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Looking back on a long and rich history, it was an important Roman settlement, reaching the peak of its cultural influence in the 4th and 5th centuries – the bountiful inheritance of this era is still visible in an impressive array of UNESCO-listed ancient monuments.
Arles' narrow streets and shaded squares lined with pastel-hued houses, all illuminated in the radiant southern light, have inspired legions of artists including Gaugin, Picasso and, most notably, Vincent Van Gogh, who created a multitude of works in the short time he spent here. Arles is still a cultural focal point today, transforming into a vast art gallery every summer during the Rencontres d'Arles photo festival. Situated as the city is at the gateway to the wide open spaces of the Camargue delta region, and a short hop from secluded Mediterranean beaches, your selection from our portfolio of the best hotels in Arles places you perfectly for hiking around Arles as well as for savouring the charms of this beguiling Provençal city.
Things to Do in Arles
We suggest you begin exploring the attractions of Arles at its most emblematic monument, the majestic Roman Amphitheatre, built around 90 AD to accommodate over 20,000 spectators on two tiers. After the fall of the empire it became a fortress sheltering the city's population, and nowadays the beautifully preserved arena plays host to bull fights and live events. From the top tier, you have sweeping views over the rooftops to the Rhône. A few steps away, and a century older than its better-preserved neighbour, the semi-circular Roman Theatre once featured an elaborate stage backdrop – you can get a feel for what it was once like at concerts and plays during summer.
Close by, Arles' main square, the regal Place de la République, centres on an ancient obelisk originally located at the Roman circus, and transplanted in the 17th century – with great difficulty – to its current location. A few streets away, the riverside Thermes de Constantin offer a vivid insight into ancient Roman bath culture.
A huge collection of mosaics, statues and everyday artefacts at the triangular, riverside Musée de l'Arles et de la Provence Antiques brings to life the history of the city up until the 6th century. Highlights include a marvellously intact bust, presumed to be a portrait of Julius Caesar, and a long Gallo-Roman barge, attesting to Arles' importance as a riverine trading port.
Vincent Van Gogh spent 16 months in Arles in 1888–89, producing about 300 paintings and drawings in a remarkable burst of creativity. You can see the locations that inspired him on a self-guided walking route, taking in "The Yellow House" Arles, the simple bridge now known as the "Pont Van Gogh", and the riverbank setting of "Starry Night Over the Rhône". The Dutch genius also produced numerous depictions of the Abbaye de Montmajour on the outskirts of Arles, a spectacular hilltop Benedictine abbey begun in 949 AD and expanded over the next eight centuries. Vincent's heritage is celebrated at the Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles, showing changing works loaned from other museums, as well as exhibitions illuminating his influence on subsequent artists.
Another must on your cultural visit is the Musée Réattu Arles, which features work by the eponymous painter, born in Arles in 1760, alongside Picasso drawings and thousands of photographic works, all displayed in a stately 15th-century priory beside the Rhône.
LUMA Arles is an interdisciplinary cultural campus that brings together talents from a variety of fields for events including conferences, exhibitions and performances. The foundation's establishment went hand-in-hand with the rehabilitation of a former railway wasteland to form the Parc des Ateliers, with landscaped gardens and open-air exhibition spaces, all centred on a futuristic tower designed by Frank Gehry featuring a twisted façade of reflective stainless-steel bricks.
Activities Around Arles
Your family holidays in Arles are the perfect opportunity to explore the magnificent Regional Park of the Camargue. Your Arles hotel is just a short drive from this sumptuous landscape of lagoons, rice fields and salt marshes at the Rhône delta. The largest wetland in France is home to exceptional biodiversity ranging from pink flamingoes to bulls and wild white horses. The options for exploring this remarkable reserve are almost as diverse as the birdlife that inhabits it: you can hike or cycle nature trails, join a guided horseback tour, board the Petit Train de Méjanes or set out on a 4X4 safari.
It's also easy to combine your family visit to the city with a trip to one of the many beaches near Arles – the drive from Arles to Saintes Maries de la Mer, a charming Camargue township on the coast, takes less than 40 minutes. Here you'll find long sandy crescents especially popular with windsurfers and kitesurfers. Even more secluded is the endless expanse of fine sand backed by wild dunes at the Plage de Piémanson.
Dining in Arles
Arles brings to the table all the endless culinary bounty of Provence, but you'll find a few local delights that are exclusive to the city and the fruitful surrounding countryside. Popping up on the menus of the best restaurants in Arles, Gardiane de taureau is pieces of Camargue bull meat marinated in local red wine and simmered for several hours, and served with flavoursome Camargue rice. Like to take some home? You can find excellent pre-prepared Gardianes in jars at Arles delicatessens. A popular starter is tellines de Camargue, small triangular shellfish prepared with garlic, parsley and olive oil. Cheeses, Camargue salt, olives and wines are just some of the Provençal delights piled high on the producers' stalls at Saturday's weekly Arles farmers' market.
The Best Hotels in Arles, France
Planning a romantic getaway in Arles? One of the best places to stay is our 5-star luxury hotel in the city centre. This exquisite hotel with a spa, pool and gourmet restaurant occupies a 17th-century convent, superbly decorated in bold colours and daring patterns by fashion designer Christian Lacroix, an Arles local. Looking for something a little more affordable? Our hotels near the Palais des Congrès are perfectly suited, whether you're in Arles on a tourism visit with the family and want a hotel with a swimming pool, or you're on a business trip and need coworking space in Arles. Our hotels offer bed-and-breakfast packages, and are within easy reach of the train station and all of the best things to do in Arles.
When to Visit Arles
Summer is the big season for events in Arles, with an array of music festivals as well as the Phare Festival for short films and the world-renowned Rencontres photography festival. August sees the Flamenca Festival and Arelate Festival celebrating Arles' Roman heritage, and another major draw is the European Festival of Nude Photography in May.
Getting to Arles
The nearest major international airport is Marseille Provence, around 50 minutes' drive away. There are also smaller airports, mainly serving budget airlines, in Avignon, Nîmes and Montpellier. It's around 7 hours by car via the A7 and A6 autoroutes from Paris, and just under 3 hours from Lyon. The fastest train connections from Paris take around 3.5 hours, 2 hours from Lyon and under an hour from Marseille.