Our daughters first trip overseas was a month long road trip around France in our VW camper, at the tender age of 8 months old. Ever since she was told this, she has asked for us to take her back again and so this week being the 1/2 term holidays, we bagged ourselves some cheap flights to Nimes, courtesy of Ryanair and fulfilled her wish.
After landing in Nimes we took a train to Arles in Provence, home of the fashion designer Christian Lacroix and the place Van Gogh spent his final years and painted some of his most famous works. The cafe which featured in his terrace at night painting, is recreated on the original site and is still one of the busiest places to sip a pastis.
The weather was amazing and Arles did not disappoint. Although not picture postcard pretty, it has a history and a faded charm that I loved and you can see from the grand architecture that this was a place of wealth and importance. The centre of the town is home to a large Roman amphitheatre, where regular bull fights take place each summer and which has been made a world heritage site by UNESCO.
As well as Van Gogh, spending time in Arles, Picasso was a regular visitor and a large number of his etchings, sketches and paintings have been donated to the towns art Gallery. To add to the impact of these famous works, Christian Lacroix has designed the carpets which feature throughout the gallery and it is a reminder of just what a fantastic designer he is, which is easy to forget now he is more often associated with Ab Fab!
Another exhibition space for contemporary art and photography, in the town, is some 12th Century cloisters, which are a dramatic setting and a beautiful space to look around. The colours of Arles which we saw repeated time and time again are yellow and grey, which are perfectly captured on this original tiled floor and doorway. Again in this gallery Christian Lacroix has designed a stunning carpet to replicate the damaged tiled floor. It is so amazing that you only notice the change in flooring when you walk on it and feel the change in texture~Genius!
The bull fighting which is such a heritage of Arles, attracted many artists & bohemian’s and the meeting place for them all was The Grand Hotel Nord Pinus. I first read about this hotel many many years ago, in Elle Deco, when it re-opened after years of neglect. It was the place to see and be seen with people such as Picasso, Jean Cocteau and Charlotte Rampling gracing the bar and occupying the rooms.
I have always wanted to visit the hotel and was not disappointed. It was a fantastic experience as we sat in the bar and listened to Emanuelle, the manager, tell us all the tales of the people who had stayed there and it’s long history as a favourite destination of the bull fighters, flamenco families and creative geniuses. The hotel is furnished in an eclectic style with some of the original features, sitting alongside retro pieces, original artwork and photography by some of the worlds leading photographers.Each year the town is the venue for Europe’s largest photography exhibition with each hotel, restaurant and bar become part of the exhibition space. The sweeping staircase leads to the magnificent bedrooms with their handmade wrought iron beds, an enormous Moroccan light hangs from the landing and the walls are hung with framed vintage bullfighting posters. It is one of the most atmospheric hotels I have ever been to and I can’t wait to return.
I’ve got to say I was a little disappointed with the shopping in Arles, I was hoping for more vintage and brocante shops and although there were a couple they were expensive and generally not as good as in the UK. There is however a flea market on the first Wednesday of every month, which may be worth trying to get to if you are planning a trip. We went to the general market on Wednesday morning which runs down the side of the Rhone river. It was mainly food but very good and the setting was great. What was reassuring were the people who all seemed really friendly and helpful and it felt safe which is often not the case in other European markets. The best buys we found were lovely scented soaps, food and a great shoe and bag shop called The Shoe Factory.
It was so nice to be back in France again,it’s a country I love for it’s traditions and it never seems to change and our daughter was not disappointed. I think it’s safe to say that’s definitely another francophile in the Barlow family.