Pictured: The dazzling Frank Gehry building in Arles that’s inspired by Van Gogh’s Starry Night

Vincent Van Gogh loved the light in Provence so much that he moved to Arles in the south of France in 1888 for the most important years of his short life. So the new building, which reflects the glorious light, made Arles a center of contemporary art how fittingly.

Called Luma, it was designed by Frank Gehry, famous for his Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, who was inspired by Van Gogh’s famous painting The Starry Night.

At the long-awaited opening last summer, 600 art and architecture majors, including names like Norman Foster, put on the Michelin-starred bull tataki, heralded by a roar of applause, and heartfelt praise for this creation, by Hoffmann-La Roche. Pharmaceutical heiress Maja Hoffmann, who was raised in the area.

Luma, above, in Arles was designed by Frank Gehry, who was inspired by Van Gogh's famous painting, The Starry Night.

Luma, above, in Arles was designed by Frank Gehry, who was inspired by Van Gogh’s famous painting, The Starry Night.

Gehry says his Luma design was influenced not only by The Starry Night (above) but by Arles' Unesco-listed Roman heritage as well.

Gehry says his Luma design was influenced not only by The Starry Night (above) but by Arles’ Unesco-listed Roman heritage as well.

And it’s quite a sight: a ten-storey tower made of 11,000 bits of stainless steel panels, glass and concrete covering a £150m ‘creative campus’ in a former railway yard.

Inside, with a double helix staircase, and a large exhibition space for regularly changing art displays, is equally impressive. And the view from the top of Arles and the Camargue countryside is worth the visit alone.

Gehry said that he was influenced by both Van Gogh and the Roman heritage of the UNESCO city in his design, but I was surprised by the space that is unlikely to be respected: the walls placed in the lift hall are made of local salt glass, and. The soundboard in the bar was created using biographies from Van Gogh’s beloved sunflowers.

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The creation of Luma has allowed small art galleries to flourish.

One of them is Galerie Huit, in a 17th-century inn restored by Brit Julia de Bierre, which doubles as the most modern B&B in town.

Julia, who specializes in avant-garde photography, said, ‘It’s amazing. ‘Many creative people settle here. There used to be five rooms, now there are 50.

And thanks to the new flow of art lovers, local restaurants have raised their game, with several excellent options including the family-run Le Criquet; New Camargue Social Club, wine bar serving delicious tapas, locally sourced; and L’Arlatan in Hôtel à Arles, now owned by Maja Hoffmann.

However, art in Arles was inevitably overshadowed by Van Gogh, who, in his creativity, produced dozens of his famous works in the city, including Café Terrace At Night.

He wrote to his brother Theo: ‘It often seems to me that the night is more lively and colorful than the day.

Luma is a ten-story tower made of 11,000 twisted stainless steel plates, glass and concrete.

Luma is a ten-story tower made of 11,000 twisted stainless steel plates, glass and concrete.

Travel facts

Ryanair Stansted to Marseille return flights from £34 (ryanair.com). The train from Marseille to Arles takes about an hour. Double room at Hotel Jules César from £156 per night B&B (hotel-julescesar.fr). Entry to Luma (luma.org) is free, but you must subscribe. For more information: arlestourisme.com/e.

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The cafe that inspired the painting also exists — on the Place du Forum. But my guide, Elodie, explained that although the cafe is now yellow to resemble Van Gogh’s painting, it used to be white – but the color was distorted by the gas street lights.

Arles is where the famous artist cut off his ears, and nearby is the 16th century hospital where he was later taken. Built around the courtyard, which Van Gogh painted, is now the Espace Van Gogh, a lively cultural center.

But surprisingly, only one of his works is shown in the city – at the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh, a gallery created by Maja’s father, Luc Hoffmann, which holds pictures of important contemporary artists and temporarily borrows Van Goghs from other collections.

My hotel, Jules César, just down the street from Luma, is ideally placed to explore the city. Built around a 17th century Carmelite church, recently renovated by local boy, fashion designer Christian Lacroix.

It is on the Boulevard des Lices, the main street of Arles, which on Saturdays is the place for the largest market in Provence, more than a mile long.

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In a party atmosphere, the big shops have everything from pumpkins, glitter to hair clippers.

Arles is an important Roman city (famous for its impressive ancient museum) and across the Boulevard des Lices is an ancient theater, built during the reign of Augustus.

It once held 7,000 people and, although its stone has been quarried to build local houses over the centuries, it still lives for performances – including, fittingly, an annual film festival of sword-and-sandal epics.

Nearby is a remarkably well-preserved arena where warriors used to fight. It is one of the largest in the Roman world and became a small town, consisting of hundreds of houses, since the fall of Rome until recently the 19th century.

Van Gogh painted a crowd at the battle in the stadium in 1888, and the bullfight still happens there during the festival – both to the death and in a local way, like disturbing the bulls, when men dressed in white run to avoid them, no. Always successful.

The festival saw women dressed in the traditional Alsace costume of long dresses and shawls, which Van Gogh admired. “Great line. . . Bright colors and admirable faces. Rather less intimidating, the Camargue bulls, or guardians, can be seen riding their famous gray-white horses around town, like something out of the Wild West.

Arles is like that: a mixture of authentic antiquity, tradition – and modernity.


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