The ancient city of Arles, France is known for two things: Roman Ruins and Vincent Van Gogh. As the former capital of Provence this spectacularly well-preserved city boasts dramatic bullfights and crumbling historical sites, an artistic heritage and a story that is written in the stars. Here are our top picks for what to see and do in Arles.
- The Amphitheater of Arles -- Dating back to the first century, this enormous cavern is hewn out of the side of a hill and is still in use today. As Arles’ most famous monument, Les Arenes plays host to bullfights and the Confraternity of Gardians (herdsmen) which is celebrated with a feast day every May 1. Unlike the Spanish bullfights, the bulls here are praised for their grace and elegance and are never killed. Instead, bullfighters celebrate their victories with signatures in the guest book of the Grand Hotel Nord-Pinus alongside the likes of Hemingway and Picasso.
- The Roman Baths -- These thermal baths were once used as swimming pools, public baths, and a meeting place. The northern baths, Constantine’s Baths, are the newest and best-preserved. Built in the later years of the empire they are made of alternating brick and limestone.
- The Roman Theater -- Built on top of the Hauture Hill during Augustus’ reign, the theater was built over a system of substructures made of concentric galleries and vaulted halls. Today, the Arles Festival is staged near what is left of the theater at the pair of columns refereed to as the “two widows.”
- The Romans Circus -- Built toward the end of the first century, the circus sat roughly 20,000 spectators. Its colossal size meant it had to be housed outside of the town walls -- which is probably why it was later destroyed in order to fortify a defense wall at the end of the empire.
- Espace Van Gogh -- This hospital which housed the painter in 1889 is now a cultural center devoted to his work. The courtyard is encircled by a garden laid out exactly as it was in the 19th century as evidenced by Van Gogh’s own paintings, drawings, and letters. The dramatic time the artist spent in Arles collaborating with Paul Gauguin would ultimately lead to his infamous breakdown and the mutilation of his own ear.
- Arles Visitor Center -- Enjoy a walking tour map of ten reproductions that depict actual places Van Gogh captured throughout Arles, such as Starry Night Over the Rhone and Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum.
- Les Alyscamps -- This ancient cemetery comes from the name for “Elysian Fields,” the place where valiant warriors were taken upon their death. The tree-lined avenue of Medieval tombs has been mentioned in Dante’s Inferno, and painted by both Van Gogh and Gauguin.
- Notre-Dame-de-la-Major -- The church where the Gardian’s Mass is celebrated dates to the 12th century, although a Roman temple existed on this spot years earlier.
YMT Vacations’ Rendezvous on the Rhone concludes in the charming town of Arles. This 10-day river cruise tour begins in Paris before heading toward Dijon, Beaune and Avignon. To join this unforgettable journey, call your Travel Consultant or YMT Vacations at 1-888-756-9072.