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10 things to do and see in Arles

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10 things to do and see in Arles

It was not a coincidence that Vincent van Gogh chose to live the last years of his life in Arles, in Provence. Over there he found the force for other two years of inspiration. It was his most creative period, when he worked creating more than 300 paintings, because he felt that madness was about to join him and shortly he would have died or become unable to paint.

The Arles and Provence colors changed it profoundly, and his words are the best guide to find out what to expect once in Arles on a sunny day: “The palette of today is absolutely colored: blue, orange, pink, vermilion, vivid yellow, light green, red wine, violet”. To better understand what Van Goghmeant, go up on the terrace of the church of Notre-Dame-De-La-Major. From there you see everything: the Amphitheatre and the Roman Theatre, the ocher and red roofs, the immense countryside of Crau, the Rhone, the Camargue and the sea. That was what he saw.

In this page we suggest you 10 things to do and see absolutely during your holiday in Arles.

If you are looking for a hotel in Arles, we suggest you to choose among those offered by Booking.com. There are about 60 hotels with prices, pictures and comments of guests already stayed there. Go to Booking.com

The Roman Amphitheatre in Arles

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For centuries 20,000 spectators enjoyed bloody battles between gladiators in the Roman amphitheatre in Arles. Until 404, when the influence of Christianity prohibited the fighting.

The Roman Amphitheatre in Arles
The Roman Amphitheatre in Arles

So it began the decadence of the amphitheatre and many part of it were removed to build, under the arches, a sort of fortified town with 200 houses and two chapels. The recovery began in 1825, when the arena was identified as a National Monument. The consecration, however, will come a century later with the recognition of the monument as UNESCO World Heritage. The amphitheatre is the centre of Feria of Arles, the Easter holiday in the city that attracts 500,000 visitors and many of bullfighting enthusiasts.

Where: old town centre
How to get there: by feet
When: Monday to Sunday. From May to September, from 9 am to 6 pm. Closed on 1 May. October, March and April, from 9 am to 5.30 pm.
Never: May 1, January 1, November 1 and December 25
Ticket: € 6.50. Unique ticket with the Ancient Theatre

The Ancient Theatre in Arles

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Preserved with less care than the Amphitheatre, the Roman Theatre of Arles is the second of the four wonders included in the UNESCO World Heritage.

The Ancient Theatre in Arles
The Ancient Theatre in Arles

Used as a quarry for the material during the Middle Ages, today you can see only the bleacher (and not the whole the structure which could accommodate 10,000 spectators), two columns and the mosaics on the floor of the orchestra. Returned to its cultural function, today the Roman theatre hosts theatrical and musical programs of Arles summer. If you are there during these months, enjoy the show!

Where: old town centre
How to get there: by feet
When: Monday to Sunday. Winter: 10-12 am and 2 – 5 pm. Spring: 9-12 am and 2 – 6 pm Summer 9 am -7 pm
Never: 1st January, 1st May, 1st and 11th November, December 25
Ticket: € 6.50. Unique ticket with the Roman Amphitheatre

Church and Cloister of St-Trophime in Arles

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The magnificent carved portal of the Church of St-Trophime is a reveal about this church dedicated to the first bishop of Arles. Inspired by a triumphal arch model widespread in Provence in the twelfth century, the portal is the highest Provençal Romanesque art expression.

Church and Cloister of St-Trophime in Arles
Church and Cloister of St-Trophime in Arles

Inside, with three naves, you can admire the contrast between Romanesque and Gothic style. Amazing the sarcophagus of the altar with representation the Red Sea and the one in the north transept depicting the Annunciation. The Cloister too is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Romanesque and Gothic style are mixed up shaping the most beautiful architectural work of Provence.

Where: old town centre
How to get there: by feet
When: Monday to Sunday. Winter: 10 am – 5 pm . Spring: 8 am – 6 pm Summer 9 am – 7 pm
Never: 1st January, 1st May, 1st and 11th November, December 25
Ticket: Church free entrance; Cloister € 3,50

The Forum and the Cryptoporticus in Arles

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For a while the Place du Forum was called Place des Hommes because here, in the morning, thelabourers were waiting for landowners who came to pick them up to work for the day. Nowadays it is a place of passage, crowded cafés (including the Van Gogh café), and restaurants.

The Forum and the Cryptoporticus in Arles
The Forum and the Cryptoporticus in Arles

The old Roman Forum remains are only two columns incorporated in the Palace close to Hotel Nord-Pinus. You won’t believe that under your feet there are two series of galleries, the cryptoporticos built by the Romans. May be they were used as granaries. You can access to the crypto porticos by Jesuit chapel or from the Town Hall in Republic Square, next to the Church of St-Trophime.

Where: Place du Forum, old town centre
How to get there: by feet
When: Monday to Sunday from 9 to 12 am and from 2 – 6 pm
Never: 1st January, 1st May, 1st and 11th November, December 25
Ticket: € 3,50

Café Van Gogh in Arles

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The Café Van Gogh is a very touristic place, not so nice and clean, with rude waiters and bad food that is an insult to the French culinary tradition.

