The Rencontres, the largest international festival of photography in the world is reason enough to visit Arles this summer. If you are feeling adventurous, go during the Feria du Riz (early September), a rambunctious celebration marking the harvesting of the rice crop. Then too, there is the ghost of Van Gogh who produced 300 paintings the year he lived at the Yellow House (when you think of Arles, isn’t it his Café de Nuit that ravishes your mind’s eye?) and a dazzling tribute to Picasso by Christian Lacroix (a local son) at the Musée Réattu. Fiercely independent, Arles is one town in Southern France where you don’t need a degree in Russian to read a road sign or daydream at an estate agent’s window.
Best of all is the chance to stay at the Grand Hôtel Nord-Pinus. Standing sentinel in the Place du Forum, this is a hotel that wears its legend lightly. In the 50s and 60s it paid host to Picasso and Cocteau, to Callas and Chaplin, to Huston and Hemingway before drifting into a melancholy decline. It was rescued a decade or so ago by the current proprietor, Anne Igou, who has orchestrated a sublime transformation. For Mme Igou has an artist’s eye and a collector’s instinct. Everything, from the museum quality photography by Peter Beard and Peter Lindbergh to the Berber rugs and 30s armchairs is pitch perfect but thankfully not too perfect. It is a hotel for travellers, for romantics and for Nomads de Luxe, and is a glorious rebuke to corporate greige and TripAdvisor bores. It is, in other words, an Hôtel de Rêve.