724km (450 miles) S of Paris; 35km (22 miles) SW of Avignon; 89km (55 miles) NW of Marseille
On the banks of the Rhône River, Arles (pop. 53,000) attracts art lovers, archaeologists, and historians. To the delight of visitors, many of the vistas van Gogh painted remain luminously present today. Here the artist was even inspired to paint his own bedroom (“Bedroom in Arles,” 1888).
Julius Caesar established a Roman colony here in the 1st century. Constantine the Great named Arles the second capital of his empire in a.d. 306, when it was known as “the little Rome of the Gauls.” The city was incorporated into France in 1481.
Arles’s ancient streets are not as pristinely preserved as, say, Avignon’s, but are stunningly raw instead, with excellent restaurants and summer festivals to boot. Its position on the river makes it a gateway to the Camargue, giving the town a healthy dose of Spanish and gypsy influence.