Arles – Country Roads of France

When you arrive in this town, it’s clear to see that Van Gogh lived here for a while, although they didn’t show him much appreciation at the time. It’s different today, of course. All over town, street stalls try to capitalize on their famous past resident, selling tablecloths, aprons, etc. with sunflower prints on them, probably the subject of his paintings for which he’s best known.

From the one small commemorative bust of Van Gogh in the park, you wouldn’t think that this was an important city for him, but he did some 300 drawings and paintings during his short time here. He actually stayed in the “Yellow House” in the Place Lamartine, which is away from the central area, but the hospital where he spent some time has been converted into the Espace Van Gogh, a “mediatheque”, although the famous courtyard is still there.

You can get a walking tour leaflet from the tourist office that covers some of the places where Van Gogh set up his easel (there are panels representing his works). Ten spots have been chosen : The Place du Forum for the “Evening Café“, the Trinquetaille bridge for the “Staircase of the Trinquetaille bridge“, the Rhone River quay for the “Starry Night“, the Place Lamartine for the “Yellow House“, the Rue Mireille for the “Old Mill“, the Summer Garden on the Boulevard des Lices for the “Public Garden“, the Espace Van Gogh for the “Hospital Garden“, the road along the Arles à Bouc canal for the “Langlois bridge with washerwomen“. The Arena and the Alyscamps were also depicted in several paintings.

Arles is at least equally famous for its well-preserved Roman ruins, and its star attraction is the impressive Roman amphitheatre, whose arena is often used today for concerts and the local version of bull-fighting (where the bull is not slaughtered). It’s well worth climbing to the top tier to get a panoramic view of Arles. If you’re there in summer, you might even catch one of the bull contests in action.

Helen Page

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