Monday, April 28, 2008

Visiting Arles

In response to a commenter's question (Hi, Margaret!), here's a post about visiting Arles, for you holidaygoers out there. I spent a week in May 2007, mainly focusing on van Gogh research but hitting other things too. A week is probably too long for most visitors, but there is plenty to see to occupy a few days.

VAN GOGH SITES: The yellow house, Rachel's brothel, and the night cafe of the Place Lamartine are all gone, victims of World War II. But there are other van Gogh related things to see: you can pick up a map with a self-guided walking tour at the tourist office on the Boulevard des Lices (near the Carousel). Posters around town mark the sites of some of the paintings, including a favorite of mine, Starry Night over the Rhone. The former hospital is now a cultural center (Espace van Gogh--ahh, the irony that it's named after him!), and the courtyard garden is recreated to look like Vincent's painting of it. The cafe in the Place du Forum painted by Vincent is still there, the space under its yellow awning now taken up by Vincent fans, not locals. (Tip from me to you: have a coffee or a drink here only.) The ancient cemetery known as the Alyscamps, painted by both Vincent and Gauguin (Gauguin doesn't have any posters around town, heehee), is a short walk outside the town center and worth a visit. Trivia: the McDonald's on Boulevard des Lices is filled with tile versions of van Gogh paintings (found this out by accident and was too embarrassed to take pictures!).

THINGS MEDIEVAL: The church of Sainte-Trophime on the Place de la République was the starting point of one of the medieval pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela and is worth seeing. The sculptures of the Last Judgment on the facade were recently cleaned and look great. Hotel le Cloitre, my hotel in Arles, is adjacent to Sainte-Trophime.

THINGS ROMAN: Can't get away from the Romans: the amphitheater, the theater, bits and pieces stuck into buildings around town. The fairly new ancient art museum outside the town center is fantastic and definitely worth visiting for anyone interested in ancient things. (Tip: Do not try walking there. You will not find it. Drive or take the public bus.) Tourist office has brochures for medieval things to see and Roman things to see. I'm hitting the high points here.

BEST MEAL IN TOWN: The Jardin des Arts across from the Museon Arlaten. Charming atmosphere, delicious food, not touristy (unlike every restaurant on the Place du Forum). I ended up eating here three times 'cause it's so good. (Twice I had the sublime farfalle ortolana pasta. Desserts are amazing.)

OTHER THINGS TO DO: The Museon Arlaten is worth seeing for anyone interested in Provençal folk culture. The young ladies serving as guards wear 19th century style traditional Arlésienne dress, which ended up being part of my research! On Saturday mornings, a big market takes over the Boulevard des Lices: food items, local crafts and such, and mishmash garage-sale type items. I bought soap, spices, lavender, etc. Had brief moment of horror upon realization that cuddly bunnies in cages at a certain booth were not pets. !!

DAYTRIPPING: Arles makes a good base for nearby places, most notably the charming Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, reachable by car or public bus. Vincent spent a year in the asylum at Saint-Rémy, which can be partly visited (it's still a hospital). The Roman site of Glanum is next door to the asylum (Vincent was walking over it and didn't know it -- excavations began in the 1920s), and the town itself makes for a pleasant day. One can also get to Nîmes from Arles (I took the bus), home to some nice Roman ruins, and by car you can visit the town of Les Baux, not far away.

2 comments:

Margaret said...

Thank you so much for sharing all this information. These are all the little tidbits that can make a trip so much better. Too bad we won't be there on Saturday--Market day sounds fabulous! And the Jardin des Artes sounds like a great place to eat (I don't mind tourists too much, but my mom breaks out in hives when she hears people speaking English!).

By the way, your post on "Night Cafe" will be included in my blog's Art History Carnival.

Thanks again,
~Margaret

Rodney said...

What a fantastic review of Arles. I am here right now with my wife staying in Arles. By sheer co-incidence we had lunch at the Jardin des Arts and it was simply superb. Thanks for your blog. Rodney.