If like us, you are pressed for time, it is possible to do a quick walking tour of Arles. Obviously the experience is a little superficial but it is better than passing up the opportunity altogether.
We parked our hire car at the ‘Parking du Centre’ along the Boulevard des Lices. As the name suggests, the multi-storey car park is very central and is one of the best places for accessing the old quarter.
We made our way to the tourist office just down the road (exit the car park, turn left and walk for about five minutes) and picked up a map of the town. The old town in Arles is very compact and mostly flat so walking is easy although the narrow roads mean that you have to jump out of the way of local vehicles every so often. I would definitely recommend against trying to drive into the old town yourself. If you don’t get lost there’s the greater danger of getting stuck!
We entered by way of Rue Jean Jaures which leads to the Place de la Republique. The small plaza is a gathering place of sorts, mostly for newly arrived tourists (like us) trying to quickly get their bearings. An obelisk sits in the centre of the square surrounded by a clear pool of water. The monument was originally erected during Roman times but fell into ruin in the sixth century. It wasn’t until the late 1300s that the obelisk was rediscovered and even then it took almost another three hundred years for it to be re-instated at its current location. The pool and fountains weren’t added until much later, in the nineteenth century.
Overlooking the obelisk is the Town Hall but the building that draws everyone’s eye here is the Church of St. Trophime. The exquisite portal dates from the 12th century and its preservation is as incredible as that of the Amphitheatre. The two main doors, each with three beautiful branching iron braces are surrounded by some of the finest stonework in the city. The theme is the Last Judgment, with the condemned being dragged off to hell on one side and the righteous being delivered to heaven on the other. Below them, a row of apostles and saints guard the wooden doors.
From here, we walked up to Rue de la Calade and headed east to see the Roman Theatre and just beyond that, the Amphitheatre.
After touring the amphitheatre we walked around it from the outside and along Rue Porte de Laure, which leads down into the Jardin d’Enfants. This small, lush park is popular with picnic-ing students but is a great lunch stop if you prefer to pick up a baguette in town. There was also a shop at the west end of the park selling ice cream, which I have a feeling does brisk business all year round.
Walking back towards the Place de la Republique we wandered west along Rue de la Republique to check out the restaurants. There was a small scattering of cafes and pizzerias but none of them took our fancy. Just off of this road is the ‘Espace Van Gogh’ – the hospital where Van Gogh was taken after his famous ear slicing incident. We didn’t make it here unfortunately but anyone on the artist trail should.
We turned off here and headed north on Rue Frederic Mistral and then right on Rue Balzac, turning left onto Rue du Palais and finally stopping for lunch at Place du Forum.