With its sun-kissed golden stone, small-town feel and splendid setting on the east bank of the Rhône, Arles ranks high among southern France’s loveliest cities. It’s also one of the oldest, with the extraordinary Roman amphitheatre at its heart, Les Arènes, simply the most famous of several magnificent monuments. Originally a Celtic settlement, Arles later became the Roman capital of Gaul, Britain and Spain. For centuries, the port of Arles prospered from trade up the Rhône, especially when enemies blockaded its eternal rival, Marseille. Decline set in with the arrival of the railways, however, and the town where Van Gogh spent a lonely and miserable period in the late nineteenth century was itself inward-looking and depressed.

Thankfully, however, Arles today is pleasantly laidback – at its liveliest on Saturdays, when Camargue farmers come in for the weekly market – and a delightful place simply to stroll around. Its compact central core, tucked into a ninety-degree curve in the river, is small enough to cross on foot in a few minutes. While ancient ruins are scattered everywhere, the heart of the Roman city, the place du Forum, remains the hub of popular life. Medieval Arles, on the other hand, centred on what’s now the place de la République, the pedestrianized site of both the Cathédrale St-Trophime and the Hôtel de Ville. The one area where the city’s former walls have survived lies to the east, in a quiet and attractive little corner. Sadly, the riverfront, once teeming with bars and bistros, was heavily damaged during World War II.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

France features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

The best places to go in spring

The best places to go in spring

Springtime is beautiful, with its big blue skies and flowers in bloom, so there may be no better time to travel. If you're thinking about getting away, here are…

14 Feb 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
20 fantastically romantic places

20 fantastically romantic places

Whether you're looking for a beautiful beach to share a sundowner on, or you want to get lost in each other amongst the bustle of a city, these are the best pl…

09 Feb 2017 • Tim Chester camera_alt Gallery
26 awe-inspiring architectural wonders

26 awe-inspiring architectural wonders

From ancient temples to hyper-modern skyscrapers, these are just a few of the world's most incredible architectural wonders. Whether you're looking to wander l…

01 Feb 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month