Arles is actually located in the Bouche du Rhone department in the region of PACA (Provence alpes cotes d’Azur), just to the east of Occitanie. It is just a hop skip and jump away though, and the detour is well worth your time. Just over the imaginary border is the city of Arles. It is about a 25 minute drive from the lovely city of Nimes, which is in Occitanie and also has a fantastic roman amphitheatre. The city of Arles is famous for many things, not least of all some of Van Gogh’s most inspired paintings, such as the café terrasse at night. We came for the photos though.
The Rencontres d’Arles is an annual summer photography festival founded in 1970 by the Arles photographer Lucien Clergue, the writer Michel Tournier and the historian Jean-Maurice Rouquette.
The festival has an international reputation, and it is known for showing works not previously seen by the public.
The exhibitions take place in various historic sites throughout the city, as well as some unlikely spots such as above a supermarket. Certain venues and museums are open to the public during the festival. We visited during the ‘weekend du patrimoine‘. This is a nation wide event where many buildings, usually not open to the public, allow visitors. In addition to the two simultaneous events we arrived late on a Saturday morning when the market was in full swing. This was not a great idea. Driving around Arles is not a blast for outsiders, to say the least. Once the market packed up and the city centre streets were unblocked we began to enjoy our stay. This was our second visit to Arles and also to the photography festival.
The Rencontres d’Arles has launched the careers of numerous photographers, confirming its significance as a mecca for photography and contemporary creativity.
This year’s highlights (for me) were a retrospective of the works of Sabine Weiss, who at 97 has amassed quite a collection. We also enjoyed the Black Vanguard, an exhibition celebrating young black photographers linking fashion and photography and Jazz Power, retracing twenty years of photos from Jazz Magazine, a contemplative collection evoking an era than preceded me and fills me with nostalgia anyway.
Maya Hoffmann, the art collector, patron of the arts, producer and impresario created the Luma Foundation in her native Switzerland in 2004, which is dedicated to supporting contemporary artistic creation in the domains of photography, visual arts documentary films and multimedia. She also launched the LUMA Arles project at the Parc des Ateliers in 2013 , which is a creative campus offering artists new perspectives for creation, collaboration and exhibitions.
Considered as a production tool for the multiple initiatives launched by Maja Hoffmann, the LUMA Foundation produces, supports, and funds artistic projects that aim to deepen the understanding of issues related to the environment, human rights, education, and culture.
Through exhibitions, conferences, live performances, architecture and design, thinkers, artists, researchers, and scientists question the relationships between art, culture, environment, education, and research.
The tower, designed by Frank Gehry is the most prominent feature at Luma Arles. His tower is not without critics but that seems to be true of all great architectural feats.
Frank Gehry, is a Canadian American architect is known for various works including the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao. His private residence in Santa Monica California jumped started his career. He is also responsible for designing the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle and the Cinémathèque in Paris.
The Tower along with the old factories from the 19th-century industrial heritage blend together in harmony.
The Belgian landscaper Bas Smets designed the gardens which cover seven hectares, including 500 new trees and a lagoon. His challenge was to transform the area into a luxurious urban park without damaging the many archaeological remains still present underground.A vast concrete platform devoid of vegetation was covered with fertile soil, transforming the once flat area and eventually creating a dune like landscape. This asymmetry provides shade during the summer and protection from the strong winds during the winter.
I have never been during the winter but during both of my visits to Arles I enjoyed lovely balmy summer days which turned breezy at night. Arles is a beautiful and interesting city harbouring a wealth of culture and history. At 32 kilometres to the east of Nîmes, an unmissable stop on any tour of Occitanie, you could and should consider going during the summer to catch les rencontres d’Arles and LUMA.
We stayed at Hotel Porte de Camargue, www.portecamargue.com a very short walk to all the action. If you go on a weekend, parking is free from 15h00 on Saturday and all day Sunday. We parked right outside the hotel and found the rooms clean and comfortable and breakfast far better than expected. The culinary discovery of the evening was La Gallery Bistro, 19 rue Tour de Fabre which we both liked a lot. Live music, good and fast service and just far enough away from the place du Forum.
I hope that you have enjoyed this post! Follow me to keep up with me on my travels around beautiful Occitanie ( and our closest neighbours 😉 )
A bientôt …………..Christina