A Donkey Near Arles

Sunflowers near Arles

After Jo arrived back from London and Kris jumped on a plane to London, Jo and I packed a bag with warmish clothing and set the GPS for the Provence area in the south of France. Rather than flash down the motorway we opted for the back roads, meandering our way much like the Rhone River does as it finds its way through the fertile valleys south-east of Switzerland to the Mediterranean Sea. 

The first day of our drive was wet and peaceful, punctuated by small, sleepy villages with smokey chimneys and the many roundabouts that ensure that motor vehicles are kept separated and heading in the right direction. The beauty of roundabouts in unfamiliar country is that if you miss your turn-off road you can keep going around until it comes up again. I must admit to needing to do that more than once.

In the rain the composition and beauty of the surrounding terrain remained completely hidden to us. Still we took advantage of the time in the car (between patisserie and coffee stops) to share creative ideas and projects that we would like to play with in the coming months.

As the day began to give way to evening we reached a bridge over the Rhone and the walled parapets of the ancient city of Avignon glowed warmly in the cooling light. It was an impressive way to finish the day and lifted our excitement level to one of eagerness to explore after a fairly sedentary few hours of driving. While looking for some accommodation we accidentally got into the wrong lane and found ourselves in the middle of peak hour traffic inside the city walls and eventually locked down in one-way cobbled streets before escaping to the safety of an Ibis car park.

The poetry of darkness came without too much warning but the street lights gave us enough time to wander aimlessly between rows of buildings centuries old and experience some of the character that exudes here for the 12,000 (out of a total of 95,000) inhabitants that still maintain a lifestyle inside the village walls on a daily basis.

Early next morning we drove the perimeter of the village wall for a few happy snaps before aiming the GPS for Arles via the 'B' roads. There were moments when I thought that the voice inside the GPS had spent the night sampling a little too much of the local product. His direction seemed amiss. But when we turned into a narrow country road about five minutes west of Arles, the beauty that Vincent Van Gogh found down in this part of the world some 120 years earlier became clearly obvious. To our left was a beautiful Mediterranean styled farmhouse complete with green vines and pencil pines, and between the road and the house was a field of ragged grass and dead sunflowers, which added to the picturesque nature of the farm buildings framed by the pale blue skyline. Such perfect light and composition.

Inspired and raving about this impressive piece of landscape we were even more moved when we turned the next corner to be met by a shepherd and his flock of goats stirring up a dusty trail across the faint light of morning. And this is where we met 'The Donkey of Arles', when he stopped and smiled for the lens before heading of with his long-horned goatie mates across a a fallow field towards the waiting sun and greener pastures.

Fuelled by this experience, the village of Arles managed to compound our uplifted emotions. To sit in the cafe of Vincent's 'The Cafe at Night, Place de Forum', drinking coffee was a magical moment for both of us. To walk in the gardens of the hospital made famous by Vincent's stay and consequent paintings was special as was our foray inside the still standing Roman coliseum and amphitheatre structures, bringing forward a taste of life from 90 AD.
The hospital garden at Arles

From Arles we drove towards Saint-Remy and up into the hills to the medieval stronghold of Gordes which is now a haven for artists and artisans. Here they paint the sunrises and sunsets over the blue-tipped fields of Provence much like their famous predecessors satisfied their creative urges and supplied the world with a much sought after taste for this unique colour and light.



  1. Once again your photographs and words have inspired me Rob. Looks absolutely beautiful! It would have been so amazing to share that trip with Jo, especially because you are both such art lovers, you would appreciate the area even more. Hope everything is going great. Keep up the blog posts, I love your stories!

    Much love xx

  2. I too sat in the beautiful Van Gogh cafe in Arles a few years back, and was filled with such choking emotion; to be in the presence of such an icon, and one of his greatest works was very humbling.
    Great entry Rob.


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