 30 degrees, so we headed to our room to relax and blog the afternoon away… with a nice chilled bottle of Van Gogh white.
Dinner was at Galoubet just a 5 minute walk away. The evening was calm and warm. We strolled the back streets to the restaurant finding new and charming scenes to photograph, like the bicycle with geraniums and sleeping cat. Music drifted in from someplace across the river and we enjoyed a lovely last meal in Arles.