Determined to cover a lot of ground in one day, our first full day began downstairs in François’ enormous and very tastefully decorated kitchen/dining room, with a spread of croissants, bread, butter and his own homemade jam and confitures.
I am pretty fussy with breakfasts and generally like to start the day with something healthy that will keep me going until lunch, but when you’re in France (and most parts of Europe) and faced with the most delicious croissants and sour cherry jam, you just have to get on with it and embrace the weirdness of having a sugar-high before 9.30am.
Chatting with François over our breakfast, we learnt that he and his wife own two properties in Arles; the one we were staying in was the ‘winter’ house and they have another just outside of the busy part of town which they stay in during summer to avoid the crowds. He is also a farmer, with a wheat and maize farm in the countryside. He was a fascinating and lovely man, not to mention his amazing taste and sense of style – we loved his home and attention-to-detail throughout – and I admitted to Ross that I actually had a bit of a crush on him.
He also gave us lots of advice on what exhibitions to see, so armed with our festival brochures and Ross’ unlimited knowledge about obscure photographers, we set off.
I’m the first to admit that I don’t know a whole heap about photography. But the beauty about the Arles festival is that all the exhibitions are displayed in loads of gorgeous and historic buildings, so while you are visiting the exhibitions, you are inadvertently seeing the whole city.
We walked and saw a lot, and – determined not to forget about the cardinal rule of getting lunch between 12 and 2pm when on the continent – eventually settled into a super cute restaurant, which had a simple but perfect menu written on a chalkboard outside (Le Comptoir des Porcelets).
Ross took about 3 seconds to choose the steak tartare and red wine, while I took 3.5 to decide on the burrata and rosé. After our meals, feeling happy and full, we resumed our photography viewing.
It would be remiss of me not to mention some of the highlights, and I had two favourites. The first was the perfectly-displayed and curated Camarguais Western exhibition in the Église Des Frères Prêcheurs (see photo above, with the cowboy on his horse). Surprisingly, some of the earliest Westerns were shot in the Camargue, turning the Rhône Delta into the set of many early 20th-century films.
My second favourite was a smaller exhibition featuring the work of Sid Grossman. His photos were mostly taken in and around his native New York City. Some of the most interesting photos for me were the ones he took at Coney Island in the 1940s. Blurry, busy and full of movement, they were really full of life and portrayed the colourful characters who bathed and relaxed at Coney Island.
I really enjoyed my education in photography, and loved seeing lots of exhibitions in lovely old churches and crumbling buildings, but after about 6 hours of photography, I’d had enough. I left Ross to browse the rest of the exhibitions on his hit-list while I lay under a tree in the shade and waited for him.
I gave up shortly after taking this photo
He eventually finished up and we wandered back to the B&B, for another little rest and some cheese and wine at home before dinner. After a few hours, we headed out to find the pizza place our host had recommended. It was a bit of a wait to get a table so we pulled up a pew in a nearby wine bar.
The square we ate in was filled with tourists, locals, children and dogs, and was buzzing with life. Having timed our visit with two cultural festivals, I think we saw a really lively and fun side to Arles. Despite being very small and completely walkable, it is a beautiful place with loads of charm and lots to see.
After ordering a couple of pizzas and finishing the meal with some mandatory limoncello, we headed home for our final sleep in lovely Arles.