Travel

Exploring a Different Side of Provence: Arles, Camargue & Les Alpilles

by Lily Heise
A person walks on the sandy beach of the Camargue at sunset, casting a shadow on the ground.
Top: Provence – Lukasz Czechowicz / Above: Le Camargue – Nicolas Loison
Left: A beautiful, open field of lavendar on a sunny day in Provence, Right: An overhead shot of an outdoor area, pool and Provencal rooftops from a room at the L'Arlatan
Provence – Quentin Lafon / L’Arlatan

For many, Provence equals rolling fields of lavender and quaint villages. But this southern French region also has a rich history and immense natural diversity. You can discover these lesser-known facets in the city of Arles and its surroundings. It is home to impressive Roman vestiges, France’s largest wetlands, otherworldly rocky mountains, and sites linked to the artist Vincent van Gogh.

A beautiful white horse, native to the area, stands in a field of flowers in Camargue.
Le Camargue – Nicolas Loison

Arles

Arles is reachable by TGV from Paris, or via local trains from Avignon and Marseille. The city may have fallen in prominence since its heyday as a key Roman city, but the picturesque town still has much to offer. If possible, come on a Saturday to catch its wonderful market. Held along the Boulevard des Lices until 12:45PM, this authentic marché is a popular meeting place for locals. It is abundant in seasonal produce, olives, cheese, and meats, as well as lavender, soups, clothing and other regional crafts.

Left: An empty street in the quaint town of Arles at sunset, the light showing the bright colors of the southern town, Right: A person holds a fresh fruit smoothie from Glacier Areltais in Arles in front of a river.
Arles – Emma Voinea / Glacier Areltais

Pick up picnic supplies at the market to enjoy in the pretty Jardin d’été, which borders the Boulevard des Lices and has the Roman theater as a backdrop. Alternatively, stop in for a gourmet sandwich at Le Comptoir du Sud, found on the Place de la République opposite the City Hall. From here you can begin exploring the city center on foot.

An overhead shot of a beautiful, bright raspberry dessert on a large white plate at Baumanière in Arles.
Baumanière/ Virginie Ovessian Photgraphe

A visit to Arles wouldn’t be complete without seeing its Roman remains. These include a large theater, a 20,000-seat amphitheater, public baths, and the very unique Cryptoportiques du Forum, which are the marketplace’s restored cellars (enter all with the 12€ Pass Liberté).

Left: A beautifully plated dish at the Micheling-starred L'Oustau de Baumanière, Right: Art is projected onto the walls of the Cerrières de Lumières art space in Arles.
Virginie Ovessian Photgraphe/ Carrières de Lumières – Culture Spaces

Arles culture is far from stuck in the past, especially in summer when the city hosts Les Rencontres d’Arles, a world-renowned photo festival. As you amble through the center, you’ll pick up this artsy vibe via street art, galleries, and boutiques, like L’Atelier des Créateurs, a shop representing local designers.

Tables and chairs are set out on a wide, sunny porch under leafy green trees at Baumanière in Arles.
Baumanière

When you’re ready for an afternoon snack, stop in at the Franco-Japanese pastry shop of Masaki Yamamoto. Since it can get quite hot in Arles, you might prefer an ice cream at the inventive Glacier Arelatis or Fraîcheur et Délices, which is found opposite L’Espace Van Gogh. The Dutch artist spent a year in Arles, living first in his famed little yellow house (across from the amphitheater on rue Voltaire), before he was admitted into this former hospital, now a media center. You can pop in the courtyard to have a look and enjoy your ice cream.

Left: Fresh produce, including cantaloupe and tomatoes, sit in wooden produce boxes at Fraîcheur et Délices in Arles, Right: A colorful street in Provence, lined with small triangle flags, is empty just after sundown.
Fraîcheur et Délices / Provence – Andrea Rapuzzi

Another site linked to van Gogh is the Café du Forum, illustrated in his painting Café Terrace at Night. You’ll find it in the Place du Forum, one of Arles liveliest squares. This could be a good place for apéro. However, if you want to escape the crowds, get a glass of wine at la Cave des Saveurs, a pint of craft beer at L’Échoppe, or a chic cocktail at the designer boutique hotel L’Arlatan.

