Arles, cultural city break ancient and modern


Arles is an oasis of antiquity with its archaeology museum, Roman amphitheatre and the long-condemned ancient cryptoporticus. You'll travel back to the Middle Ages with a visit to the Church of St. Trophime and Montmajour Abbey that affords fantastic views all around. At the Fondation Van Gogh, learn about the painter's work and his influence on the art world, while the Réattu gives you an insight into 19th and 20th century art history. Don't forget to stop for lunch (we recommend J.L Rabanel) and follow that with more culture at the Actes Sud centre.

Day 1 – Travel back in time at the Arles Antique Museum

Musée départemental Arles antique Presqu'Ile du Cirque Romain Avenue 13200 Arles

Start your tour of Arles at the 'Arles Antique', an archaeology museum on the peninsula where the Roman circus once stood. The contemporary building shows antiquity from a fresh perspective. Inside you'll find ancient mosaics, sarcophagi and everyday objects. Don't forget to visit the wing especially built to hold the 31-metre-long Roman barge raised from the Rhône bed in 2010. A national treasure!

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Day 1 – A subterranean stroll around the cryptoporticus

Les cryptoportiques du Forum Hôtel de ville Place De la République 13200 Arles

Continue your morning with another relic from Roman times: the cryptoporticus that once sat beneath the forum and which dates from the 1st century A.D. Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1981, the foundations of the former Roman public square are one of the essential ancient sites to see. A section of these galleries situated directly beneath the town hall would once have been used as prisons and catacombs. The mystery lives on…

Day 1 – Ancient games at the Amphitheatre

L' Amphithéâtre romain Rond-point Des Arènes 13200 Arles

You simply cannot leave Arles without visiting the city's most iconic ancient site: the Roman amphitheatre. Extremely well preserved, this stadium designed for huge events would have held 21,000 people seated around the 34 terraces in accordance with their status. The amphitheatre contains 60 arcades over two levels. The arena is still in use today, hosting numerous events like concerts and the Feria de Pâques celebrations.

Day 1 – The enchanting St. Trophime

Cloître Saint Trophime Place De la Republique 13200 Arles

Conclude your morning with a visit to a collection of religious buildings in Arles' episcopal city. Beside the 12th century Church of St. Trophime, the eponymous cloister comprises four galleries, one section built during the 12th century and the other dating from the 14th century. You can also see typical examples of Provençal sculpture from very close up and, in the cloister's chapter room, admire seven 17th century tapestries including one, 'Mary's birth', made by the famous Aubusson manufacture. A real haven of tranquillity!

Day 1 – Lunch at Rabanel's

Atelier de Jean-Luc Rabanel 7 rue Des Carmes 13200 Arles

We suggest finding a table in the kitchen run by Michelin-starred chef Jean-Luc Rabanel for lunch. 'More than a meal, it's an experience!' to quote the Michelin Guide. A pioneer of eating local and the chef who spearheaded the art of plant-based creations ('greenstronomie'), he brings a touch of the exotic and plenty of creativity to cuisine. He also applies his imagination to the preparation, for instance by serving food in test tubes. The essential home of experimental cooking!

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Day 2 – Roaming around the Réattu

Musée Réattu 10 rue Du Grand Prieuré 13200 Arles

Get day two of your tour of Arles started with a visit to the home and studio of French artist Jacques Réattu. On show are the painter's personal collection and a photography collection of some 4,000 objects. Treasures donated by individual collectors such as drawings by Picasso round off the exhibition. A touch of originality: the former priory occupied by the Order of St. John also has a room dedicated to sonic art! Just stand back and admire.

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Day 2 – The Fondation Van Gogh

Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles 35 ter rue Dr Fanton 13200 Arles

Your visit continues at the Fondation Van Gogh. This art centre showcases the works produced by the iconic Dutch painter while at the same time exploring the influence he had on the artists who came after him. Renovated in 2014, this converted bank restored around the theme of light hosts some stunning permanent installations like the multi-coloured glass ceiling and a purpose-made gate designed by Bertrand Lavier.

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Day 2 – Actes Sud bookshop, a temple of culture

Actes Sud Le Méjan 43 rue Du Docteur Fanton 13200 Arles

Drift in the direction of the banks of the Rhône (Quai Marx Dormoy) and admire the extraordinary orangey-pink landscape. At Place Nina-Berberova, make sure you enter Actes Sud, one of the few publishers not based in Paris. Not only does the store carry books by some of the biggest names in literature, from Stieg Larsson to Laurent Gaudé and Paul Auster to Nancy Huston, it's a veritable cultural centre with a cinema and an exhibition room in the old Méjan chapel. Good to know: the bookshop has a busy programme of regular events with authors and other artists taking part.

Day 2 – Meet the Benedictine monks at Montmajour

Abbaye de Montmajour Route De Fontvieille 13200 Arles

Bring your tour of Arles to a close by visiting Montmajour (15 minutes on the 29 bus from the bus station – Arles-Salon route), an abbey on the island of the same name where a community of Benedictine monks settled in the 10th century. This ensemble of buildings has grown through the ages and shows a variety of styles including an underground chapel from the 11th century, an extremely ornate cloister and a 14th century tower. The island also affords stunning views of the Alpilles mountains and Crau plain, the perfect spot for that final selfie!

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Can't-miss experiences

  • Cycling among paddy fields, wild horses and pink flamingos in the nearby Parc de Camargue
  • Drinking at the Nord Pinus whose past regulars include Picasso, Hemingway, Cocteau, Fritz Lang and John Houston

We love

  • The concentration of outstanding attractions which means you are never more than a stone's throw away from another landmark
  • The rich cultural programme with venues like Actes Sud and Harmonia Mundi, the national photography school and the Fondation Luma

The best time to visit

  • In July to attend the world music festival Les Suds- Early September for the celebrations at the Féria du Riz festival
  • Any time from July to September for the Rencontres d'Arles photography exhibitions
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