Yes, I have to admit it. I have considered committing treason. Against my town. I know, I know but at times, Arles can be a bit too rough around the edges, the folks a little too cold. So it can be tempting to look around--especially as we are thinking of leaving our lovely rental.
My friend Sonny wisely made the case that Arles--home to bullfights galore, bordering the austere Camargue with its roaming cowboys, filled with black-eyed beauties--is more Mediterranean and specifically more Spanish than other towns in the region. On the other side of the Alpilles, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is softer, welcoming in the true Provençal style. And certainly more elegant.
It has been the epicentre of wealth and style since Caroline of Monaco came to live a "normal life" here in the eighties, transforming what was once a sleepy village into one filled with bistros and art galleries. Interior design shops offer a bevy of beautiful objects far more exciting than in rustic Arles--such as the atelier of Caroline Ferri, who reupholsters Louis XV chairs in velvets and hand-painted silks.
Isn't this exactly what you imagine Provence looks like? Fountains, such as this one celebrating hometown boy gone scary, Nostradamus, dot small squares. Shadows ark and trace the bendy mish mash of architecture, with 17th and 20th pressed up against one another like strangers at a dance.
It is a town for strolling and lollygagging. Café sitting and wishful thinking. Where the charm might seem a bit syrupy in the bulge of the summer high season but merely a touch sweet at any other point in the year. We weren't alone. I watched the faces of those around us, looking up and out instead of at their feet and with couples displaying a far greater percentage of hand-holding than is ever seen in these parts. Remi and I actually came to St-Rémy the very first week that we met, so naturally I have a soft spot for it as well, sentimental as I am.
What is constantly amazing to me in Provence is that it is still affordable to live here, if that is what interests you. Now, I am not saying that you can have all of this lushness on your terms. No, not necessarily. For example, the idea of buying in St-Rémy remains elusive to our dwindling budget. To rent, however, remains entirely possible. We visited two properties. One with wavy, aged windows that unfortunately opened on to the main parking lot for 640 Euros per month and a charming village house with a tiny but private terrace for 825. I must say we were tempted. By its secret entryway just off of our favorite square, its generous proportions. Less so by the lack of light but it was something to consider. Especially after the estate agent called to tell us that the price had been lowered to 800.
But something is holding us back. Arles, the elusiveness of it. It's incredibly frustrating but wonderful somehow. Do you know Bizet's opera "L'Arlesienne"? Yes, the beautiful girl that you desire after who always remains just out of reach...