We continued our adventures in the south of France by heading down to Arles. We were all pretty excited to visit – we would be spending the whole day there and there was a lot of variety to what we would be doing.
Here was our itinerary:
- Fondation Vincent Van Gogh and possibly a walk around the city seeing where Van Gogh painted.
- Arles Amphitheatre
- Baths of Constantine
- Théâtre Antique d’Arles
- La Camargue aux arènes
Fondation Vincent Van Gogh
We started off by going to the tourist office to see if we could get a map of all the Van Gogh sites (something I had read on a blog during all of our preparation for our trip). While we were able to get other information, including a general map of the city, we were unable to find any sort of Van Gogh art walk map. It was very busy when we went, so there’s always a chance we just missed it. We did see however that there are walking Van Gogh tours held throughout the day. We weren’t able to go on one this time, but if we ever go back, I think it would definitely be interesting!
We then headed to the museum where there was a special Van Gogh exhibit going on. The museum had a total of 31 of Van Gogh’s work on display, 29 that they had temporarily borrowed from other museums. The exhibit was nice. My favorite was his self portrait. There were many of his paintings that I had never seen before, which was really cool. However, we had gone to d’Orsay in Paris earlier this summer and had seen a number of Van Gogh’s there as well and I do think that between the two museums, I prefered d’Orsay. Still worth a visit though if you’re a Van Gogh fan (especially when they had so many of his paintings there all at the same time).
After the museum, we headed to lunch and on the way, we stumbled across the cafe Van Gogh had painted in 1888 (Cafe Terrace at Night). It was really neat seeing a place that the artist had actually painted. Of course it looked a bit different today, but it is definitely still recognizable! There was a little sign there that showed the painting and gave information about it.
After lunch, we headed to the amphitheatre. It was built in 90 AD and could seat 20,000 spectators! Nowadays all sort of events are held there, including bullfights, horse shows, and concerts in the summer.
For now, we planned on just walking around and checking out the arena. Later that evening we would see a show. The arena was similar to the Colosseum in Rome, but slightly smaller. We were able to take our stroller in just fine and enjoyed walking around.
Baths of Constantine
From the amphitheatre, we continued our walk to the Baths of Constantine. These were ancient Roman public bath houses dating back to the 4th century.
This was not quite as stroller friendly and at this point Adeline was napping, so Aaron and I took turns checking it out with London. It’s a very short visit, something that only requires a half hour or so to fully visit. London enjoyed looking around with Aaron first while he told her all about the history and then she took me around and told me everything that she remembered Daddy telling her. It was pretty cute. We all enjoyed exploring the ruins and it was a nice quick, little stop.
Théâtre Antique d’Arles
Nearby was the theatre so headed over there next. The theatre (link in French) was built in the 1st century and could hold around 10,000 spectators.
This was another quick-ish stop. There’s a video that plays on a loop (in French with subtitles) on the lawn and then one can walk around the site as well. We were there about an hour but honestly, our kids got held up by a sprinkler that was going off in the grass, or else we probably would have been there for half as much time.
Today different concerts and events are held at the theatre.
La Camargue aux Arènes
We then grabbed a quick bite to eat for dinner (sandwiches) and ate them on our way to the Camargue show in the amphitheatre.
The show started at 5:30pm, but we got there early to try and get a seat in the shade (it was so hot that day!).
The show started off with the herdsmen (and women) riding the horses and showed off Arle’s culture with not only their horsemanship, but also with their dress and music. Our youngest really loves animals and was so excited to see the horses.
In the middle of the show, there was a “course camarguaise” (bull games). This includes razeteurs, men dressed in white, trying to pluck a ribbon off the back of the bull. The bull’s horns are tipped and rarely does anyone ever get hurt (the bull is never, ever killed).
The camargue bull is raised in the Camargue Reserve south of Arles and is bred solely for these bull games. Each game lasts 15 minutes and each bull participates in 6 or 7 games a year with several weeks break in between each. They retire around age 14 and then spend the rest of their days peacefully with their herd in the Camargue. After their death, they’re buried upright with their head facing the sea with a commemorative gravestone.
It was definitely a neat event, especially as the razeteurs would skillfully jump the walls and it was nice knowing that the bulls were well treated and not harmed. That said, it still got a bit hard to watch at times as the bull seemed a little stressed by the end of it. We really, really love animals though so maybe I was a little over sensitive to it.
After the bull games, the horses were brought back out along with several bulls as the herdsmen herded them along in almost a dance-like movement. It was all very graceful and beautiful to watch.
I believe the whole show was an hour and a half. Overall, we all enjoyed it. The girls were both captivated by all the animals and it was a unique experience that we got to have inside an ancient Roman arena. I also liked seeing more of the traditional southern French culture that was displayed throughout the show.
Even though it was the girls’ bedtime by the time we got out of the show, we had to stop at this little whimsical carousel on our way back to the car. 😉
Arles was a great place to spend the day. I felt like there was something for everyone and there was definitely more we could have done if we had been there longer.