Arles You For It or Arles You Not?
Volume XXI, Issue 18
If you read yesterday’s Nouvellettre®, then you learned a bit about the Provençal town of Arles that maybe you didn’t know before…but it wouldn’t have been enough to help you decide if the city was a great place to live in France…or not.
Arles is located in the south of France and is a subprefecture in the Bouches-du-Rhône department of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. The city has a long history and was an important part of the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis. It is the largest commune in Metropolitan France in terms of geographic territory due to the fact that a large part of the Camargue, the largest wetlands in France, is located within its territory. The city has a population of slightly over 50,000 and an area of 758.93 km2. The settlement was originally known as Arelate, meaning ‘by the marsh’ or ‘in front of the marsh.’
Arles has a rich cultural scene with various organizations and events celebrating the arts. The Rencontres d’Arles photography festival is a major event held annually, attracting photographers, curators, and art enthusiasts from all over the world. The French national school of photography is also located in Arles, making it a hub for photographic education and development.
The southern light in this area has attracted numerous artists such as Pablo Picasso and Paul Gauguin, however, artist Van Gogh put Arles on the proverbial map. He lived in Arles for just 15 months, but it was the most thrilling period of the painter’s life. A stroll around his haunts reveals the city through his eyes. When he arrived by train from Paris on February 18, 1888, it was a revelation. He loved how the light was so brilliant, even in the middle of winter…what a contrast to the grayness of northern Europe.
He wrote to his brother, Theo, on March 18th, 1888: “The Zouaves, the brothels, the adorable little Arlésiennes going to their First Communion, the priest in his surplice, who looks like a dangerous rhinoceros, the people drinking absinthe, all seem to me creatures from another world.”
Despite the brevity of Van Gogh’s time in Arles, his artistic output was tremendously productive. During this brief period, his style and approach matured, and he created more than 300 paintings and drawings. Even today, his influence can be felt throughout the city.
From the Roman era until the late 15th century, Arles was home to a notable Jewish community, as it was believed to be a refuge for Jewish exiles from Judaea after the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans, according to a local legend. However, the earliest documented evidence of Jews in Arles dates back to the 5th-century when a well-established community already existed in the city. Located in a strategic location, Arles served as a crucial Jewish crossroads, being a port city and in close proximity to both Spain and the rest of Europe. The city played a significant role in the work of the Hachmei Provence, a group of renowned Jewish scholars, translators, and philosophers who were central to Judaism throughout the Middle Ages.
Arles boasts various transportation options for travelers. The Gare d’Arles railway station serves as a hub for connections to Avignon, Nîmes, Marseille, Paris, Bordeaux, and other regional destinations. Although there is no commercial airport in Arles, visitors can easily access the region’s airports, particularly the major international Marseille Provence airport, which is about an hour’s drive away. In addition, Arles is conveniently located along the A54 autoroute toll motorway, a part of the European route E80, that connects Salon-de-Provence to Nîmes, providing easy access to the town.
All this is great information about Arles, but what’s it really like as a French city fit for North Americans?
First off, property is very inexpensive. The average price of an apartment is about 2,250€ per square meter. The average in the entire Bouches-du-Rhône is about 3,160€ per square meter. For houses, the average is about 2,950€ per square meter compared to the Bouches-du-Rhône with about 3,900€ per square meter. (Source) Compare this with the price of property in all of France: from 1,460€ to 4,830€ per square meter on average. In neighboring Aix-en-Provence, prices range from 3,980€ to 5,860€ per square meter.
Arles has a population of about 53,000, compared to Avignon with 92,000 and Aix-en-Provence with 142,700. City populations matter because with increased population comes more available medical care and more amenities. When you live in a small city or village, you must be fully aware that less is readily available. For those where this is important, it might be wiser to choose larger metropolitan areas.
To get to Arles by train from Paris, one must take a minimum of two trains (one change in Marseille or another city) with a minimum of 3 hours 35 minutes. Nice to Arles is about the same story. By comparison, the train is direct from Paris to Avignon or Aix-en-Provence and takes about 3 hours. And to Nice, it’s about the same story from both of those cities.
According to Erieri.com,the cost of living in Arles is 3% less than the national average based on accumulating the cost of food, transportation, health services, rent, utilities, taxes, and miscellaneous.
Arles is technically part of Provence, but the Occitanie is literally steps away, putting it in easy driving distance to other great towns such as Nîmes, Pont du Gard and Uzès, and to Montpellier in the other direction.
When asked if Arles is a great place to live, one blogger wrote:
“It is an incredible place to live. There is always something going on culturally, so it has an incredibly vibrant energy that is missing in the ‘summer only’ expat towns in the Luberon. Plus, there is such amazing light, the power of the Rhone River rolling by and living amidst 2000-year-old incredible Roman monuments.”
My personal viewpoint is that while Arles could be just as wonderful a town in which to “hang your hat,” there are others in the area that might be better choices for North Americans interested in retiring to France, that offer a larger American and international community, easier transportation access and more amenities…but no doubt, Arles is one of France’s most beautiful small cities with an impressive history into which you can really “sink your teeth.”
The Adrian Leeds Group®
P.S. Have books you want to divest of? Have books you want to buy at a bargain? Check out the fundraising BIG BOOK SALE of English-language books May 11-14:
A 4-day Anglo Community Fund-raising Event
Books by the Bag Sale, Silent Auction, Homemade Cookies
Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday
May 11-14, 2:30-6:30 p.m.
At Bill & Rosa’s Book Room
42, rue du Chemin Vert
Boulogne (100 steps from M° )
For more details visit the FUSAC website.