Tour France; Exploring the Arles Outdoor Markets

Provence is known for its laissez-faire attitude, excellent food, and vivid, beautiful landscape. And all of this is captured perfectly in the enormous outdoor market of Arles, France!

The Arles Colisseum was built shortly after Rome's- you can see the inspiration!

The Arles Colisseum was built shortly after Rome’s- you can see the inspiration!

Saturday morning, Bliss Travels and our guests made our way over to Arles, a UNESCO World Heritage site best known for its Roman ruins (it was Julius Caesar’s favorite French town!) and stunningly preserved colosseum.

It is also the town where van Gogh famously lopped off his ear and painted one of his most well known pieces, the Cafe Terrace at Night. The cafe is still working to this day- we stopped and had drinks to cool off!

"Cafe Terrace at Night" by Vincent van Gogh, 1888.

“Cafe Terrace at Night” by Vincent van Gogh, 1888.

However, on Saturdays these beautiful ruins and even van Gogh‘s tumultuous history are overshadowed by the sprawling market that runs through the two main streets of town. Locals from around the Luberon region flock to this market, the largest around, to buy all manner of things. Mounds of burgundy cherries are sold next to blocks of homemade nougat and wheels of cheese that can weigh up to 60 pounds. Baskets of clucking chickens were stacked next to vats of black olives and woks of fresh Paella that three or four people could fit on!

After strolling through this gorgeous feast, we picked out our favorite foods–fresh forest strawberries (frais du bois), local goat cheeses, brioches, slabs of ham, spit roasted pork, a few bottles of wine, ‘donut’ peaches….amongst many other things!–and headed to a park surrounded by Roman ruins for the picnic of the decade! What a way to tour France.

Every ingredient is so fresh...it's hard to buy just one of anything.

Every ingredient is so fresh…it’s hard to buy just one of anything.

Under the trees, we shared a beautiful day surrounded by good company, piles of delicious treats and centuries of history. What a day- and what a life! Provence is pure Bliss.

A bientot-

Bliss Travels

Everything is fresh, and everyone is happy!

Everything is fresh, and everyone is happy!

Local cheeses were everywhere. Our mouths were watering from a booth away.

Local cheeses were everywhere. Our mouths were watering from a booth away.

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Vincent van Gogh’s Provence

One of several self-portraits van Gogh painted in Provence.

One of several self-portraits van Gogh painted in Provence.

The Bliss Travels trip to Provence is coming up soon, and it is one of our favorites. The untamed, easy beauty of the region is like no other in the world. Something about the rolling lavender fields, the ancient stone villages, and the smell of pure sunshine just diminishes your worries and makes your stresses seem silly.

The lavender fields of Provence smell as beautiful as they look!

The lavender fields of Provence smell as beautiful as they look!

It really is no wonder that Vincent van Gogh escaped here from the hustle and bustle of life in Paris. In February 1888, the painter moved to Arles, one of the larger towns in the area, to work on his fragile health and to rid himself of the ever-increasing modernity in the cities—the same reason his friend and fellow painter Gauguin left. For a while it even soothed his artistic needs—he had been surrounded by too much gray in the city for an artist whose very essence relied on vivid colors, used with the utmost intention. In Provence, the colors he saw in his head were reflected by nature.

(I sometimes think we give the Impressionists and other revolutionary painters of this time too much credit. Though their work is gorgeous, they did not need to strain themselves much to paint it—the south of France really does have that incredible brilliance to it!)

It was during this time that van Gogh’s inspiration struck. In 15 months, he created over 300 paintings in his “Yellow House” and the sanatorium he lived in after suffering a mental breakdown (culminating with a fight with fellow artist Gauguin and the infamous lop of his ear). This sanatorium can actually still be visited, as Bliss does regularly, and maintains a lovely flower garden similar to the one van Gogh took flowers from to paint.

"The Evening Cafe" looks the same today!

“The Evening Cafe” looks the same today!

Arles was the location of many of his most famous works, in fact, such as “Starry Night”, “The Evening Café” (seen here), “The Hospital Garden”, and “Trinquetaille Bridge”. Many of his floral and landscape pieces are from the time period as well, since he did not know many people to act as models in the new town (and those who saw his unconventional pieces were quite hesitant to be a part of them!)

For even more incredible examples of van Gogh’s work, click here.

It is incredible to think of all that was accomplished for art in such a sleepy town (that Bliss is lucky enough to visit each summer.) Not much has changed since van Gogh’s time there—Arles is still built around stunning Roman ruins, filled with markets and friendly folk, homemade olive oil and soap shops, warm terracotta roofs and lavender wooden shutters, and a deep, innate respect for the beauty of the land itself.

One of the most popular parts of Bliss’ French tours are our picnics out in olive tree orchards. The cicadas chirp lazily—a sound the region is never without—as we snack on typical Provencal food like figs, fresh fruit, and baguettes with locally made goat cheeses and tapenade. Sitting in the dappled sunlight, everything feels easy and utterly timeless, as if van Gogh is just beyond the trees, bringing us a tarte Tatin from his favorite bakery. Provence has an ageless beauty that connects old and new seamlessly.

Poppies and olive trees, some of the signature foliage of Provence.

Poppies and olive trees, some of the signature foliage of Provence.

One would hope that van Gogh had found as much inner peace in Provence as he did artistic inspiration.  Though sadly that wasn’t the case, we do know that he was in awe of the vivacity of the region. Now it is our turn to love it as much as he did! Come with us to experience his life in a completely unique way.

See you there!

Bliss Travels