Cafes with a history in The South of France for Art Lovers

1) Café de France

In 1979, the French photographer Willy Ronis took a black and white photo of the Café de France, a town institution in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. It’s early morning and the cafe owner is just walking out of her establishment while some men sit and enjoy a drink and a chat at two tables outside the cafe. One of the men obviously stopped to pick up a baguette at the baker en route to the cafe. That is what Ronis excelled at: capturing daily life in a snapshot, with his fabulous eye. A lot has changed since then: tourists have found their way to the town and the street has been repaved, which explains the larger terrace. Fortunately, the cafe’s old interior has been preserved.

bar interior of the Café de France

14 place de la Liberté, 84800 L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Vaucluse

+33 (0)9 62 25 76 28

2) Café La Nuit - Van Gogh

Van Gogh was hell-bent on painting a picture at night. Night scenes fascinated him because darkness makes colours look completely different. He had visited the Café du Forum (as it was named at the time) with his friend Eugène Boch before painting it on 16 September 1888 or thereabouts. Vincent resolved to paint without black and highlight the glow of the gas lantern. In his painting, Café Terrace at Night, the cafe’s façade and awning are bright yellow while the starry sky is blue and the pavers are a vivid pink and violet. “The question of painting night scenes or effects, on the spot and actually at night, interests me enormously”, he wrote in a letter to his brother. The cafe with the yellow awning is still there but is now called ‘Café La Nuit – Van Gogh’. Depending on the source and the time of your visit, it may feel heavily geared towards tourists, to put it mildly. But then again, when will you ever get the opportunity to take a seat in a famous painting?

terrace and painting at the Café Van Gogh

11 place du Forum, 13200 Arles

+33 (0)4 90 96 44 56

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3) Au Père Louis

Au Père Louis is not a cafe. It’s a monument. It is probably also Toulouse’s oldest cafe, given that it was established in 1889. You may be forgiven for thinking you have travelled back in time to the 19th century when you set foot in the dark interior with its large wine barrels, which are used as tables. The silence – no music here – is only broken by the voice of the cafe owner or the conversations of the patrons. High up on the wall you can see various views of old Toulouse, as painted in 1942 by Paul Almérie. It is said that he gave them to the patron in lieu of payment to settle his tab. Try their quinquina, the house aperitif, which is served in small glasses. Quinquina is made from the bark of the kina tree and was both a fashionable aperitif and a medicinal remedy at one time. It is still distilled especially for Le Père Louis.

front view of the Au Père Louis bar in Toulouse

John Ray

45 rue des Tourneurs, 31000 Toulouse, Haute-Garonne

+33 (0)5 61 21 33 45

4) Café de la Place

Café de la Place is a legendary cafe just outside the city walls of Saint-Paul-de-Vence. Actors such as Yves Montand, Bernard Blier and Lino Ventura often dropped in, for drinks and a game of jeu de boules. The cafe – which is located opposite that other mythical place, the hotel and restaurant La Colombe d’Or – has managed to retain its charm. It can get quite busy at times, to the detriment of the quality of service. You can still find a place to sit under the trees and observe the boules players.

Terrace of Cafe de la Place

Place du Général de Gaulle, 06570 Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Alpes-Maritimes

+33 (0)4 93 32 80 03

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