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Van Gogh’s trail in Arles

By on January 19, 2016

Arles is an experience. It is the romance of a small french city that is difficult to put in words, to see old happy men chatting over their shots of espresso, women exchanging notes through their glorious french windows, old crumbling building, old well preserved structures, small winding alleyways filled with bohemian cafes and craft shops, littered with art galleries and nondescript fajita takeaways, sitting underneath a starry sky in the middle of a calm ordinary night, watch artist bring dead buildings to life, walking on a defunct railway track and the most famous walk- in the steps of Van Gogh himself.

arles lane

My first academic introduction to Van Gogh was ten years back in my Arts and Aesthetic class in college. I was captivated by his works and over all these years I have had the chance to look at some of his original works in museums in Paris, London and Amsterdam. So, Arles was a must visit for us when we decided on the Cote d’Azur holiday to celebrate our second wedding anniversary. We hitched a ride via from Cannes to Marseilles and Marseilles to Arles with two different people. Our wonderful experience of this demands another post.

painting easel

Mapping Van Gogh’s locales

We picked a Van Gogh trail map from the tourist office and set out on a treasure hunt looking for all the spots which he painted. We bumped into many other ‘team members’ with the trail maps doing the exact same thing. It felt like one of those reality game shows. They all are marked by a replica of his paintings. One of which is ‘Le Cafe La Nuit’. The bright yellow cafe still stands exactly like the painting nearly 126 years later. It’s amazing how one could find oneself stand right in the middle of history and look at it with nothing but wonder. The first impression of Arles was strikingly artistic to say the least, it’s what one would expect from a town where Van Gogh lived and painted some of his masterpieces. You’d find local artists with their small wooden easels and oil paints at almost every street corner painting from life. Beautiful paintings one could stare at for hours, watch their gentle brush strokes give form to the canvas.

cafe du nuit

Le Cafe La Nuit’ which Van Gogh painted still stands as in the painting


                                                        “Nothing but big flowers…”- To Theo

It was here that he painted the famous sunflowers which originally were to decorate the living room of his house. He was expecting a guest, famous painter, Paul Gauguin and the sunflowers were only to impress him. One of his other interesting painting was of the hospital courtyard where he was admitted after the infamous ear incident.

                     “There are only three sports- mountain climbing, motor racing and                                                                    bullfighting. All the rest are games”- Hemingway

One of the winding alleys lead us to the amphitheatre, it is an impressive Romanesque monument. It dates back to the 1st Century B.C and is a colossal structure which can house 20,000 spectators. In the olden days it was used for chariot races and hand to hand battles but today it is largely used for bullfighting during the Arles festival. Yes, bullfighting and Romanesque colosseum, a fair bit of Europe in one small little city. With many other important Roman structure like the theatre, baths, necropolis it’s not hard to believe that this was a city of great importance during the roman times.
painter amphipainter













We spent the rest of the day exploring little-hidden corners of the city and chatting with the locals. We accidentally came across a local tournament of Petanque (a game of metallic balls thrown towards a target on the ground) we stayed on and cheered for every player. The fervour of the match was unbeatable with the chatter of the enthusiast, sometimes a controversy erupting, loud voices of protest at the reassessment of the throw. It was a lively convivial atmosphere, we were too glad to be part of. Such a shame we forgot to take a picture of it.



Arles is far from the quintessential picturesque little European town. On the contrary, it is quite rustic in its way with an occasional flower-decked french window or a colourful wall. It is not an obvious choice for any French Riviera visitor. The Rhone with its murky dark water does not please the senses like the way the azure sea does. But there is something so magical and warm about this town, it instantly feels like home. There is no pretence to please the tourist, it is what it is. And that feeling is what we take back with us.


Another spot painted by Van Gogh- ‘L’entree Du Jardin Public’ 1888


‘Trinquitaille Bridge’ – 1888

The best part of a holiday is that it’s not just an escapade but an experience with people and places in their own idiosyncratic ways and the worst part is the return ticket back. For, the life will never be the same again, you will be a changed person with a reinvigorated yearning for more. Our dream of Arles is not over yet, for it enticed us with its unassuming alleyways, free spirited people, thousand years of history and the bohemian air for we long to go back again, someday.


Love the sea, read more about the coastal town in French Riviera here, Exploring the French Riviera.


Do you like visiting the places where artists created some of their masterpieces? 

Tell us about it in the comments below. 


Read about our experience of exploring Frida Kahlo’s house in Mexico here.







About Us :)

Vatsal is a techie and a coffee junkie. Most often he’s caught watching a film with Guinness for company. Preeti loves everything about the mountains. She always has her head buried in a book sipping tea.
We both love traveling and watching films so we decided to document some of it. Hope you enjoy reading as much as we’ve enjoyed traveling and writing about them 🙂

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