On the Trail of Van Gogh
Located in the south of France, an hour’s drive from Marseilles and alongside the Rhone, Arles is a town you really must see if you’re heading to Provence. And, if you’re also a fan of Van Gogh, you have even more reasons to rediscover the landscapes and architectures that inspired the grand master in his Post-Impressionist painting.
Arles’ Roman Past
You cannot possibly visit this town without becoming steeped in its Roman heritage. In AD 46, as a reward for having supported Julius Caesar is his struggle against Pompey, Arles was turned into the major harbour in the area, a privilege which was withdrawn from Massilia (the former Marseilles), for having mistakenly supported the opposite side. As a result, the town then lived out its age of splendour, of which several monuments have survived the test of time, some still in excellent condition. One example is the Arles Arenas, an amphitheatre built around the 1st century AD for staging gladiator combats, the most spectacular show at the time. It is still used today, as it hosts theatre plays, concerts, bullfights and courses camarguaises (a typically local type of bullfighting). The 1st-century AD Roman Theatre is another standout monument in the city. Like all Roman cities, Arles also had its forum, the centre of the community’s social, political and religious life. In addition to the nomenclature, Place du Forum, it features an underground Cryptoporticus, a network of galleries where foundations were laid and which is open to visitors, accessed via the Hôtel de la Ville.
Other Sights in the Town
The Church of St. Trophime, located in the town hall square, is a classic example of Provençal Romanesque and Gothic. Built between the 12th and 15th century, its cloister is also well worth visiting. Another interesting sight is the Alyscamps, A Roman necropolis which was taken over by the Christians and used until the end of the Middle Ages. For those interested in discovering the town’s archaeological history, we can recommend a visit to the Musée Départemental Arles Antique, which features some striking mosaics, among other things.
Arles – the Setting for Van Gogh’s Paintings
Apart from drawing tourists to its monumental heritage, Arles attracts visitors for having being one of the major settings for Van Gogh’s works. The artist’s sojourn in the town was comparatively short – from February 1888 to May 1889 – but there he was hugely prolific, producing over 200 paintings. Captivated by its light and colour, he painted it in all its guises. Curiously enough, not one of these paintings is housed in Arles, but you can still visit all the places that inspired them. We recommend getting a street map – which can be picked up in the tourist office – and letting yourself get carried away. Some of the landmarks on the Van Gogh tour are:
- The Maison Jaune (Yellow House), on the Place Lamartine;
- The “Café la Nuit” (Night Café), on the Place du Forum;
- Arles Arenas and the Alyscamps;
- Trinquetaille Bridge;
- “Starry Night Over the Rhone”;
- “The Old Mill”, on rue Mireille;
- The garden on the Boulevard des Lices;
- The garden of the hospital, known as the Espace Van Gogh (where he was admitted during his illness and where he had his ear stitched back on after cutting it off);
- The Langlois Bridge, also known as the Van Gogh Bridge.
However, Arles did not only serve as Van Gogh’s haunts. Gauguin also visited the town and painted some of its spots. It was precisely on account of an argument between the two painters that Van Gogh ended up cutting off his ear. Another genius, Picasso, also frequented Arles over a number of years. He would often go there to watch bullfighting and to visit his friends. Proof of his close ties to the town is the donation he made of fifty-seven drawings, which can be seen in the Arles Fine Arts Museum, the Musée Réattu.
Ready to take a Vueling and be dazzled by Arles?
Text by ISABELYLUIS Comunicaciónmore info
Les Calanques A Jewel on the Cusp of Marseille
The Marseillais are fortunate. Although they inhabit the second most populated city in France – after Paris – with all that entails, right on their doorstep they have a haven of peace in the form of a nature reserve which can be negotiated on foot or by kayak, and where they can swim and splash about in summer. Living with the Mediterranean lapping at your feet does have its advantages.
