The Provençal town of Arles sits on the banks of the River Rhône southwest of Avignon and is placed firmly on the tourist trail for its UNESCO-listed Roman ruins, Romanesque cathedral, one of the biggest Saturday produce markets in France and for being the latter-day home of tortured artist Vincent Van Gogh. He arrived in Arles in February 1888 and fell in love with both the town and its rural environs, painting its historic center and spectacular landscapes repeatedly. Some of his most famous works were among the 180 he produced during this time, including Starry Night, several versions of The Sunflowers and The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night. Sadly this prolific period did not continue and he soon succumbed to mental illness; following a fracas with his fellow artist Paul Gauguin on Dec. 24, 1888, Van Gogh lopped off his ear and was hospitalized in the 16th-century Hôtel-Dieu-Saint-Espirit. By May 1889, he was recuperating in the Monastère St Paul-de-Mausole in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, before he eventually died in Auvers-sur-Oise in July 1890.
During his time at the Hôtel-Dieu-Saint-Espirit, Van Gogh painted its beautiful courtyard twice; it has now been restored to match the layout seen in his masterly Garden of the Hospital in Arles and is a place of quiet contemplation for visitors. Although there are no original Van Goghs displayed here, there are frequent art exhibitions in the cloisters and a souvenir shop selling his prints. The gardens form part of a Van Gogh-themed walking tour of Arles, which links all the places he made famous in his paintings.
Place du Docteur Félix Rey, Arles. Admission free at any time. Arles is 45 minutes’ drive southwest of Avignon.