We’ve recently returned from Provence and the French Riviera, and Arles was one of our favorite spots. The city first flourished under Roman rule – and there are several impressive sites dating from Roman times, impressive medieval architecture, and delightful squares where you can enjoy a meal or a glass of wine.
Virtually everything is within walking distance. And Arles hotels and restaurants provide great value for money.
The only real challenges you’re likely to encounter are driving and parking. The charming old town has ancient walls, cobbled squares, gurgling fountains, and narrow streets, many of which have restricted traffic. You’ll appreciate it as a pedestrian, but as a driver – not so much.
Our Garmin GPS, which was a blessing almost everywhere else we went, was of little help in Arles. Pylons blocked access to our hotel, and trying to reach it from the other direction took about 45 minutes.
With that in mind, here are our top travel tips for Arles France:
1) Confirm parking with your hotel in advance, and get precise directions to the hotel from wherever you’ll be coming from. If your hotel doesn’t have parking, ask them to provide you with directions to the nearest parking facility. We were there on a bank holiday weekend, and all the free spots were taken. But there was plenty of parking in the public garage near the post office on Boulevard des Lices. If your hotel is not far, you can walk from there, or take a cab.
2) If you’ll be in Arles in summer or over a holiday period, make dinner reservations. Many of the best restaurants in Arles are small, with fewer than 20 tables. And they basically have one seating. At the places where we dined, we were the last people seated – at 8PM. Everyone else was turned away.
3) If possible, plan to be in Arles on Saturday, when the biggest, best market in Provence takes place on both sides of Boulevard del Lices. Hundreds of stalls sell everything from foie gras to flashlights. With fruits, vegetables, cheeses, charcuterie, pastries, seafood, breads, rotisserie chickens, paella, and wine, it’s a great place to pick up supplies for a picnic. And it also has some of the best and most affordable souvenir shopping in Provence. You’ll find Provencal linens, spices, soaps, olive-wood kitchen wares, olive oil, and lavender sachets. There’s a flea market further down the boulevard and a small brocante market with collectibles.
4) Walk to Les Alyscamps, the ancient Roman cemetery that was painted by both van Gogh and Cezanne. It’s only about ten minutes from the heart of town, and it’s very atmospheric. Ancient tombs and plane trees line the long alley that leads to a medieval church.
5) Visit the cloisters of Saint-Trophime. Although the church is best known for it’s splendid portal, the adjoining cloisters are some of the loveliest in the area.
6) Watch the world go by from a table on the Place du Forum. Both the Hotel Nord Pinus and the Hotel du Forum are on the Place, and half a dozen sidewalk cafes compete for your patronage. Order a pichet of local rosé, and admire the same plane trees – or starry skies – that inspired van Gogh.
7) Learn a little French. We found the people in Arles to be friendly, outgoing, and helpful. But English isn’t as widely spoken here as it is in cities or the French Riviera. We actually ended up speaking quite a bit of French here.