Grand Hotel Nord-Pinus

Arles, Provence, France Book from

Reviewed by Tom Bell
The echoes of great artists and writers linger in this simple yet spectacular hotel
A unique hotel with a big heart. In the 50s and 60s this was the place to be seen. Picasso lived here and Hemingway, Cocteau, Fritz Lang and John Houston were regulars, as were the great bullfighters of the 20th century, who came to fight in the amphitheatre and had their own magnificent room (unchanged but for the addition of a picture of a naked Charlotte Rampling posing in front of the room’s madly gilded mirror). The hotel was owned by Nello, a clown (he rode a tiny bicycle while telling jokes), and Germaine, a cabaret singer. It remains a place of pilgrimage, and while we were staying at least 5 couples walked in to take a look.

Come for the salon and bar, the leather armchairs, the massive mirrors, and the incredible collection of giant posters advertising the ferías of Spain. It's impossible to accurately describe the joy of it all (some may wonder what all the fuss is about), but if the spirit in these words touches your heart and your imagination, then you’re an old romantic and you’ll love it.

Highs

  • The bar and salon, both of which echo a wonderful history
  • The Bullfighter’s Room, madly grand for 1950 and pretty much unchanged
  • The spirit of the hotel: hard to match
  • The people who work here, who do so with gentleness
  • The location: right on one of Arles' pretty central squares, which allows easy walking to the Roman ruins and some great restaurants

Lows

  • The hotel's restaurant only has a very limited menu, but there are plenty of other eateries within walking distance
  • If you want contemporary designer bedrooms or the latest fashion, look elsewhere
  • The lower-priced rooms are fairly simple, and some might say overpriced; but they're comfortable, clean and not to be sniffed at. Some may find the colour scheme rather dark
  • Negotiating the surrounding narrow streets by car can be tricky
  • Breakfast is not cheap, but you can grab a croissant and coffee on the square if you prefer

Best time to go

Arles is beautiful all year round, but Easter is magical. Come in spring or autumn to see migrating birds in the Camargue, or in summer for local festivals. The international photography festival takes place during July-September.

Our top tips

If you are driving, it's best to book a space in the hotel's garage well in advance; or failing that park outside the old town - for example, by the Tourist Information Centre, which is well signed.

If you fancy a 15-course gourmet blow-out, book (again, well in advance) at Atelier Rabanel, where 2 Michelin * chef Jean-Luc Rabanel will wow you with his delicate 'artwork' - you would almost think he prepared them using tweezers - and stunning taste combinations. Lighter dinners are also available.

Great for...

Family
Honeymoon
Wedding
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 26
  • Restaurant + bar
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Bicycles Available
Room:

Rooms

Local bells chime at night, lulling you to sleep. There are Standard Rooms, Superior Rooms, Deluxe Rooms and an apartment. A couple of the Deluxe Rooms on the top floor are newly designed, the only real changes the hotel has seen in 40 years. They are delightful and super-comfortable, one with a private terrace overlooking the glorious rooftops of Arles, but somehow you want the old rooms even if they’re a little less luxurious.

Some rooms are resplendent with chandeliers and rugs, perhaps hand-embroidered chairs, stencilled red curtains, golden shutters and bowls of fruit. The Standard Rooms are utterly acceptable: small, but not too small, with cast-iron ornamental bedheads, black-and-white photographs and LCD TVs.

As for the huge Bullfighter’s Room (a Deluxe), with its rich armchairs and crystal chandelier, it's like sleeping in a piece of history, a worm hole back in time. Of all its grand fixtures and fittings - and the gilded mirror is ecstatically over the top - what caught our eye were the old black-and-white photos on the walls of Picasso and the great matadors, Dominguin and Ordoñez. In one, Dominguin, naked above the waist, lights a cigarette, an explosion of light that illuminates his face - an incredible photo of pent-up power, which makes you think of Robert de Niro in Taxi Driver. The room sums itself up perfectly in its cavernous and defiantly old-fashioned bathroom. Around the bath a tile had cracked and nothing had yet been done to repair it, but who could possibly care when you have French windows in the same room that open onto a private balcony overlooking Place du Forum? The temptation to step out after a bath and yawn and gaze and dry one's hair is hard to resist. If you have ever wanted to splash out on a room, this is one for the wish list, even if it is twin-bedded.

