Arles and the Camargue, a Provencale love story
Updated: Feb 21, 2021
Our next stop after the Lyonnaise feast was a small and intricate town called Arles. Once a provincial capital of the famed Roman empire, Arles inspired the likes of van Gogh, whose foundation lies proudly in the heart of this ancient settlement.
We were excited about our stay in an art gallery (appropriate right?) called Galerie Huit, a 17th century mansion now home to private collections, artists' residence stays and, most importantly, home to Julia, the most charming and eclectic host we've had the pleasure of meeting (a wonderfully discerning curator!).
Because we arrived in the stillness of the late afternoon, our first experience of the town (after a quick walk in the unforgiving heat of July!) was dinner at a pop-up restaurant called Chardon. This unexpected gem houses established chefs in residence who get to experiment with new bio ingredients and create exciting menus before returning to their permanent restaurants. Cezanne famously said of Monet that he was "only an eye - but God, what an eye!", well, here we had a tomato but God! what a tomato! Plus tuna sashimi and eel, this place enchanted our senses for the entire time - a true feast.
The following morning we woke up to the smells of freshly brewed coffee and croissants from the local bakery luring us downstairs from our beautifully decorated room in the rafters into a beautiful, tranquil garden whose walls oozed charms of a long-forgotten time.
After a delicious breakfast, off we went for a day of exploration guided only by the sun and our sense of adventure. We started with the Musée de l'Arles et de la Provence Antiques, a beautiful archeology museum displaying some of the best preserved Roman ruins in France – including a famous amphitheatre, an aqueduct, and a bath complex (together UNESCO Heritage). We also visited the Roman Baths of Constantine and stopped at random art projects in the myriad of galleries adorning Arles.
After a long yet mind-enriching day, we joined Julia and some of her friends for a private dinner in her garden where we were treated by Cambodian / French chef Camille who inspired our taste buds and delighted our senses with her fusion cuisine - unfortunately I do not have photos of the dinner, but all I can say is that the experience will stay with me forever.
The following day, after yet another mouthwatering breakfast, we got lost on the narrow streets before visiting the Vincent van Gogh foundation. We rewarded ourselves with a quick lunch whilst sheltering from the sun in the city square's covered cafes, before setting off for a visit to Le Cloitre de Saint Trophime (the Cloister of St Trophime).
Last on our list was the very famous crown jewel of Arles: the Amphitheatre. When we got there, we were welcomed by a re-enactment of a gladiator fight, only a bit less realistic than the real Gladiator movie :) We paused for a quick Aperol spritz at the terrace opposite, where the rudeness of the waitress was made bearable by the view of the colossal slice of history lying before us. One more stop on the way back to the car at the World Heritage Roman Theatre and that concluded our trip to Arles...
Our next stop was going to be my childhood getaway - the coastal town of Antibes. At Julia's advice, we diverted our route to pass through the wetlands of Camargue, famed for being the only place in Europe where flamingos roam wild. I know - I was skeptical too! Needless to say two hours later my opinion had completely changed....
Conclusion - This part of Provence is gorgeous (reinforced by our later adventures) and if you get the chance to visit, do take your time! We could have done much more and taken it in for longer, but as always, our next destination was calling.
Artsy, edgy, experimental yet with an antique flair, Arles is a beautiful place to spend a few days and perhaps couple it with a few more in the Camargue, where you can ride some of the world's oldest white horse breeds whilst absorbing this beautiful biosphere's sea of pink.