Often called the soul of Provence, Arles is a town of classic antiquities, leafy squares, and art festivals, with a well-preserved Roman amphitheater known for bullfights both bloody and bloodless. But Arles is perhaps best
known as Van Gogh’s place of anguish, where he painted more than 200 works during the
single year of 1888, including Sunflowers— and where he famously cut off his ear.
The lively, café-crammed Place du Forum (laid out by Julius Caesar) is the perfect place
for a café au lait or an apéritif; it’s also the site of Van Gogh’s iconic Café Terrace on the Place
du Forum. Overlooking the square is the landmark Grand Hôtel Nord Pinus, its worn bohemian elegance recalling the days when Picasso, Hemingway, and Édith Piaf stayed here. This quirky hotel is a favorite among famous toreadors who take part in bullfights at Les Arènes, where gladiators once fought.
Housed in a former 17th-century convent styled like a Roman palace, the elegant Hôtel Jules César is known for its restaurant, one of the best in Arles, as well as its proximity to the popular Saturday market held just outside its doors. Capturing the energy of modern-day Arles is the creative restaurant L’Atelier, overseen by chef Jean-Luc Rabanel, who found fame at La Chassagnette, 8 miles outside Arles, in the Camargue.
After his tumultuous year in Arles, Van Gogh voluntarily committed himself to the sanatorium in nearby St-Rémy-de-Provence, today open to visitors. St-Rémy is a pretty market town in the foothills of the Alpilles (“little Alps”)—jagged mounds and cliffs surrounded by hills and valleys and green with pine, cypress, and olive trees. Nestled on a craggy bluff of the Alpilles is the medieval city Les Baux (named for the mineral bauxite found here), offering spectacular views and home to the legendary restaurant and hotel L’Oustau de Baumanière, which serves exceptional cuisine in a converted 14th-century farmhouse. Nearby is the charming La Riboto de Taven, an 1835 country manor with several hotel rooms built right into the cliffs. Chef Jean-Pierre Novi creates near-perfect home-style Provençal meals in a welcoming, antiques-filled dining room.