Arles Stories and Tips

Vincent and the Doctor in Arles

Arles City Gate  Photo, Arles, France

Like millions of others, I really love the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh. I'm also a huge long-time fan of the British TV series Doctor Who. We originally picked Arles as a side trip because of its Roman-era sites and association with Van Gogh. But I was especially happy when I was reminded that this town was also the setting for a Doctor Who episode where the Doctor and his companion Amy visit Van Gogh in the late 19th century.

In the show, the Doctor and Amy meet Vincent in the Night Cafe, which also happens to be the subject of one of Vincent's famous paintings. I only remembered this when we happened across a postcard of the "Night Cafe" painting in a souvenir shop in Arles. (Okay, so we didn't really plan this trip very much and had decided last minute to make the side excursion here.)

My wife could see my eyes light up when I realized what the postcard meant. Yes! We could visit the location of a Doctor Who episode along with the site of a Van Gogh painting. So even though we only had about 20 minutes to get back to the train station, and we hadn't done very well matching up the narrow streets of Arles with our crappy tourist map, we had to try to see the Night Cafe. Fortunately, it was pretty much directly on our way and we found it without much trouble and were happy to take a couple photographs. The only disappointment was that Vincent painted the cafe by night (of course) and we were there in the daytime, and of course we had no time to stop and actually eat or drink there.

The Doctor Who episode ties in with several more of Van Gogh's paintings, such as his Sunflower series, some of which he did in Arles, and The Church at Auvers. However the painted church, while it plays a big part in the plot, is not in Arles.

But there are plenty more paintings that Van Gogh did make in Arles and it is really easy to at least walk by the same location now. One of the more famous ones is "Starry Night over the Rhone", painted in 1888 and on display in the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. No, it isn't his most famous "Starry Night" --- that one was done a little later. But "Starry Night over the Rhone" is also a masterpiece, and we walked along the Rhone river on our way back to the train station, passing by the approximate location where it was painted. In the same vicinity was the house he rented and painted as his "Yellow House" and containing the "Bedroom in Arles", but that house has been torn down since being bombed during WW II. Assuming you visit the Arles Amphitheatre, you'll also be visiting the site of another of his paintings. You can also visit the hospital where Van Gogh was taken after famously cutting off his ear, which is also the site of some of his artwork.

Central Arles is a very compact town, and all the above sites are within a few minutes walk of each other. The tourism agency is supposed to have a walking guide to the sites, but since we visited on Sunday, the offices were closed and we weren't able to obtain any such guide. It really was cool to say we've seen the site where these various world-famous paintings were set and is a large part of the fun of experiencing Arles. Getting to see a locale also associated with a Doctor Who episode was grand icing on the cake!

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