I’m a huge art buff, so one of the places I knew I had to visit during my recent tour of southern France was Arles. This little town is tucked away between Montpellier and Marseille, right above the Camargue. Beyond its obvious Provençal charms, its also the place where Vincent van Gogh created some of his most notable paintings.
Van Gogh came to Arles in 1888 after needing a break from Paris. It’s said that the sunny days and vibrant colors of Provence inspired him to paint the 200 pieces he created during his stint in the town. Visitors can follow in Van Gogh’s footsteps and visit the locations where he painted some of his masterpieces. Easels placed throughout the city mark the sites where the artist viewed his subjects and saw inspiration.
My husband and I arrived in Arles on a sunny, summer day. We had just driven from Nimes and were a little tired, but I wasn’t going to miss the chance to retrace one of my favorite artist’s steps. We stopped at the tourism office to pick up a map that points out the key Van Gogh locations, and headed out on our self guided tour of the city.
We started in the city center at the Place du Forum in search of the famed restaurant that inspired Cafe Terrace at Night. After a short walk, we stumbled upon the unmistakable yellow awnings. Now aptly named Cafe Van Gogh, it’s said that Van Gogh and his then roommate Paul Gauguin frequented the cafe for nights of absinthe drinking.
Next on the tour was the facility where Van Gogh painted The Hospital at Arles. Now called Espace Van Gogh, it’s where he was taken after slicing off a portion of his ear. The beautifully maintained gardens still mirror the landscaping you can see in the painting.
A little to the west was a recreation of the Langlois Bridge. The site commemorates the series of paintings and sketches called Langlois Bridge at Arles.
We then walked towards the Rhone to see the bridge that crosses the river, the Trinquentaille. It’s changed a bit since Van Gogh’s days, but the resemblance can immediately be seen. It’s here that The Trinquentaille Bridge was painted in 1888.
Unfortunately, we missed the locations marking Starry Night Over the Rhone and The Old Mill. We also were unable to make it to to the site of the artist’s home from the famous Yellow House. (Interesting fact - it’s no longer there, as it was bombed during WWII).
Until earlier this year, Arles housed none of Van Gogh’s actual paintings. It’s quite surprising, considering the large amount of art he produced while residing in the town. The Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles opened in June as a place to showcase Van Gogh’s legacy in the town, and I knew we had to check it out. About 10 paintings were temporarily exhibited, including the well known Self Portrait in a Straw Hat and The Yellow House at Arles. While I wouldn’t consider this a full fledged museum, it is a nice feature to compliment the Van Gogh experience in Arles.
To be able to stand where the artist stood when he painted some of his most famous pieces was an amazing experience to say the least. Arles was one of my favorite towns that we visited in Provence, and if you’re ever in the south of France, it’s not to be missed.