A marvellous menu in Arles
The Hedonist: What to see and where to be seen
Trains run direct from Marseilles airport – and it only takes 40 minutes to get right into the heart of Arles – so we arrive unfashionably early. Happily, we'd already bagged one of the 13 incredibly covetable rooms at the Hotel Particular on 4 Rue de la Monnaie (00 33 4 90 52 51 40; hotel-particulier.com), an urban mansion in the heart of the city. It's an aristocratic townhouse with four-poster beds, gilt-framed mirrors and rooms in cooling white combined with communal areas imbued with a subtle Moroccan vibe.
Time flashes by and soon it's time to head to l'Ouvre Boite (00 33 6 32 41 60 58) a tapas bar on Rue du Cloître where dishes start at €4-6 for inventive combinations such as pêche trompette, courgette and ponzu sauce. The crowd are young and hungry for some night-time distraction. We get chatting to a group who take us to Cargo de Nuit at 7-9 Avenue Sadi Carnot (00 33 4 90 49 55 99; cargodenuit.com) where the DJs soon have us throwing all kinds of shapes (good and bad).
Next morning, with blistered heels and dry contact lenses still in my now bloodshot eyes, I could have lounged in the courtyard around the Hotel Particular's shady, intimate pool all day. But alas, my companion wanted to get out and see the town. After a coffee and a croissant at the Café d'Autrefois on Rue de la liberté (00 33 4 90 52 25 53; cafedautrefois.com), I'd perked up enough to do some exploring.
You can't ignore the artistic history of the place. Both Van Gogh and Picasso loved Arles, and Picasso loved bull-fighting, so we take a peek at the ring that he and Françoise Gilot used to frequent. It stands bang in the centre and still – controversially – hosts bull fights.
Less bloodthirsty is the Saturday morning market. We quickly loose ourselves in a sea of traders selling Provençal and Moroccan goods – including hordes of perfumed tomatoes. The aroma of garlicky tellines (teeny-tiny baby clams) wafts our way, thrust in our faces by the scoop, but we're aware of a feast waiting for us at lunch so we save our appetites.
Lunch hour approaching, we jump in a cab and set off for the legendary Bistro du Paradou at 57 Avenue de la Vallée des Baux (00 33 4 90 54 32 70), a local institution set in the tiny village of Paradou, a 15-minute drive out of Arles. This bistro has seen a lot over the years – Jean Reno threw his wedding breakfast here, and there's often a whole host of celebrities dotted about the dining room. The pared-down food is Provençal simplicity at its best – warm home-baked bread and olive oil from the local vineyards. The starter of little fillets of red mullet is swiftly followed by Agneau du Pays, a rosemary-scented local lamb dish, and one of the largest cheese boards I had ever seen. We take dessert outside into the sunshine and manage to find room for a delicate tarte aux framboises.
Back in Arles, we stumble upon an artisanal chocolate shop from the Provence-based company Puyricard at 54 Rue de la République (00 33 4 90 93 46; chocolaterie.puyricard.fr) and buy a box of truffles, then just one more to check they are as good as we remember. They are.
Stuffed, we opt for a light dinner at Le Gibolin on 13 Rue des Porcelet (00 33 4 88 65 43 14), a tiny restaurant hidden up a back street with only a handful of tables. Wine is the main focus here, and the owner Brigitte will match your glass to your food – a fragrant honeyed white accompanied our creamy burrata cheese, with white figs and crusty bread.
It would be rude not to take a pastis or two afterwards at the Hôtel du Nord (00 33 4 90 93 44 44; nord-pinus.com) on Place du Forum, with its art-focused, fashion-conscious crowd. So we sit outside, opposite Le Café la Nuit, made famous by Van Gogh, and watch the bustling square.
A Hedonist's Guide to ... (Hg2) is a luxury city guide series for the more decadent traveller. For more information, see hg2.com
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