The history of Van Gogh is exposed with a flourish all around Arles as the artist completed some particularly famous paintings while living in the town. This walking tour brings you step by step to each of the places where Van Gogh would have set up his canvas to paint using the renowned Provençal sunlight.
The walking-tour takes you along the winding streets of Arles and out along the Rhône River. It should take around an hour and a half to walk the route, although there are opportunities to stop for a break and soak up the scenery. The loop also takes you past the Musée Réattu and the Van Gogh Foundation so allow extra time if you wish to stop and explore either of these exquisite museums.
The beauty about the tour is that you can start it from anywhere you desire once you have the map and are aware of what the stone easels will look like. I had to double back once or twice after having missed one or two of them, but once I knew what to look for it was no-problem.
Arles possesses some of the quaintest buildings I have seen in France; the narrow streets and cobble stoned roads feel special and inspiration seeps from everything. My first stop is at the garden of the hospital in Arles where Van Gogh was interned after cutting his ear. The sunlight beams in and illuminates the yellow paint on the balconies overhead while the courtyard basks in the heat. The garden is simple yet well-tended and a few other tourists mill around trying not to spoil the experience for each other by being too intrusive.
The next stop is Café Terrace at Night a well-known painting in Place du Forum. I stopped at the café itself for a coffee as it was still quite early in the morning, but if you plan your self-guided walking-tour you could visit here at lunch time and try one of the many great restaurants in the square before moving on.
The tour takes you up past the Van Gogh Foundation, which I thought was so interesting that I spent a full afternoon inside, before heading out onto the wide banks of the Rhône where there are three easels, each from a different vantage point that the great artist painted from. Other people seem to be following the same tour as me, or maybe they have stumbled upon the stone easels by chance and are taking a moment to learn something of this charming city, either way the paintings draw people to them.
The arena is another stop on the walking tour and the painting here invites us to imagine what the crowd must be like on a busy day during a festival or bull-fight. The arena itself is well worth a visit while you are in Arles and it holds a few mysteries up its sleeves.
My own personal favourite sight on the tour was the public park which was the subject of Van Gogh’s painting simply titled “Entrance to the Public Garden, Arles”. The park is small, but has just enough privacy that you can find a little spot and pull out a book to read as you rest your feet. The bust of Van Gogh situated at the entrance is spectacular and I’m sure that during his time spent living here the artist never thought there would be this much appreciation for him in Arles.
Further outside the town are a few other easels and subjects of Van Gogh’s work which require some form of transport to reach. Namely the Pont du Van Gogh which I took a bicycle out to see, the Dance Hall and the Red Vineyards respectively which are just north of Arles and appear in two of the artists paintings.
Arles isn’t a large city by any means, but it does have a lot within its boundaries. The walking tour is a pleasant stroll and can be broken up into as many parts of the day as required although it is important to bring the essentials along with you like water and sun-cream.
Free walking guides in English and French are available from the Tourist Office.