Arles travel notes, September 2007
September 30, 2007
When you schedule your visit to Arles, be sure you stay through a Saturday morning. The market along the Boulevard des Lices is one of the best we have seen.
We stayed at the Hôtel d’Arlatan September 19, 20 and 21, 2007. The hotel is in a sixteenth century building in the heart of the old town. Although it is in a pedestrian zone, you can drive there if going to a hotel. (If you have a car, be sure to reserve a place in the hotel garage.) As is typical in renovated old buildings, the rooms are small.
Try to reserve room number 45 or 46, which are two-room suites on the quiet top floor. The décor is on the edge between charm and shabbiness. The staff is friendly and helpful; they all speak English as many Americans stay there.
The breakfast buffet is quite nice; there is no restaurant in the hotel.
We had a one-course lunch right around the corner at Le Galoubet. (A Galoubet is a one-handed three-hole provençale flute; one slings a drum strap over a shoulder and plays the drum with the other hand.)
This is the sort of place which usually exists only in our imagination: a quiet table under a vined trellis in perfect weather; a nearby table with four stereotypical middle-aged Frenchmen having a stereotypical French lunch.
Perfect grilled lamb chops and provençale vegetables for me.
Raviolis au pistou for Linda. (Pistou is the Provençale version of pesto: basil, olive oil and garlic, but without the pine nuts and ricotta.) A nice bottle of local wine.
You can read our separate blogposts on the excellent dinners we had during our three nights in Arles: L’Atelier de Jean-Luc Rabanel, La Chassagnette and Le Cilantro.
One can take it easy touring in Arles as walking in the city itself is the main attraction. There is a good Arles guidebook in French from Editions du Patrimoine, but the best in English is the ten pages in the Green Michelin Guide for Provence. Of course, there is a Roman arena, but it is only the twentieth largest surviving and the effect is reduced by its being fixed up for the main local sport: bullfighting. There is also a Roman theatre. The Romans who settled here were retired army officers who had lots of time for spectacles. There is an impressive new antiquities museum just far enough out of the center to be too far to walk. There are quite a few other museums of casual interest.
Don’t go looking for authentic van Gogh sites. He stayed near the train station and we bombed the hell out of the railway area in 1944. The Espace Van Gogh, just off the rue de la République, is worth a stop to see the preserved courtyard of the former Hotel Dieu where Van Gogh was treated after he cut his ear. The combination of the courtyard’s white and yellow walls and the central garden planted with very Van Gogh-like oleander, iris and other flowers, provides the best Van Gogh atmosphere in town. The Foundation Van Gogh, near the Arena, just offers contemporary art shows and a gift shop. But the countryside around Arles, such as Le Crau, is still much as he painted it.
The Abbaye de Montmajour is worth a visit if your legs are good enough to climb up the tower for the view.
There is an excellent viewing area in Arles towards Le Crau and the Abbaye, with orientation table, beside the Notre-Dame la Major church, east of the Arena. Linda watched the sunrise from there three mornings, immensely enjoying the view.
Well, Arles doesn’t really sound like much, but we had a fine time for three days.