Grand Hôtel Nord Pinus in Arles, recently taken over by current-owner and entrepreneur Anne Igou, is merely a hotel. It’s an experience, a legendary space infused with Camargue culture, high luxury, Spanish influence, rustic elegance and contemporary design.
It is a mystical location where writers, bullfighters, poets, performers, artists and photographers all left a trace. The resulting atmosphere is a subtle mix of positive nostalgia and simple luxury, as reflected in the central vitrine showcasing old letters, photographs of eminent guests and artefacts.
Entering Nord Pinus feels like entering the film set of a film by Pedro Almodóvar. Anne Igou gives a rare unknown anecdote: “Nord Pinus is a creative and peaceful space of comfort that is glamorous yet without ostentation. It is a place rich of storytelling, interesting encounters, anecdotal artefacts, unique objects and memorable times. One night we had to go to Lourdes by helicopter to bring back holy water for the bathtub of a heartbroken actor.”
Arles is having a moment these days partly thanks to the dynamic programme of exhibitions instigated by collector and cultural benefactor Maja Hoffmann and her LUMA Foundation. The Rencontres d’Arles photography festival which saw an increase of visitors this year (140,000 in 2018 compared with 125,000 last year), Julian Schnabel’s film At Eternity’s Gate on Vincent Van Gogh’s time in the city filmed in various locations in Arles, Lee Ufan’s future private foundation and of course the staging of the very dramatic and gothic-inspired Gucci Resort 2019 show created by Alessandro Michele in Arles’ Promenade Des Alyscamps last May, are more significant events which have made the Provence city a creative hub and a hip location. “Indeed, Arles is currently witnessing great changes triggered by the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh and the Fondation LUMA. It is a time with very exciting dynamics thanks to the high number and quality of smaller galleries and cultural initiatives in Arles too.” Anne Igou says enthusiastically.
Beyond these recent developments, Arles has always had deep cultural roots and talents, from the presence of Van Gogh, whose friendship with Gauguin deteriorated after the latter visited him there (the episode culminated with the Dutch artist famously cutting off his ear slightly after), the setting of the Actes Sud publishing house thirty years ago (Françoise Nyssen, daughter of the founder and current director is also France’s Minister of Culture) and of course the incredible career and legacy of iconic fashion designer and illustrator Christian Lacroix, who was born in the district of Trinquetaille. Who better to encapsulate the spirit of Nord Pinus than Christian Lacroix? “The Hotel Nord Pinus belongs to the memory of every Arlesian… To me, when I was a child, it was the temple of the quintessential summer holiday, of high society, and of course, of bullfighting. Starting from the Place du Forum but never leaving it, it was like a voyage of discovery and adventure towards Paris, Spain and the World. Images of Lucia Bose and Dominguin in white and gold suits spring to mind.” Lacroix said.
Nord Pinus, is located across the Café de la Nuit, immortalised by Van Gogh and five minutes from the Van Gogh’s Foundation (started by the late father of Maja Hoffmann). “The Place du Forum was called “La Place des Hommes”, where independent workers would come to get hired for jobs in Camargue. Later in the 1950s, Nello a clown and Germaine a cabaret singer turned the historic building overseeing Arles’ central square into a hotel for artists. This drew important guests such as Eva Garner, Winston Churchill, Edith Piaf, Yves Montand and Pablo Picasso among many others.” Anne Igou continues.
The spectres of Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso are still there and the hotel remains a cultural landmark in Arles. “Don’t forget that Ray Charles, Caetano Veloso, Ravi Shankar, Buena Vista Social Club, Cesária Évora, Darius Gongy, Peter Lindbergh, Patty Smith, Paolo Roversi, Peter Beard, Rosanna Armani, Jill Sander, Yogi Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo, Tony Gatlif, Johnny Depp, Kate Moss and countless more talents also stayed at Nord Pinus.”.
With its corrida posters, wrought-iron bed heads, Moroccan lamps, vintage chairs, Mediterranean tiles, art deco lamps and sophisticated tones, Grand Hotel Nord Pinus is the place to stay in Arles, a place where history was made. “The hotel building is very harmonious. It has inspired me to gather an eclectic selection of unique furniture and decorative pieces. Capron ceramics, Peltier lamps, large antic Feria posters”.
While the façade features impressive Roman ruins (where else in the world will you find this?), the seven very comfortable and gorgeous suites and nineteen double and single rooms all feature original artworks, rich textures, antique and Art Deco furniture, pieces in typical Arlesian style, and all the modern and comfortable amenities. “I did not have to consult an interior designer for the Hotel Nord-Pinus. However, I have been participating as an interior designer in the development of the restaurant Le Chassagnette (which belongs to Maja Hoffmann) and private homes. Art is my passion but I’m not a collector.”. Staff are very professional and very helpful.
Green initiatives are also on the agenda of the Nord Pinus’ director: “All our cleaning products are sustainable, and our care products are organic. We work with small local producers and encourage our clients to be mindful of environmental resources.”
Along with a restaurant, Nord Pinus has an amazing bar which showcases photos of Picasso at a corrida in the Arenas and a gorgeous salon, perfect for taking a break from the sightseeing.
On the artistic side, the hotel features a collection of vintage posters and original photographs by Miguel Rio Branco, Harry Gruyaert, Peter Lindbergh, Lillian Bassman, Lorenzo Castore, Dominique Issermann, Jacques Olivar and testimonies of Helmut Newton, Lucien Clergue and others. Several exhibitions were staged at Nord Pinus to coincide with Les Rencontres de la Photographie.
“Directing a hotel is a series of multiple and continuous challenges that guests should not even notice as such. To me it is not so much about the one challenge that stands out but refuelling the energy that is required to pay attention to the very smallest details. Hotels constantly always require renewal which provide me with plenty of projects. Alongside Nord Pinus, I am currently renovating a property in the Bahamas, an artists’ residency built in the seventies. A very challenging and exciting project.”
Anne Igou’s 5 top-things to do while in Arles and around? (uncommon things / hidden places):
-“Nicolas de Staël’s exhibition at Hotel Caumont in Aix-en-Provence was exceptional”.
-Cyrille Putman Gallery
-Breakfast at the hotel
-Go to Cécile Cayrol’s ceramic atelier La Main qui Pense
-Visit Archa Des Carmes a small book store featuring rare editions of artist books and poetry
-Have lunch at Monstre or L’Autruche
-Walk along the river on the side of Trinquetaille
Anne Igou’s side projects include The Nord-Pinus Tangier, a sister hotel. It sits on the highest point of the Kasbah, the historic centre of Tangier. It is very private as there are only five rooms and an intimate separate house. “We renovated the old structure with an incredible team of local artisans and created some of Tangier’s most bespoke terraces with unique and unobstructed views over the fortress, the city, the mountains the sea and Spain. It’s a peace haven, with a calm and fresh air surrounded by a creative, vibrant and ever-changing city.”