17 Jul Arles in the frame
For the first time ever, I joined everyone who is anyone in photography in Arles for the 2022 edition of Les Rencontres d’Arles – an annual event in July which takes place on the edge of the Camargue, in the south of France. It lasts all week, but I was only there for three days.
Not only did I discover engaging art (in particular by Noemi Goudal and the late Bettina Grossman) and provocative art (Arthur Jafa at the LUMA Arles arts centre) but also a town that was after my own heart – walkable, friendly, with good food and beautiful limestone buildings.
I believe that good food correlates with good art and good design – all three are made by the mind, the heart and the hands, and all three use matter to transform the world.
So here are some of my discoveries in Arles, with some better known than others:
L’Arlatan – a colourful design star
A room at Hotel L’Arlatan was slightly hors mon budget (out of my budget). For a cheaper way of taking in the surroundings, I went for a drink at the Cocktail Bar, where I was lucky enough to find a seat outside in the Courtyard. Here, I gazed up at the sky, feeling cosseted and protected by the centuries-old limestone facades, with a glass of Camargue rosé and a grignotage of local-chickpea humous and smoked sardines on toast.
The interiors of this boutique hotel near the central Place du Forum are designed by Cuban-born artist Jose Pardo. Colour, intrigue and texture are everywhere. I was particularly taken by the iconic 3D-printed lights made out seaweed, and a few other ingredients, no doubt.
L’Épicerie Moderne – good food
The food was so good at L’Épicerie Moderne, a restaurant-cum-grocery store in the Roquette neighbourhood, that I ate here twice.
For lunch, remember to book as there is only one sitting. It’s an upstairs-downstairs restaurant, with the chef upstairs in a kitchen with windows overlooking the Place Paul Doumer– one of my favourite spots in Arles The menu changes weekly.
I also came away with an olive spread, paté de taureau (sounds so much better than ‘bull paté), and a bottle of Les Gardians beer, a local rice beer named after the riders who herd the bulls and horses in the Camargue.
LUMA Arles – art & food
I dropped in at LUMA Arles on all three days of my visit to Arles. There was so much to see: an exhibition by Ghanaian-born photographer James Barnor, the Dior Photography & Visual Arts Award for Young Talent, Arthur Jafa‘s ‘Live Evil’ exhibition, and a show by Indigenous artist Sky Hopkina. Only James Barnor was part of the official Rencontres d’Arles programme.
LUMA Arles is also about food. The ice-cream that I had in the Terraces des Forges (see photo below) was supreme…. a mix of apple and almond milk sorbets with a ginger syrup.
The gardens designed by Bas Smets (the Belgian landscape architect appointed to work on Notre-Dame in Paris) were also awe inspiring, but with temperatures hovering around 35 degrees, I darted from the shade of one building to that of another building.
Actes Sud-Le Hammam
Local publisher Actes Sud has a bookshop and cinema in Arles, part of the Passage du Méjan, a cultural centre off a street that runs along the banks of the river Rhône,
Here you can also find the Hammam Chiffa where, with outside temperatures close to 35 degrees C, I built up an even bigger sweat one afternoon, followed by a body scrub and a 45-minute massage, all for €70. What did I learn? A hammam is the perfect antidote for hot weather, as well as for stress.
Naïs for accessories
Just off the Place du Forum – the main square for meeting and drinking, and where I would frequent the Bar Le Tambourin – is Nais, a small jewellery and accessories shop.
The shop is named after its creator, Anaïs, who was born in the mountains but has found her home on the plains of Arles.
Naïs is an excellent place for the “single strategically chosen accessory … worn one at a time”, as Vanessa Friedman writes in The New York Times about how not to look like a tourist in France.
For my ‘single pieces’, I bought: a pair of big gold loop earrings with petrol-blue glass beads and a white lacquered leaf broach.
Other places to go in Arles
You can reach everywhere in Arles by foot. All the places below are in the historic centre, apart from the pétanque, which is just outside the city walls.
- Cuit Cuit for classic bistro fare. I had beef brochette provençal with homemade chips and salad. A friendly place that moves to the rhythm of the music played.
- Le Petit Bar à Thym – I was heading here for a takeaway sandwich, made with homemade sourdough. I never got there as I forgot to put in the ‘petit’ for my online search.
- Le Petit Arles – a super small walk-in café for crêpes, coffee, juices and salad lunches, just off the Place du Forum. Very friendly and lots of organic stuff, with small tables in the street outside.
- Gaudina – off the Place Paul Doumer in La Roquette district.
- Boulangerie Patisserie Poudevigne – I had a coffee and raspberry millefeuille one morning. One of the best bakeries in Arles, off the Place du Forum.
- Biocoop Arlete – an organic co-operative supermarket on the other side of the road from LUMA Arles. Biocoop is my go-to place in any French city. They also stock plenty of local produce – so Camargue rice and beer.
- Play pétanque under the trees by the banks of the river Rhône in the Place, just off the Place Lamartine. I was lucky to be invited to play in a local team during the Les Recontres opening evening. Such fun.
For next time in Arles
I never made it to Chardon. This restaurant, famous for its chefs-in-residence, is only open Thursdays to Mondays.
And a few more tempting addresses from Provence, a guide by Les Éditions Papier:
- Le Colláteral – a dream bed & breakfast with four rooms in La Roquette district.
- La Chassagnette – a Michelin-starred restaurant 20 minutes-drive south of Arles, in the Camargue.
The main picture is of the exhibition at Les Rencontres d’Arles by Sanne de Wilde and Bénédicte Kurzen. It took place at the Foundation Manuel Rivera-Ortiz in Arles.