Features include:

  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Phone
  • Tv
  • WiFi

Eating

The dining room always has an exhibition of photographs on the walls. The hotel hosts the International Photographic Festival in the summer, and Arles is now home to the National School of Photography. You can have breakfast (not included in rates) here, but it’s much more fun to have it in the salon, sinking into one of the leather armchairs, stooping forward to ineptly butter your croissant, or on the terrace in the sun. You can either go continental with freshly squeezed orange juice, a piece of fruit and a basket of croissants and baguettes with jams, or fill up American-style with cornflakes, eggs any way you want them, and hams and cheese.

In 2014, the hotel opened a restaurant and bar, which we're yet to visit. The menu features very French dishes, such as omelette and foie-gras.

Mas de la Chassagnette just outside town is the only Michelin-starred organic restaurant in Europe. It has received rave reviews (you must book ahead) for the 'poetic' fare harvested from its 320-acre farm. Cilantro on the far side of the amphitheatre was excellent - very interesting flavours with a contemporary slant. Le Charcuterie is very close and offers great French food in a simple room; Monsieur handles his guests with an easy smile and always has time for a chat. L’Austruche is very imaginative and has no fixed menu; whatever is good at market in the morning is bought and cooked for your plate in the evening. If you want simple bistro food you'll find it all over town.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Restaurant
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Room service
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Arles is fabulous, wonderfully shabby and all the more beautiful for it. Follow your nose and you’ll find something delightful

  • The amphitheatre is 1,600 years old and utterly mesmerising. It's open daily and is undergoing a partial restoration. Bullfights and ferías are held at Easter and in the second weekend of September

  • Wander round the ruins of the Roman theatre (which is also in the midst of a partial restoration). In summer there's an extensive programme of performances: old and new, music, dance, theatre, the lot

  • The church of Sainte Trophime in Place de la République is worth a visit for its carved stone door and extremely pretty cloisters, both of which date from the 12th century

  • Arles is the last town of any size through which the Rhone flows. You can walk along it, in the town or in the country, or take cruises on the water

  • The market is on Wednesday and Saturday mornings

  • Arles loves music and all sorts of sounds can be heard throughout the year. The weekend we visited (the last in October) the yearly harp festival was being held and occasionally we were serenaded by blissful music. Come in July for Les Sud, a festival of music from Palestine, Romania, Algeria and Ethiopia to name but a few

  • A couple of good walking tours are available - a general tour and a Van Gogh tour. Van Gogh painted here for the 2 years before he was carted off to St Rémy. He lived in 2 houses, both sadly destroyed in WWII

  • Head about 25km south into the Camargue for miles of wide sandy beaches, so good you can ride bikes across them. The 2 roads of the Camargue pincer round the étangs (lagoons), but if you hire bikes, you can cycle from Saintes Maries de la Mer to Port Saint Louis du Rhone (where the Rhone spills into the sea), a ride of about 20km, all along the coast. If you want to lie and bronze with the crowd, head over to Le Grau du Roi

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Cycling
  • Historical sites
  • Museums / galleries
  • Nightlife
  • Private guided tours
  • Shopping / markets
  • Traditional cultures
  • Wildlife

Kids

Children are welcome, and cots and extra beds are available.

Best for:

All ages

Family friendly accommodation:

The Deluxe Suite and Apartment are perfect for families. Each has 2 bedrooms and a shared bathroom; the latter also has a large living area.

Baby equipment:

Baby cots are available on request

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Distances:

  • Shops: 1 minute
Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

8/
Rooms
6/
Food
8/
Service
7/
Value
7/
Overall

{{ review.firstName }}{{ review.countryName ? ', '+ review.countryName : '' }},
Feedback is only from guests who have booked and stayed through i-escape

Rates for Grand Hotel Nord-Pinus