The South of France is essentially what Pinterest lives and breathes for: picturesque beaches, quaint buildings, and colorful flora. It is peaceful & beautiful, but what intrigued me most was its connection to art. After visiting several villages & cities in the region, it's not hard to see why so many creatives are drawn there.
During my weekend in the South of France, we visited Montpellier, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Aigues-Mortes, Collioure, and Arles. Arles was by far my favorite, simply for the fact that it is a muse for major artists, including Vincent van Gogh.
We started the tour by visiting several locations in Spain, but continued across the border to France, where we made our way to lively Montpellier. We were on a guided tour for the weekend, so we hadn’t planned to do much, thinking that the tour guides would take care of all of the planning. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much planned for Montpellier, a city that I was very much looking forward to visiting; we had limited time there and only had an opportunity to scope out the nightlife. We did get to have an excellent glass of wine – what the South of France is so famous for! – and I got to tick that box off of my bucket list. We really just used Montpellier as a base for travel, leaving each day to explore a new, smaller city and coming back each night to stay in the hotel (which had A/C!).
Our first stop was the quaint town of Aigues-Mortes, which apparently means “dead waters,” and it actually ended up being much more pleasant than its name. It was an old fortified city, surrounded by stone walls and containing cobbled streets, unique architecture, and some cute shops. We didn’t spend much time in Aigues-Mortes before we were off to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.
Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is a small village situated right on the Mediterranean. We had lunch at a small restaurant and while I don’t remember what I ate, I do remember sitting under an umbrella looking out at crystal blue waters. We only had enough time in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer for lunch before we headed to my absolute favorite. Yes, Arles.
Arles is what I expected when thinking of the South of France. It had modern aspects but kept its old charm, with antiquated structures and clapboard shutters on older buildings. I was so intrigued by Arles, and now I understand why it captures the eye of artists from all over the world.
My favorite thing in Arles was visiting the locations of several of van Gogh’s works, including Bedroom in Arles, Hospital in Arles, and Café Terrace at Night. Café Terrace at Night is my all-time favorite van Gogh piece, and being able to stand in the exact place where it was painted was such a surreal moment that I’ll never forget. Later in the day I was able to purchase a print of the painting, which is currently hanging in my bedroom in a frame made by my uncle. I know, I’m super sentimental. ;)
Many paintings by van Gogh were based on areas in & around Arles both because of its muse status and for the fact that he stayed in a hospital in the city to be tended to post-ear incident. We got to visit the exact hospital where he stayed and based many of his paintings on. Super cool moment.
After we visited Arles, we had a night in Montpellier during which I had an entire glass of wine spilled on my pants by a passerby (luckily they were dark colored so you couldn’t see, but seriously, such a waste of good wine!). The next day we headed back on our way to Barcelona, but made a stop in Collioure. Collioure ended up being a close second to my number one spot, Arles, for our trip through the South of France. It’s a smaller coastal city, but had a ton of life. There was a festival occurring during our visit so we got a little bit of extra culture & excitement. I even got to try my first bite of quinoa in this town! I’m a little sheltered, yes. We spent the majority of this day laying in the sun, soaking in the Mediterranean, and wandering the streets admiring the crafts. It was the perfect ending to a whirlwind trip in France.
I was able to take this amazing tour of the South of France through International Studies Abroad (ISA), my education abroad organization. One of the many perks of international study is the ease of international travel. If you're interested in studying, interning, or volunteering abroad, check out their website here.
Hi, I'm Madeline
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