Distance from Paris: 4 hours south by train
I’ll begin my account of Arles by saying that I am not an Art Person, much in the way that I am not, say, a Wine Person, or a Running-As-A-Form-Of-Stress-Relief Person. Arles is celebrated as a place that inspired some of history’s most famous artists, including Picasso and especially Van Gogh, who spent his most disturbingly creative spree here during 1888 and 1889, firing off nearly 200 paintings, pausing only to slice off an ear.
Today, Arles is outfitted with cute little signposts in various spots where Van Gogh and other artists painted their better-known works. No need to pay for a tour guide — you can take yourself on a leisurely walking tour for zero monies by following this route. It’s like a treasure hunt around the town, and when you find everything you can go get drinks, and if you decide at any point to give up you can also go get drinks. A friend and I picked up olives and artichokes and good French bread (you will always be able to find a perfect crusty baguette for a euro or less, it is the law) and settled in on a spot overlooking the Rhone where Van Gogh had worked on “Starry Night,” and you don’t have to be an Art Person to get on board with that.
If it’s hot out, you can retreat underground to the Cryptoporticus, the network of ancient Greek tunnels underneath the forum. Or take a jeep safari in the Camargue — marshlands where you can spot wild horses, bulls, and, because why not, flamingos. If it’s summertime and you’re getting across this part of the country by car, which you should be, try to swing through Sault (a little under two hours away) for what we may confidently argue are the world’s best lavender fields. There’s also a famous parfumerie a little farther east where you can make your own signature scent. Mine came out horribly, but perhaps you will do better.