Arles is a popular port of call on cruises which travel along one of France’s most famous rivers, the Rhone. Located in the south of the country and close to the ocean, it’s a beautiful city with a long history and is a joy to explore. After taking control of the town in 123BC, the Romans turned Arles into a key city of economic, cultural and religious importance, after which it became a free city until the time of the French Revolution. In later years, it became a favourite destination of Vincent Van Gogh, who produced over 300 paintings and drawings during his time there. This engaging history ensures that Arles is a satisfying destination to explore.
Certain areas of Arles have the honour of being part of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site and they are naturally some of its most popular attractions, too. Les Arenes is a spectacular Roman amphitheatre, which though a ruin, is well-preserved, still in use and seats 20,000 people. The cryptoporticus subterranean galleries are an ancient Roman support system, which offer fascinating, if a little dank look at the city’s past, while Les Alyscamps is an ancient Roman mausoleum but one which is outdoors, situated on a tree-lined road minutes not far outside the city. Full of atmosphere, it was one of the locations favoured by Vincent Van Gogh.
Aside from its Roman heritage, the city is home to a host of other contrasting architectural attractions, including Eglise St-Trophime, a beautiful church with an ornate façade and some beautiful stained glass windows which survived the French Revolution and the hill-top Abbey of Montmajour, which dates back to the Middle Ages and houses a number of modern art exhibits as well as a 12th-century Roman cloister, built by the Benedictine monks who once resided there.
To walk in the footsteps of one of the city’s most famous visitors, be sure to visit Espace Van Gogh. Set in picturesque gardens, it’s the beautifully restored hospital in which the artist was admitted during times of illness and where he produced a number of celebrated works.
For those who love nature a little more than architecture or indeed art, then Arles more than delivers in the form of Les Marais du Vigueirat, a beautiful area which offers a choice of walks and trials and the chance to see numerous bird species and wildlife. It’s free to explore but the less adventurous can pay to hire a guide and binoculars are also available for hire.
Local wines are available in a number of restaurants and bistros, while a popular souvenir to take home is pottery, available in the rue Cavalerie area.