The smell of the South

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The South of France has always captivated ordinary people and artists alike. With its enticing aromas, small winding streets and friendliness of the locals. The sight of sunburnt houses against the pure blue sky of the Provence cannot be compared to anything – it’s simply unique.

I took this picture on a very hot summer day in the open-air market of Arles, home of impressionist painters Gauguin and Van Gogh. They both lived here and painted together for a few years until their big fight, that determined Gauguin to leave and Van Gogh to cut his ear off. You can see how the southern colours influenced most of Van Gogh’s work of this period.

The open-air market is held in the square near the train station once a week and it has some of the most amazing spices stands I have ever seen. The last time that I saw something this spectacular was many years ago in Morocco, in the medina of Fez. The smell just sweeps you off your feet and all you want is to buy something and just start cooking! The incredible mix of colours and the chattering of people with the vendors they’ve known for ages bring the sandy buildings to life even on a hot day. Every Saturday morning the market transforms itself into the central point of attraction of the city, for both locals and tourists.

While in Arles I heartily recommend staying at the Hotel Constantin, a hidden gem at a 5 minutes’ walk from the roman arenas in downtown Arles. The cosy rooms painted in southern colours are big, sunny and very clean and the owner is as friendly as southern French people can get. The old building is beautifully renovated and you can really feel in the south of France while staying here. It’s the perfect place for discovering the region at a very friendly price.

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