arelate childrenThe Arles region is full of things to do for families, from visiting a bull ranch and spotting flamingos to riding a white Camargue horse and chilling on a superb sandy beach.

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In the town itself the options are more limited, though any child keen on history will be in seventh heaven. And Arles offers some outstanding kid-friendly attractions, especially during its many ferias (festivals).

Two annual events are of exceptional interest to families. One, in the second part of August, is called Arelate (the ancient name for Arles). Pictured top left and below, it's a huge celebration of the city's Roman heritage lasting around ten days.

The programme includes a procession of chariots and gladiators through the streets, a Roman-style circus and tons of workshops and fun educational activities aimed at children - many of them free.

They can learn how to fight like a gladiator, make a toga, see a war machine in action, create clay jewellery and mosaics, play Roman games or write in Greek and Latin.

arelateThe other festival, in the week leading up to Christmas, is Drôles de Noëls (Funny Christmases). It mixes fireworks, singers, dancers, circus performers, puppeteers, theatre, a sled run and all sorts of other entertainments.

Events are held in the streets, museums and galleries and Roman monuments of Arles and, again, many of them are free.

At this time of year you might also like to visit the Salon des Santonniers. Santons are the cute little Christmas crib figures traditional in Provence (click here to read more about them).

This salon features hundreds of examples, as well as crib scenes from elsewhere in the world. It runs each year from mid-November to mid-January.

You'll probably want to give the full-blooded corridas (bull fights) a miss. But some older children might enjoy the lighter-hearted courses camarguaises.

At these games, unlike the corridas, the bull isn't killed and lives to play another day. The human players, called raseteurs, encourage him to chase them around an arena, jumping nimbly over the surrounding barrier when he gets too close for comfort.

Pictured below, it's dusty, noisy and exciting. At one game we watched, the raseteurs were actually students in their teens.

Another bull-linked activity is to watch a demonstration of herding skills by gardians (local cowboys - and a surprisingly large number of cowgirls) on Camargue horses.

course camarguaise arlesThis is generally free and the best time to catch it in Arles is during one of the summer ferias.

It's particularly dramatic when performed in an inner city environment. A long street is cordoned off and the gardians drive the bulls from one end to the other at high speed. It's impressive and thrilling.

A word of warning: the public is required to stand behind barriers, but small kids (and thin adults) can easily slip through them.

At the event we saw, crowds of children could not resist the urge to do just that and run behind the phalanx of cowboys.

This is definitely not recommended. Accidents, including fatal ones, are not uncommon. So do keep an eye on your little ones.

If you have more time, you might like to visit a manade (bull ranch) in the surrounding Camargue countryside. These tours include quite a few activities and demonstrations, are fairly pricey and need to be booked ahead.

However one manade, the Domaine Paul Ricard de Méjeanes, does accept casual visitors. Click here to read our guide to bull games and related activities.

The Arles Tourist Office has developed a free smartphone app called Rallyvisit which allows users to discover the city through puzzles and videos. You can choose your age or ability level, though it's currently available in French only.

All the museums and galleries of Arles have special programmes for children, even if, to make the most of them, your kids will need to speak at least some French.

hortus arlesWith its fascinating scale models of Roman Arles and its showstopping archaeological artefacts, the Musée départemental Arles antique is a highlight.

It has free guided tours aimed at families and offers visitors an illustrated booklet, also free, of jeux de piste (games, puzzles and riddles) based on the permanent collection or temporary exhibitions.

At certain times there are workshops and short courses on such themes as Roman toys and making mosaics. All this is in French only.

But you don't need to be a linguist to enjoy the museum's large garden, Hortus, pictured, which is packed with play and picnic areas. At the museum ticket office, you can also borrow, for free, a set of Roman board games to try out there (you'll need to leave a passport or ID card as a deposit).

The Fondation Vincent van Gogh runs courses of up to four days during which children - together with their parents - can create their own artwork as well as short tours and activities on Wednesdays (advance registration required). It's also possible to privatise the gallery for a birthday party.

The Musée Réattu has activities for kids on Wednesdays too and the occasional visite-goûter (a guided visit followed by afternoon tea) during school holidays.

insidertipIf you are planning to visit several sites, check out the combination tickets on sale at the Arles Tourist Office which will get you reduced-price admission (and free admission for an accompanied child under 18) to the city's major museums and monuments. A number of museums also offer free admission on the first Sunday of every month.

Unlike other towns in Provence, Arles doesn't have a little tourist train or municipal bike scheme. And it somewhat underuses its riverfront: you can't hite a kayak or go on a boat tour, for example. But various private companies rent out bikes and one, Taco & Co, also offers city tours by bicycle taxi.

Photo credits (from top): © Olivier Quérette /Ektadoc/ Ville d’Arles, Arelate, SJ for Marvellous Provence, MDAA.

 

 

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