After spending a month in Paris followed by a month in Arles, I have a pretty good feeling about these amazing, yet completely different, cities.
When most people think of France, Paris is what comes to mind. It is appropriately nicknamed “Europe’s capital city” and has the crowds to go along with the title. The museums hold the greatest collection of artwork in the world. If you want to see Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa or the Venice de Milo, you go to Paris.
Arles, pronounced with a pirate sounding ‘r’ and without the ‘s’, is a city located in southern France in the region of Provence. It is located 18 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea along the Rhone River.
It may seem a little strange comparing a city with over 2.2 million people and housing much of the world’s greatest artwork to a city that has a population of only 53,000 people and is hard to find on the map. Yet, during my one-month stay in each, I prefer Arles.
Arles does not have world famous art museums, but was the inspiration for world famous art. In the winter of 1888, artist Vincent van Gogh left Paris for the sunshine and inspiration of Arles. During his 2-year stay, he fell in love with the town and painted over 300 paintings, including his most famous works, Starry Night Over the Rhone, Café Terrace at Night, and Little Yellow House. Arles was also the town where van Gogh cut off his ear after a heated argument with fellow artist, Paul Gauguin.
From the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame, Paris is filled with iconic structures; places that people are willing to wait hours in line just to visit. Visiting these buildings and structures are on most people’s bucket lists, and rightly so. They are an experience you will never forget.
The Romans were in both cities over 2000 years ago, but little remains of their time in Paris. In Arles, the streets are lined with ancient Roman buildings, much of it still in use today. From a massive arena that could hold 20,000 cheering Romans, which is still used for bullfights, to Les Alyscamps, which is said to have been one of the most famous necropolises of the ancient world. Arles is steeped in Roman and medieval history and the whole city feels like a museum.
During the winter months in Arles you can often find yourself the only visitor inside the amazing historical sites. This gives you a chance to absorb the historical importance of your surroundings without the distraction of other tourists, something that you will never have in Paris, no matter what time of year.
Paris is immense. Walking everywhere is generally not an option, but fortunately Paris has its cheap Metro that can quickly take you anywhere within the city. Unfortunately, taking the Metro everywhere takes you underground where you miss much of the experiences of the city. The sheer size of Paris can often leave you feeling overwhelmed and exhausted at the end of each day of your visit.
The small size of Arles makes it feel very comfortable and welcoming. Walking within the city is easy, as long as you don’t get lost amongst its narrow, labyrinthine streets. You can walk to most places within 15 minutes and there is always something new and interesting to be found around every corner.
Paris is world renown for having some of the best chefs and can offer an amazing dining experience. You can have multi course meals lasting hours or simply sit at a café enjoying a cup of coffee while watching the people stroll by.
Arles has small cafes where you can taste the flavors of Provence. The food of Provence is a fusion of French, Spanish, and Italian food. From ratatouille to paella the food is fresh and local and usually at prices considerably cheaper than Paris.
If you are planning a trip to France and want the full experience, then visit both Paris and Arles. Visit Paris for its grand boulevards, iconic structures, and artwork and Arles for everything else. You won’t be disappointed.