When you’re ready for dinner, head to the Roquette district where you can find Arlésiens on the terraces in and around Place Paul Doumer. Grab a bite at the laid back Épicerie Moderne with a weekly changing menu, Le 22 Pizzeria, serving authentic Italian pizzas, or the nearby l’Antonelle le bistrot, with more sophisticated dishes. Alternatively, you can go to La Gueule du Loup for some contemporary bistronomie.

Interior shots of the beautifully decorated and designed L'Arlatan in Arles, complete with a light blue, pink, white and orange color scheme.
L’Arlatan

The Camargue

Arles is also the gateway to one of France’s most splendid natural reserves: the Camargue. A stunning delta between the Mediterranean Sea and the two arms of the Rhône, which could be a great activity for day two. The best way to visit it is on a half-day excursion with Camargue Alpilles Safaris. Their extremely knowledgeable guides take you deep into the Camargue to visit rice fields, bull ranches, wild horse farms, and wetlands with herds of pink flamingos. They also provide you with insight into the region’s ferias (festivals) and other traditions along the way.

Le Camargue – Nathalie Stickelbaut

Les Alpilles

North of Arles is another natural wonder, les Alpilles, an incredibly gorgeous chain of craggy low mountains. The best place to take in this exceptional landscape is the charming hamlet of Les Baux-de-Provence. Sitting on a rocky outcrop, the picture-perfect village has breathtaking views, a castle, and tiny narrow streets to wander. Just beneath the village is the Carrières de Lumières, a defunct stone quarry which now features cool immersive art exhibitions (a sister site to L’Atelier des Lumières in Paris).

Left: A beautifully decorated room at the L'Arlatan, styled with bright colors and patterns, Right: Inviting plates of food sit atop a table at one of the delicious restaurants at L'Arlatan in Arles.
L’Arlatan

The village is also home to Jean-André Charial’s Baumanière, one of the gastronomic highlights of Provence. Here you’ll find his three Michelin-starred L’Oustau de Baumanière and the more relaxed La Cabro d’Or. Both restaurants use local and mostly organic ingredients, including those from the estate’s own on-site garden. You can either stop in for lunch or enjoy dinner while staying overnight at the estate’s five-star hotel. Here you can further soak in the area’s awe-inspiring beauty and tranquil ambiance.

A view of the water and open sky at the Camargue as the sun begins to set and the surroundings get dark just before evening.
Le Camargue – Nicolas Loison

Camargue Alpilles Safaris also offers tours up into the mountains. You can visit Les Baux and many other places in Provence on small group and private excursions by A La Française, who are offering our readers a 5% discount on any bookings with the code HIPPARIS.

Left: A grand, old building stands at the end of a long driveway, lined with grass and tress near Arles, Right: A blue bike leans against a stone wall in the old-but-beautiful town of Arles.
Château de Tourreau, Provence – Project Provence / Provence – Martin Dube

Related Links

A lone tree is visible in the distance of a wheat colored field in the Camargue. There are low lying clouds against partially blue sky.
Le Camargue – Nathalie Stickelbaut

Written by Lily Heise for HiP Paris. Looking to travel? Check out Haven In for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long-term or buy in France or Italy? Ask us! We can connect you to our trusted providers for amazing service and rates.

Written By

Lily Heise

Lily Heise has been living in Paris for more than 10 years. When she's not getting into romantic mischief, she writes on dating, travel, and culture. Her writing has been featured in Frommer’s Guides, the Huffington Post, Conde Nast Traveler, City Secrets, DK Eyewitness Guides, and other local and international publications. She is the author of Je T'Aime, Me Neither, and Je T'Aime... Maybe? lively novelized memoirs on her romantic misadventures, and continues to share dating tips, stories and travel features on her blog www.jetaimemeneither.com. View Lily Heise's Website

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