The Grand Hôtel Nord-Pinus, in the Provençal town of Arles, is a favourite haunt of writers, artists and matadors, when there's a bullfight in the town's vast Roman arena. Guests who've graced the green-shuttered, artfully ramshackle mansion include Picasso, Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, Paul Klee and local boy Christian Lacroix, who described the Nord-Pinus as a "temple of high society and bullfighters". Owned in its glorious post-war heyday by a tightrope walker, on his death in the Sixties, his wife was so distraught she let the hotel gradually fall into disrepair. It was snapped up by its present owner in 1987 and revamped with respect for the old wrought iron features and the Provençal furniture.

The Nord-Pinus attracts all sorts of Voguish types, but it's anything but pretentious – Arles just isn't that kind of town.


The Grand Hôtel Nord-Pinus is at Place du Forum, 13200 Arles (00 33 4 90 93 44 44, The four-storey building dominates the Place du Forum, the town's most animated square, spread with colourful sun-shades and filled with piped music by local heroes The Gypsy Kings, or the odd busker duplicating their rhythms.

The town's main sights are within easy walking distance: the arena, the Romanesque St Trophime church and the remains of a Roman theatre.

Time to International airport: The hotel is 30 minutes from Nîmes-Garon airport by car or taxi (around 300Fr – £28). Alternatively, take the shuttle bus from the airport (28Fr/£2.70) to Nîmes.


The beds are the size of a small country. Our thick-matressed territory was so wide that we couldn't decide which way to lie. The cream walls and canvas curtains add to the sense of coolness and calm. Perhaps the most sensuous experience awaits in the bathroom, where the rough-edged, creamy marble tiles are soothing to the eye and delightfully cooling to the naked foot.


Singles cost from £75 a night, doubles from £82. A suite with a balcony overlooking the square will set you back £170. Breakfast – a regal spread served on the terrace – is an extra £8, and use of the garage is £5.

I'm not paying that: try the Hotel Calendal, 22 Place Pomme (00 33 4 90 96 11 89, where rooms, some overlooking the garden, start at £30.