The spot we are referring to and which we recommend touring and experiencing first-hand is the magnificent Parc national des Calanques. This nature reserve starts at the port of Pointe Rouge, south of Marseille, and stretches for 20 kilometres along the Mediterranean coast, up to the small fishing port of Cassis. But, what secret does this area hold in store?
Les Calanques is an area of granite and limestone buttresses jutting into the sea and forming a winding coastline with deep inlets and numerous cliffs, between which nestle various coves or calanques, which the reserve takes its name from. Some of these coves can only be reached by sea. The turquoise blue of the sea strikes a marked contrast with the arid terrain, with little (stunted) or no vegetation, the result of the warm Mediterranean climate and the properties of the local soil.
Visitors to Les Calanques will enter a magnificent area, conducive to hiking in search of the picturesque coves. They will also find the perfect spot for rock climbing as it is teeming with cliff faces where the more adventurous can try out their skills on the sheer walls.
Things get even more interesting, as this nature reserve also extends out to sea, where the biodiversity lies in its waters, featuring a large number of different species. It is thus a very attractive destination for divers, too.
What to Bear In Mind When Visiting
When planning an excursion to Les Calanques, take into consideration that the area is protected, which means access is limited at different stages in the year. Summer is when it is at its most vulnerable, owing to fire hazards, so that motor vehicles are banned from the area in this season and even access on foot is controlled. So, if you are unable to visit the park in spring or autumn, the best time of year to venture into it, take into account that you have to pay to park your car and then walk in the summer sun. Remember to use sturdy footwear and to take a hat and a good water supply.
Of the many coves you will come across in this stretch of coastline, the most popular ones are Calanque de Port-Miou, Port-Pin, the Calanque d’En-Vau and Morgiou. These are closest to the town of Cassis and can be reached in the course of a pleasant walk along the coast. The larger Calanque de Sormiou is also among the most popular coves.
Be sure to also make a point of visiting Cassis and its picturesque harbour, characterised by its fishing boats and colourful houses. Painters of the calibre of Signac and Derain were understandably captivated by the light and colour of this town.
Don’t miss your own adventure to this magnificent corner of the Mediterranean – book your Vueling to Marseille here.
Text by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUISmore info
Avignon is Culture, Its Bridge Notwithstanding
No bridge seems to be as famous as the one in Avignon, the central theme of one of the best known children’s songs in France. Indeed, it has been sung in virtually all languages – local guides can even sing it in Japanese – so it comes as no surprise that anyone arriving at the battered Pont Saint-Bénézet is likely to sing the song or even dance it. This structure, twice destroyed by flooding along the Rhone, has become an icon of this Provençal city and its ambassador par excellence, earning it universal fame.
Apart from its bridge, Avignon, which is just an hour’s drive from Marseille, is a historic city, having once been the capital of Christendom and the centrepiece in one of the major schisms in the Catholic Church. Dating from that period is the formidable Papal Palace, the largest known Gothic palace. In the 14th century it witnessed a cultural and economic Renaissance that saw the arrival of bankers, artists and writers from all over Europe in a quest to be near the papal orbit – Petrarch was one of them.
But, it was not until five centuries later that Avignon again became a beacon of intellectual activity. 1947 saw the birth of the Avignon Festival, France’s longest-standing and most celebrated event devoted to theatre and the scenic arts and one of the most firmly rooted festivals in Europe. This year it runs into its 70th edition and will be held from 6 to 24 July at more than 30 venues.
A turning point in the Festival’s schedule of events came in the year 2000 when Avignon was designated the European Capital of Culture. Then ensued a cultural revival in this, the major population centre in the department of Vaucluse – set in the new region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur – as attested by the opening of the Lambert Collection – Museum of Contemporary Art, set up in 2000 around a historic endowment by the merchant and collector, Yvon Lambert. The endowment is admirable and comprehensive and features permanent exhibitions showcasing the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Sol LeWitt, Douglas Gordon and the ever-controversial photographer, Andrés Serrano, among other artists, as well as numerous temporary exhibitions.
