By Jay Moran
History, culture, food, amazing rural landscapes, sunshine, blue sea — Provence really does have it all. Located in the southeastern corner of France, this region is bordered to the east by Italy and to the west by the Rhone River.
There are many lovely towns in Provence. Along with Avignon and Aix-en-Provence, Arles forms a triumvirate of well-known “A” towns, each of which deserves a visit. Moreover, train travel between the towns is easy to manage, and a major airport at Marseille is only an hour away. The province is much more accessible than what many people believe.
Arles makes an excellent base. Arriving by train, you can walk to the center of town in less than 10 minutes.
The focal point of activity in Arles is the Place du Forum. During warm weather months, this central plaza is bustling with outdoor terraces. When I visited, we enjoyed excellent fish soup here for lunch, and we frequently enjoyed a morning coffee or early evening drink at one of the many establishments in the area.
Van Gogh spent a year living in Arles, and easels have been set up throughout town to mark the locations that inspired his work. One of his most famous paintings, Cafe Terrace at Night, shows a scene from the Place du Forum.
At night, the streets near the plaza are warm and inviting, with a touch of mystery.
On Saturday mornings, there is a large outdoor market that stretches around the perimeter of town. Fruits, vegetables, cheese, jams, meat, rotisserie chicken, pastries, handcrafts, purses, wallets, jewelry, clothes, and fresh flowers are all sold here by local farmers and vendors. The variety is impressive.
Arles was an important Roman city for centuries, and visitors today can see important remains from that period. Perhaps most impressive is the Amphitheatre, a large Roman arena built in 90 AD. This structure had a capacity of 20,000 spectators, and it was used for entertainment in the form of chariot races and bloody hand-to-hand battles.
We visited in early October, which is an ideal time. The last three weeks of September and first week of October are nice because the summer peak crowds have gone but the weather is still warm enough to enjoy all of the outdoor terraces.
Who else has been to Provence? Please share your comments below!