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The Best of Southern France: Arles!

Updated on August 4, 2008

Arles, France

The streets of Arles
The streets of Arles

A Different Experience

Are you tired of tourist-infested cities in France? Have you been to Paris and thus think you've seen everything there is to see about French culture? Think again. Welcome to far southern France, where Arlesiens seem to spend their days talking, laughing, and eating outdoors in antiquated cafes. Arles, France, is alive with a spirit and love of life that has not been seen in the rest of France for a century and a half.

I am an American student who has just returned to the US after living for almost two months in Arles. Having been to Paris, Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux, I thought I was reasonably well-informed about what exactly it was to be a French citizen. Then I visited Arles, a tiny town near Avignon, with the Little Alps in the background and the lush greenery of Provence surrounding you.

This is also the city that Van Gogh loved, and where he painted his famous "Starry Night Over the Rhone" and "Cafe Terrace at Night," a cafe in Arles that continues to be in business and serve lunch and dinners to residents and tourists until this very day. The Arlesians do not seem to realise how blessed they are to be walking among living history, along the same cobblestone streets that the Romans walked on 2000 years ago, and the same structures that people built over 500 years ago. Coming from the relatively short history of the United States, I was continually awed by the modesty and grace the Arlesians exhibited through their day to day lives in Arles, France.

The Alyscamps

Walk through Les Alyscamps in Arles, France
Walk through Les Alyscamps in Arles, France

An Ancient Influence

The Romans actually made it even farther west than Arles, but I was surprised enough to learn that the Roman Empire had a heavy hand in influencing how Arles looks today. Both a Roman amphitheatre and a Roman arena are still used today in Arles, and though they have obviously been updated with wiring and handrails at the very least, the spirit of Arles' Roman heritage endures.

Two beautiful old churches are also necessary for visitors of Arles to see, the most prominent of which is the Church of St Trophime, worked with elaborate Romanesque architectural details. The Alyscamps are also a world-famous Roman necropolis that are open to tourists and are also available to see in many of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings, created during his days in Arles.

Plaza in Arles

Place de la Republique, Arles, France
Place de la Republique, Arles, France

Language in Arles, France

Though of course the citizens of Arles speak French, it is very different from the Parisian French that most American students learn in their French classes. Because Arles has such a relaxed pace of life, the rate of speech is also slower. The final letters on the ends of words, such as chose (ie: SHOZ-ah), grave, or fille, are often pronounced, while you would not hear a Parisian say them. While it may seem like this would make it easier for someone who is not fluent to understand them, I found I had a few problems in the beginning because I would hear the pick-up at the end of words and think the speaker was saying the beginning of the next word, instead of just the ending of the previous.

Arles is located fairly evenly between Spain and Italy, though I saw/heard only a few Spanish visitors. Many Italians come to Arles, but they also seemed to speak good French, and I saw very few Italian translations at the museums or on the cafe menus. There were a good amount of English-speaking tourists from all over the world, including Asian tourists who used English as a common language to communicate with the waiters, hotel clerks, museum guides in Arles. And then there were a surprisingly large number of Germans who came to Arles, and also were the only nationality that was comparable to Americans, in their complete ignorance of the French language.

Why I Wrote This Guide

Arles was one of the best experiences of my life. I got significantly better at speaking French, and I learned what it was like to live in a traditional French town in Southern France, and become more than just a tourist. If there is any more information I can give you about Arles, please let me know what you would like to know in the comments section.


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    • revervoyages profile image

      revervoyages 5 years ago

      Great city, the south of France is so full of nice and authentic places! I hope to visit Arles this year!

    • profile image

      MB 5 years ago

    • profile image

      Sarah 7 years ago

      Hi, I too love photos. I want to go to Arles to take photos I just bought a nice camera. Ar there nice places to take pictures in Arles. I just love French culture. I make my own crepes. My favourite song is Bravo pour le clown by Edith Piaf. Please write back with info on great places to take pictures.


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      NapaWineGuy 7 years ago

      Great Hub Page

      I wanted to pose a few questions regarding an extended stay in Arles.

      The NapaWineGuy

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      sarah 8 years ago

      Hi Brittany

      very interesting site. iam looking for a language school you know of any



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      Engelina 8 years ago

      Found your information very interesting.

      Can you suggest a languague class for beginners in the town of Arles?

      Much appreciated.

    • brittanyc profile image

      brittanyc 9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello, Hans, thanks for asking. I too was there for the photo exhibit, wasn't it amazing? I went to Arles on an international exchange program for six weeks, and my accomodations there (private bedroom, bathroom shared by four) cost 500 euro for six weeks. Other than that, I'm afraid I don't know anything else about accomodations, because they were arranged by the program. I also never saw any bike rental places like the bigger cities in France have, though I wasn't looking for them, either.

      Hope that helps!


    • profile image 9 years ago

      Hi. I have been to Arles twice, but never long enough to really appreciate it. I attended the big photo exhibition in July. What I would like to ask you about is accomodations? How expensive would it be to rent an apartment for a month? And, can one rent bicycles? Is there a language school you can recommend? -Hans