Road to Travel Logo

Tips and Advise for visiting France by Road to Travel Inc.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Arles, the city of van Gogh, Picasso and Roman ruins

The beautiful city of Arles in south-eastern France is steeped in history and rich with architectural gems. Its origins can be traced back to the 7th century BC when it was a Greek settlement. During Roman times, Arles was an important centre and many well-preserved ruins remind of those glorious days. The city’s ancient amphitheatre, Roman theater, remains of the Roman circus, the Baths of Constantine and the necropolis attract many visitors today.

Roman Amphitheatre in Arles
Arles also has many buildings dating back to medieval times. On Place de la Republique you can see the Church of Saint Trophime famous for its ornate carved doorway depicting the Final Judgement and the 13th century cloisters. From the roof gallery you can admire views over the city.

Art lovers enjoy the Arles’ connection with Vincent Van Gogh. The famous artist was attracted to the city because of its exceptional light and, although, he only spent 15 months in Arles, he painted more than 300 masterpieces. Many visitors enjoy following the Van Gogh Trail to see the scenes of the artist's famous paintings that he created during his stay in the city. 

Place du Forum
Another artist who spent some time in Arles was Pablo Picasso, who came here because of the city’s Van Gogh connection and the famous bullfights in the Camargue area. In 1971, Picasso donated 57 of his paintings to the the Musée Réattu housed in a beautiful Renaissance building where they can be admired today along with a fine collection of contemporary art as well as works by Provençal artists from the 18th-19th centuries.

Fête du Costume
The relaxed Provençal atmosphere of Arles with its leafy squares and outdoor cafés is a big draw in itself. There are many great restaurants in the city serving delicious local dishes. During spring and summer Arles hosts many interesting festivals. From Easter to September “Feria Corridas” takes place with bullfighting and bloodless “course camarguaise” bull spectacles organised in the Roman arena. In July, during the festival “Fête du Costume” hundreds of locals dress up in historic costumes and children parade through the old centre with torchlights. 

Photos via Flickr by: Ming-yen Hsu, Jacqueline Poggi, Max Guitare.

The best festivals to visit in France

French festivals are known for their vibrancy and great atmosphere. No matter what time of year you decide to visit France, there is always a festival going on somewhere in the country celebrating local food, wine, historic event or cultural traditions. Here is our pick of the best festivals to get a taste of French culture.

Nice Carnival
Nice Carnival

One of the largest carnivals in the world, Nice Carnival is celebrated for 15 days and nights with parades, dances, music and fireworks. A theme is chosen every year for the main parade of colourful gigantic floats and figurines. One of the highlights is the Flower Parade during which 100,000 flowers are thrown into the crowd. The event attracts almost one million visitors to Nice every February.

The Festival of Lights, Lyon

On December 8, the residents of Lyon celebrate the Virgin Mary, whose statue overlooks the city from the Fourvière hill. Since the 19th century, they have been putting candles and lamps on their windows and balconies creating a mesmerising display of lights. In the last few decades, La Fête des Lumières has also become a celebration of light show design with international artists putting on spectacular performances that last for four days.
Pentecost Feria in Nimes
Pentecost Feria, Nîmes

Held on the fifth weekend after Easter, Feria de Pentecôte starts with a huge costumed parade and runs for five days. Apart from bull fights in the ancient Roman amphitheatre and bull runs along the city streets, expect to see stunning fireworks displays, open-air concerts and street parties. It is one of the biggest events in South France attracting almost a million visitors annually.

Chorégies d'Orange
Chorégies d’Orange

One of the oldest music festivals in France, Chorégies d’Orange takes place every July in the historic town of Orange. Live opera and classic music performances are staged in the atmospheric Roman theatre that sits 9,000 spectators and has magnificent natural acoustics. Some of the biggest international names in opera perform here, so tickets sell out very fast.

Photos by: Alessandro Baffa/Flickr, Office de Tourisme de Nîmes/Facebook, Chorégies d’Orange/Facebook.

Marseille: cafes, ancient churches and souks

The cosmopolitan city of Marseille is France's oldest and the second largest after Paris, however, it is often ignored by foreign tourists. Travellers looking for a more authentic corner of France find Marseille’s rich history and cultural diversity stunning coastal setting exciting.

The Old Port (Vieux Port) is the heart of Marseille. Founded as a Greek port in 600 BC, the vibrant harbour is a great place to spend a few hours wondering around and sample the excellent bouillabaisse fish stew, a local specialty in one of the port’s restaurants. Check out the old fish market on the east side of the harbour that is open every morning. From the port you can take a ferry to the majestic Château d'If and the dramatic Calanques cliffs.

Marseille has several splendid churches that are worth a visit. The 19th century Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde with a gilded Madonna on the top of the belfry is famous for its opulent décor with marble arches, colourful mosaic magnificent views over the city. The Basilique Saint-Victor’s foundation dates back to early Christianity and is one of the oldest buildings in Marseille.

Notre-Dame de la Garde
Often called the Champs-Élysées of Marseille, the city’s main avenue La Canebière reminds of Marseille’s great colonial trading past when local merchants built spacious Haussmannian town houses showing off their wealth. Here you will find many shops and inexpensive restaurants that are always full with locals.

Vieux Port
Le Panier city district is believed to be the oldest urban quartier in France. Explore charming narrow streets, tiny artisan shops and picturesque little squares with atmospheric cafes. Here you can pop in to the splendid arcaded 17th-century La Vieille Charité that once was the city’s poorhouse. Today it houses an excellent museum of African, Oceanic and Amerindian Arts.

To soak up the city’s multi-cultural heritage head to the Capucin district where you will find North African style souks and open-fronted shops selling ethnic food, clothes and other colourful paraphernalia. 

Photos via Flickr by: Thibault Houspic, Selden Vestrit, Jopa Elleul.