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Following a long, slow train ride from Milan, we arrived in Nice with the mission of finding a hotel room. We consulted our usual go-to guide — Rick Steves — but found that all of his recommendations within our price range were already full. So, long story short, when left to our own devices we ended up in a small, rather seedy hotel that would definitely not make the short-list of Nice’s A-list visitors.
After dropping off our bags, we walked along the beach promenade, explored the Hotel Negresco, and then found a place in the Nice Etoile neighborhood to get a nice dinner that included the requisite Niçoise salad. The next morning, we walked up to the wonderful Marc Chagall museum, which was definitely the highlight of our visit to Nice. It is a small museum, for which Chagall specifically created 17 beautiful murals. It also featured some of his stained-glass work and an outdoor mosaic. It was a really beautiful museum.
By early afternoon, we were back on the train headed for Arles down in the Provence region of France. Arles is a 45-minute train ride from Marseille, but feels like a different world from the very industrial port city. Again, we arrived without a hotel reservation, but did have a list of recommendations from our Rick Steves guidebook. Lucky for us the first few places we visited were full, because the third (or fourth?) place was amazing and just what we were looking for. We ended up staying at Hotel Le Cloitre, which is run by a delightful couple who decorated the place themselves in a French-country-chic style that I just loved. Our room was quiet, comfortable and just the style that you would expect from the town that so inspired Van Gogh. (Arles is where Van Gogh lived for about two years, during which he painted some of his most well known pieces.)
Our two days in Arles were totally relaxing and provided a welcome break from the hurried pace of our prior week. We had a few great meals, including a wonderful lunch of tartine sandwiches at the local hangout La Cuisine de Comptoir. We also encountered another magnificent rainstorm, which we sat out with a digestif underneath the awning of Le Cafe la Nuit, which provided the inspiration for Van Gogh’s Cafe Terrace at Night painting, but is now recognized as a bit of a tourist trap in Arles. Another activity that we enjoyed in Arles was a self-guided walking tour that takes you to various spots throughout the town where Van Gogh had painted. They have these permanent easels set up with a reproduction of the painting so that you can see the current-day view next to what Van Gogh saw and drew inspiration from over 100 ears ago. Pretty cool.