Avignon has ten museums in all, prominent among them being the Musée du Petit Palais, with a large collection of medieval painting, the Calvet Museum, the Musée Angladon, dedicated to Impressionism, and the Musée Louis-Vouland, which specialises in the decorative arts. There is also an opera theatre, an exhibition park and some unique facilities like La FabricA, a theatre factory where various companies rehearse their performances in the run-up to the Avignon Festival.
Art is also present in Les Halles Market, endowed with a stunning vertical garden created by the artist, Patrick Blanc. This market is the ideal spot for buying fresh produce and Provençal specialities at one of their forty plus stores.
It would be amiss to end this article without recommending some of the venues for eating the tastiest food in Avignon. One is Maison de Fogasses, a splendid town palace which offers an exquisite menu of the day for around 20 euros based on locally sourced products. Another is LE 46 which specialises in French cuisine with Mediterranean flourishes.
Avignon is the perfect destination for a getaway from Marseille. Check out your flights to Marseille here.
Text by Tus Destinos
Images by Tus Destinos, Avignon-Tourisme (C.Rodde)more info
Cité Radieuse Le Corbusier In Pristine State
Marseille is full of surprises, or at least that’s the feeling you get when venturing into the city. This gateway to the Mediterranean has much more to offer than what is apparent at first sight. For starters, it has two harbours – the Vieux Port (Old Port), enclosed and fortified, a vestige of times when the coastline was invaded by pirates and hostile nations. And, the new – and larger – harbour which opens out to the sea and is a symbol of contemporary times. The elegant buildings lining the city’s streets have an unkempt, decadent yet inspiring air, while the fishing quarters smack of new trends in the guise of art galleries and cafés, and avant-garde spaces such as the MuCEM (Museum for the Civilisations of Europe and the Mediterranean) and the Villa Méditerranée, attesting to Marseille being much more than just a port city. And, in the midst of all this stands the highlight of this article, one of the works which prompts many architects to pilgrimage to Marseille –Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse.
This huge building, recently designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, together with 16 other architectural works by Le Corbusier, is one of the essential icons of modern architecture and one of the artificer’s major achievements. In this massive and equally beautiful colossus in concrete, the precursor of Brutalist art and ideologue behind architecture as we know it today successfully shaped the vertical city he had dreamed of, which he named the Unité d’habitation (Housing Unity). This was the first in a succession of similar residential buildings which were subsequently erected in Nantes-Rezé (1955), Berlin-Westend (1957), Briey (1963) and Firminy (1965).
Cité Radieuse, known locally as La Maison du Fada (The Nutter's House), is a large apartment block located in the south of Marseille on the Boulevard Michelet. It was designed in 1945 and built from 1947 to 1952. It is made up of 337 duplex apartments distributed over twelve storeys. Apart from its residential function, Le Corbusier also incorporated amenities into the design, including a commercial area on the seventh and eighth floors, gardens, a paddling pool, a gym, a theatre and a nursery on the spectacular rooftop. The edifice was built in rough-cast concrete and its standout feature are the supporting pilotis or piers, as well as the polychromed decoration on the balconies which set up a rhythm across the facade.
Most of the apartments are now private property, although sightseers are allowed to visit the common areas of the building. On the seventh and eighth floors you can see how most of the commercial units have been turned into design and architects studios. An exception to this is La Ventre de l’Architecte, a luxury restaurant affording splendid views of Marseille and the coast. The crowning touch is provided by another communal area, the rooftop, an area of surprises where architectural forms have been turned into spectacular sculptures affording views over the city. A pilot apartment can be visited as part of a guided tour, but be sure to book in advance with the Marseille Tourist Office. Those who would like to broaden their experience of the Cité Radieuse can stay overnight at the Hotel Le Corbusier, housed in the building itself.
Don’t miss the chance to visit Marseille and its architectural jewel, the Cité Radieuse. Book your Vueling here!
Text and photos by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUISmore info