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Great Days Out

“Arles be seeing you......"

LanguedocLiving, Oct 1

“Arles be seeing you……” : Picasso and Perfume on a Provençal mini break

by AA Lil

After a painless - nay and thrice nay - enjoyable train ride from Narbonne to Arles, one glorious September morning, the husband rattled our case over cobbles, past the ancient Roman amphitheatre towards the Hotel du Forum.

Following a heated debate over our exact whereabouts (some people, not me, don't deserve an iPhone if they can't even work the navigation) we stumbled upon the Place du Forum and were smacked straight in the eye by the garish yellow awning of Cafe de la Nuit. This is where Van Gogh sat on his actual oil stained bottom and quaffed absinthe until his ear dropped off.

The square is packed with cafes and bars, terraces and tables - waiters hurling themselves through gaps laden with coffees, plates of paella and colourful cocktails. Yes, it's touristy, of course. But there was a festive atmosphere and one bar that was to become our regular, served a Fig Margarita for €5 a shot.

The hotel was in the hub of things and had a more impressive entrance than our Booking.Com rate would suggest - shiny Belle Époque tiles, engraved glass and polished brass. We checked in; we found our room; I sulked about the view; we asked to change rooms; he paid the extra - as is all-customary on any minibreak. This room was huge, nothing fancy but clean, with good beds and a wonderful view of tiled rooftops with the shady oasis of a pool below.

Having spent months in small villages, albeit peaceful and pretty, a bustling town with chic shops where you can buy things - you know, actual real things other than a baguette - was a bit of a treat. Apart from marvellous souvenir emporiums draped with Starry Night T-towels, fridge magnets and mouse mats, there were boutiques, galleries, papetieres and parfumeries. One proffered a perfume called "Arlesienne" which evoked rose gardens, Provençal saffron and Fig Margaritas. Hints dropped and splattered on the Roman cobblestones like coins in a fountain.

On the first Wednesday of every month there is a brocante/vide grenier along the tree lined Boulevard des Lices. This was one such day! There were mountains of white, embroidered linens; silverware; Art Deco statuettes; 1950's posters; coins; vintage cameras and glass. There were bird tables; spanners; postcards; lanterns; books and badges. We bought a sommelier's wine tasting dish and a zinc-kitchen-tool-holder-thing.

You can also find the tourist office here, as well as Bar du Marche, an atmospheric local's bar, with the aroma of pastis and pétanque on the television.

After tea and cake - so many bars, cafes, salons de the to choose from - we had a cool swim and a hot shower (take your own luxurious toiletry produits). Then it just had to be done - an apero at the Van Gogh cafe. It was expensive, a cliche and soooo predictable, but the waiter, a contemporary of Vincent's by the look of him, was charming. Take a peek inside too, at the evocative zinc bar and velvet drapery.

We had a delicious dinner (review here) and a couple of nightcaps in the fun-filled Place, where we joined in with some open air dancing action spilling out from a bar with a DJ and a gypsy band. The Gypsy Kings are from here and Spanish guitar music is all around.

The next morning brought searing heat; a crowded bus terminal; an excursion into the Camargue and a banging hangover. But I rallied for your sakes and in the interest of research, bravely enjoyed a fabulous day out which culminated in Caiprihnas back at our hotel pool bar. Then some delicious tapas in an old, dark bistro favoured by Matadors, strewn with posters of bullfights and courses camarguaises.

In the morning there was time, before the train home, to immerse myself in Picasso drawings and Christian Lacroix (born in Arles) designs at the Musee Reassu, cloistered and crouching over the Rhone.

Arles has history, art, food, shopping, music, cocktails and romance. We were smitten. I have to admit to a bit of a moistening of the eye as the train lurched away. When a pink, cellophane wrapped box of L'Occitane "Arlesienne" was whipped out and placed in front of me, it turned to full on slobbering sobs.

As romantic mementos go, this was better than an ear any day.

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