ARLES, THE "LITTLE ROME" OF PROVENCE
A Provence walking holiday through a city steeped in tradition and history
Set in the delta of the Rhône River, Arles is first and foremost a city with a rich history. Capital of the Roman empire, numerous are the monuments that bear witness to this era: the port, the bridge and the extremely well-preserved roman arena dating back to the 1st century AD, a stunning venue that can seat 20 000 spectators and is a hot spot for live shows and entertainment.
Arles has also reinvented itself as a cultural and artistic city and the spring and summer months are chockablock with festivals for you to experience on your walking tour of Provence, including the Easter festival early April, the dance, music and folklore festival in June, the photography festival in July, the gypsy and flamenco one in mid-July and the rice harvest festival mid-September.
Bull fighting is still a practised sport/entertainment although some strict rules are in place. The Arles bull fighting is more non-violent than the traditional Spanish bullfighting and the animals are rarely made to suffer too much. The weekly Saturday market also attracts the crowds and everyone from the Camargue arrives in the city to haggle, shop & chat.
From Arles, your Provence walking holiday can lead you either south towards the sea and the sprawling Camargue, a vast and pristine marshland with sandy beaches, salt-water lakes, rice paddies, countless bird species, wild black bulls and white horses. Or over the hills on the other side of the city, you head up into the Alpilles mountains to the perched village of Les Baux and the upmarket town of St Rémy de Provence, also known as Van Gogh’s Provence.
Vincent Van Gogh was born in Holland but is considered the most Provençal of the Dutch painters. From 1888 to 1889, he spent a year in Arles and painted what some would consider to be his best work, notably the sunflowers and self portrait with the bandaged ear. After a year, he voluntarily admitted himself to a mental asylum in St Rémy de Provence where he stayed until the end of his life. Today, it is possible to visit the institution and walk through the streets of St Rémy on the Van Gogh Trail following a series of reproductions of his paintings, surrounded by the landscapes that so inspired him.