When I chose the south of France as the first month-long stay for our nomadic experiment, I had two things in mind - proximity to wine country and proximity to the Mediterranean. We first chose Avignon for its central location and the ease of getting around from there - it is somewhat of a transit hub in the region. Through a twist of fate, though - aka our Airbnb host canceling our reservation - we were given a second chance to make a selection.
I drew up a Google Doc of options and gave each a ranking - typical Allison. Some were in Avignon, and some in Arles. We felt immediately drawn to the quainter charm of Arles and quickly agreed upon an apartment there. It was like it was meant to be.
We have now been here in Arles for 2 weeks, with 2 to go, and we couldn't be happier with our little town.
The views from our apartment windows
Typical homes in Arles
It turns out that one of the factors in finding our perfect town that neither of us had managed to put into words was our ability to feel comfortable and at home there. Arles is incredibly walkable and the perfect size so that within a few days, we knew our way around the entire town without a map. We have become regulars at a couple local grocery stores, and if we want a bakery or butcher's shop, we know right where to go. Several local restaurants are mom & pop shops where the owners are also the cooks and servers, giving it that small-town feel.
Our lunchtime view at a recent meal in the Place du Forum
Shop clerks and restaurant servers are largely friendly, and we are able to get by with our limited French. Some interactions are still intimidating in their differentness - like going into a pharmacy, which tend to look like some odd cross between a doctor's office and a boutique skin care store. This is a necessity if you need any meds, though, as they don't sell them in grocery stores, so when I caught a bad cold, Brendan managed to get me some Sudafed communicating largely with hand gestures.
Look for the green cross!
Arles would not be the right sort of place for a long stay for anyone who is looking for a nightlife or anything they might call lively, but it has a lot going for it beyond its quaintness. As you likely know, Arles was home to Vincent Van Gogh during the peak of his artistic production, and in his spirit, the town has an art and artisan scene including the Vincent Van Gogh Foundation, where they display contemporary art alongside original Van Gogh works.
Arles is also a great stop for history lovers as it has several Roman-era ruins including the arena, which they still use for bullfights, an amphitheater, and an obelisk that was once the center of the Roman chariot races held there. In more recent history, there is a medieval church that UNESCO described as "one of Provence's major Romanesque monuments." There is an archeological museum about 10 minutes from our apartment that we plan to visit soon to see the other antiquities found in the area.
Ultimately, Arles feels like a place where people really live, not just a tourist site, as evidenced by its colorful and functional bi-weekly outdoor market.
The area around Arles offers a rich variety of day trip options, as well, which we have begun to take advantage of, and which I will write about in another post.
It is easy to see why people fall in love with this town and move here from around the world. On our first night here, we met a very friendly (drunk) woman who was a transplant from Germany. She told us all about a Facebook employee who recently bought a house in Arles with the intention of an early retirement and a writing career. If only our French were any good (and there wasn't so much else to see in the world), we might just never leave.