Café Van Gogh in Arles
Café Van Gogh in Arles

So we advise you not to sit but limit yourself to watch it from a distance. Sitting at a table of this café, in 1888, Vincent Van Gogh discussed with his friend Paul Gauguin and threw against him a glass.

A few days later Gauguin cut off his ear, but this is only one of the versions. Van Gogh painted the outside of this café in the painting “Café Terrace at Night”, one of his most famous paintings. Then he painted the desolation of the inner room in another context: “Night Café.” But this is just one of the places of Van Gogh in Arles. To discover them all, read the following passage.

Where: Place du Forum
How to get there: by feet
When: almost always open

Places of Van Gogh in Arles

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A nice way to discover Arles is through the search of the places that inspired Vincent Van Gogh to his paintings.

Places of Van Gogh in Arles
Places of Van Gogh in Arles

It starts from the Van Gogh café in Place de Forum and then you move to the Place Lamartine, where there is the yellow house ( lilac today) that the Dutch artist painted in “The Yellow House” and in which there is the famous ” Room at Arles”. Then you move on along the Rhone to find the angle from which he painted “Starry Night”.

Obviously, if you arrive in Arles in summer, a ride in the surrounding countryside will make you understand why he had loved to paint sunflowers and cornfields! There are different places dedicated to the artist. First of all, the Van Gogh Foundation to host the works of other artists inspired by the work of Van Gogh. There are works by Francis Bacon, Fernando Botero, Christo & Jeanne Claude, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg and many others.

Les Alyscamps in Arles

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For many centuries Les Alyscamps have been a must see for anyone traveling along the Aurelia road towards Santiago de Compostela.

Les Alyscamps in Arles
Les Alyscamps in Arles

The complex includes the unfinished Church of St-Honorat and the Avenue of the Sarcophagi, where trees and tombs coexist gloomily. For many centuries, the Alyscamps were considered miraculous, that’s why all nobles and the rich people of France were buried here. The decline began when people in Arles began to give away sarcophagi to their most important guests. Van Gogh was enchanted by this place and painted it, as did his friend Gauguin.

Where: just outside the old town centre
How to get there: 15 minutes by feet from the old town centre
When: Monday to Sunday. Winter: 10-12 am and  2 – 5 pm. Spring: 9-12 am  and 2 – 6 pm  Summer 9 am -7 pm
Never: 1st January, 1st May, 1st and 11th November, December 25
Ticket: €3,50

Montmajour Abbey in Arles

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We suggest you to move a few kilometres outside the city centre to visit the Montmajour Abbey, founded in the tenth century, where there was an island in the middle of a swamp.

Montmajour Abbey in Arles
Montmajour Abbey in Arles

The monastic complex consists of several structures: the visit starts from the Church of Notre-Dame with a single nave and transept.

Close to it there is the beautiful cloister and  the Abbot’s Tower, which offers a beautiful view of the countryside and the Camargue. After a small cemetery you will arrive in the tiny but beautiful Church of St-Pierre, partly carved into the rock. The tour ends at the Chapel of Ste-Croix, built outside the abbey to allow the faithful to pray but without violating the cloistered monks.

Where: Fontveille direction
How to get there: by car on the street D17
When:
October to March: Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm
April to June: Monday to Sunday from 9:30 am to 6 pm
July to September: Monday to Sunday from 10 am  to 6:30 pm
Never: 1st January, 1st May, 1st and 11th November, December 25
Ticket: € 7,50

Things to eat in Arles

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Around Arles there are the rice fields of the Camargue, the salt mines of Aigues-Mortes, the sea of Provence, the bulls farms, the sheep of the Crau. All of these ingredients, combined, end up in the Arles restaurants .

Things to eat in Arles
Things to eat in Arles

From the morning it spreads the smell dell’Allioli(garlic and oil) with which they begin to prepare the Bouillebasse (fish soup), and the brandade (stock fish cream with olive oil). At the table you will always find the tapenade (black olive and anchovy paste), the gardiane de taureau (bull meat stew with rice and walnuts), the sausage of Arles with duck, pork and spices. Forget the dough for a few days and enjoy the Camargue rice, white, black, brown, used for the local paella. Drink the wines of Arles without hesitation and always finish the meal with a little absinthe or star anise.

Where to sleep in Arles

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Arles has a great tradition of tourist hospitality and almost always ensures the availability of hotel rooms and places to stay. But there are times when you need to book at least two months in advance, otherwise you sleep under the stars.

Where to sleep in Arles
Where to sleep in Arles

The high season corresponds to two annual events: the Easter Holiday, which attracts 500,000 people in the city and the rice festival in the first week of September. For the rest of the year, everything is quiet, although in spring and fall could be more difficult to find a room with a good price/quality. Normally, a 3-star room in the centre costs about 60 euro per night, excluding breakfast.

If you are looking for a hotel in Arles, we suggest you to choose among those offered by Booking.com. There are about 60 hotels with prices, pictures and comments of guests already stayed there. Go to Booking.com