Saturday, March 5, 2011

Early morning walk in Arles

Very early one morning, after dropping friends off at Marseille Provence Airport for their 6:00 AM flight back to the US, I decided that rather than go back to Sablet, I would go to Mas de Gourgonnier to buy wine. Since the winery wouldn't be open for dégustation - tasting for several hours, I headed to Arles for petit déjeuner - breakfast.

Arles sits along the Rhone River about 75 miles southwest of Sablet. It is located just down stream of where the Rhone River splits into two parts (big and little) before it flows into the Mediterranean Sea. I had never been to Arles before so I had no idea where I would find a café or boulangerie where I could get coffee and croissants for breakfast.

As I explained, I had never been to Arles but recalled there are some Roman ruins, there is a bustling weekly market, Vincent van Gogh lived there and the town is the gateway to the Camargue, the vast Rhone River delta. When I don't know a town or village, I usually look for and follow the signs towards Centre Ville - center of town, which is where I headed that morning as I figured I would for sure find a café there.

The sun was up by the time I parked near the center of town. The narrow streets were largely deserted except for a couple of municipal streets cleaners. Nothing looked open yet so I decided to walk in the direction the sign pointed for the Arènes - Roman amphitheater.

As shown in the picture below, the streets of Arles are truly medieval in character: narrow and winding between ancient buildings.

The amphitheatre is said to measure 136 m (446 ft) in length and 109 m (358 ft) wide, the 120 arches date back to the 1st century BC. The amphitheatre was capable of seating over 20,000 spectators, and was built to provide entertainment in the form of chariot races and bloody hand-to-hand battles. Today, it draws large crowds for bullfighting as well as plays and concerts in summer.

A pretty house I passed on my walk around Arles.

Another narrow street, this one stair stepped in cobblestone

Church of Notre Dame la Major.

To the left in the picture below is the Roman theatre which was built at the end of the 1st century BC. The theatre is said to have been able to accommodate 10,000 spectators in 33 rows of seats.

Houses and shops around the amphitheatre including the café where I ate breakfast. The area was deserted early in the morning.

More houses with colorful shutters that caught my eye.

The Church of St. Trophime at Place de la République, formerly a cathedral, is a major work of Romanesque architecture, and the representation of the Last Judgment on its portal is considered one of the finest examples of Romanesque sculpture, as are the columns in the adjacent cloister.

Place de la République with the Hotel de Ville at the rear of the large square and the Church of St. Trophime on the right side. In the middle of the square stands an obelisk from Arle's Roman circus, moved to its present location in the 17th century. The lions at its base are the symbol of the town.

An archway leads to another narrow winding street.

A view of what remains of the Roman theatre in Arles.

Another view of the area around the Roman theatre.

As I got back to my car, I came across this interesting building.

I didn't try to avoid taking pictures with people in them.  It was just so early that I almost had the town to myself. Not too bad if you just want to wander around but don't care to enter buildings or historical sites or wander in and out of shops; something we like to do. So we will definitely have to return on a market day so we can get a sense of life in Arles.

Bonne journée et à bientôt.


  1. I've been following your blog for months now and realized it was time I let you know just how much I enjoy it! I'm a fellow lover of Provence, although I have spent more time in the Luberon, especially Lourmarin in the south Luberon, than in your area. Last fall, though, I really enjoyed a solo week staying in Bedoin and exploring the area close to you.

    I especially loved this post about early morning in Arles.

    I'd love to visit your restaurant in Occidental one day (since I'm not that far away in Sacramento).

  2. Hi there,I am surprised you did not mention Cafe de Nuit/The Night Cafe,an oil painting created in Arles by Vincent Van Gogh,the cafe is situated on the Place du Forum the main square in Arles,there is a lovely 4/5 star hotel there to the right of the cafe as well.On a day trip to the Camargue in 2007 we stopped off in Arles and this was the one place I wanted to see and luckily found it! Having said that it does not get great reviews foodwise we had only time for a drink so beware!It is worth a stop off though if you are interested in Vincent Van Gogh!Visit!Lovely photos as usual!

  3. I was lucky enough to get to Arles for a day last summer, I loved it! it was crowded and hot as hades and it had a real sultry vibe to it. Can't wait to go back!

  4. Chris - Thanks so much for checking in and letting me know you enjoy our blog. It would be an honor to have you come dine at Bistro Des Copains! Please stay in touch.

    talesfromagarden - Thanks for telling me about Cafe de Nuit/The Night Cafe. I showed up in Arles without a guidebook or map and nothing was open so I just wandered around. I am sure I missed a lot and I look forward to going back.

    Sara - I hear lots of good things about Arle. It was definitely not crowded the day I was there. I enjoy people watching so definitely prefer visiting when there are crowds.

  5. That amphitheater is amazing - and so well-preserved! I absolutely love Roman ruins.

  6. i love arles! first went there for a weekend the first fall I was here. Great time - almost no tourists, and the early morning light was magical

  7. Beautiful! Looks like a lovely walk..& a fantastic way to spend a morning in Provence :) The Roman ruins are incredible & thanks for sharing more about the history of the amphitheatre - think Arles is one of the must-do sites for the region!

  8. Camille - The amphitheater appears to be in amazing shape. Too early to get inside but I will be going back.

    Megan - I can imagine that during the summer months, Arles is probably packed with tourists so fall would be a good time to go back. I will have to keep that in mind.

    Tuula - It was almost eery to have the town to myself it seemed without anyone around. It was really lovely!