We had a drive of 750 km from Cadouin in the Dordogne where we had spent a week with friends to Roquebrune Cap Martin near Monaco where we planned to stay for another couple of weeks. Arles seemed like a great place to break the drive for a night; we had never been to Arles and imagined a restful stroll of an evening and morning through its charming streets and viewing its Roman ruins. So we booked the Best Western Hotel Atrium right in the center of Arles months in advance. What we didn’t do is check the calendar. It turns out that Saturday evening September 10 was the Festival du Riz which celebrates the end of the bull fighting season and is the busiest day of the year drawing both tourists and locals to the festivities.
We got into town at about 4 pm and cars were jammed helter skelter into every bit of available pavement; they were straddling medians, parked on berms, tucked into cul de sacs. The streets were filled with pedestrians walking into the center. Most central streets were blocked off by police and barricades so our GPS was guiding us where we could not go. We had no idea how to find the hotel whether we would be able to park if we did. Total chaos. We finally pulled into a little cul de sac and I left the car to seek help. Two lovely young women one of whom spoke English offered to get in our car and guide us and did — taking us through a circuitous back route to our hotel. Such a gracious generous lovely thing to do for a couple of total strangers in a panic.
The hotel clerk assured us that while their parking was full up, that she could suggest street parking that would be available, so we loaded our luggage (we had lots, it was a 10 week trip in several different climates) into our room and then set off with her map. About a mile from the hotel across the river after winding through streets with cars parked everywhere, we happened upon someone pulling out of a space. We grabbed the spot and with a sigh of relief walked back to the hotel and were set for the evening.
The hotel rooms were dinky and basic, but the location could not be better for a visit to Arles. We set out to see the town and find dinner and literally a block away found ourselves at the street set up for the running of the bulls which was scheduled at the moment we arrived.
We found spots on the fence and waited for the show to begin. First there were riders on horseback who were designated escorts for the bulls.
And after a few minutes of the riders parading back and forth the first of the bulls arrived.
Accompanying and chasing the bulls were young men from Arles who ‘bravely’ tangled with the poor frightened creatures. In addition to the horseback riders, the young people were protected by leather covers on the horns of the bulls.
After the running of the bulls we continued into town to check out the colosseum and find dinner. The streets were crowded with partiers.
The great Arles Arena was beautiful in the moonlight.
The restaurants were all offering special menus for the festival and we wandered around the beautiful streets of the town looking for a good place to eat.
We finally settled on a restaurant that had set up tables in an alley and was selling paella as well as a variety of other festival foods including bull from the fight the night before. (or so they said)
We had the paella; our neighbors at the table were eating the bull. The people at the table were welcoming, the food was really terrifically good and it was a really fun way to spend the evening.
After dinner we wandered back through the town to the hotel stopping at the Hotel DeVille and Cathedral square where a huge rhythm band was performing. The participants were obviously having a wonderful time and they were generously pulling kids who came to watch into the dancing. The tents were for vendors of wines and foods of the region; we came back the next morning and bought a bottle of wine as a gift for the woman looking after the place in Roquebrune.
The next morning after a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, we took a stroll through the town. First we headed up to the Arena and on the way came across the ancient Roman amphitheater; it was blocked off so we didn’t spend time there.
Lots of interesting detail on doors and windows and even modern graffiti along the way.
There was a bullfight scheduled in the Arena so we couldn’t go in; it was a beautiful day for wandering through the town.
Here is a shot of the bleachers from outside the Arena.
We then decided to look for the old Roman baths that were said to be down by the river and so headed that way.
Here we are at the old town walls near the Rhone.
Here is a shot of the river with access for cars and boats for locals. There is a walking path along the river and high walls to keep it out of the town.
We strolled along the river as these folks were doing.
Here are the houses built facing the river.
Near the river are the old Roman bath ruins which are open for touring for a fee.
This is one of the pools and the vaulted room that once covered it.
Remnants of the heating system and plumbing remain.
After the baths we headed back up to the town square with the Hotel DeVille
and the Cathedral before heading back to get on the road to Roquebrune.
In one of the side chapels of the Cathedral a family was preparing for a Baptism of their infant
And in another dedicated to St. John Paul II there was a reliquary holding a drop of his blood.
In spite of our initial horror at finding the town filled to the brim with cars and tourists, it ended up being the wonderful stop on the trip that we had hoped for.
As we headed back to fetch our car and get loaded up for the trip on to the Riviera we came across a carrousel that was adapted to celebrate the festival of the bulls in September in Arles.