With all the events of the past week in France, it’s hard to get back into the normal groove of life. I’m just comforted by all of the support witnessed during the nationwide gatherings to condemn the horrific acts of terrorism in Paris.
I’ve wanted to write more about our “hometown”, Toulon, for some time now as it’s literally become my home-away-from-home and a place I’ve become, unwittingly, quite attached to. I say unwittingly because, at first glance, Toulon is definitely not one of the top tourist destinations along the Côte d’Azur. And with globally-recognized favorites like Nice, St. Tropez, and Cannes, working-class Toulon finds it hard to compete for tourist attention.
And although I’ll admit that Toulon might not have been my first choice when I first arrived in France, I’ve grown to love this town and appreciate its many hidden treasures – which makes it a well-guarded secret for holiday-goers and residents alike. Well, it’s becoming a little less well-guarded as the port of Toulon has seen cruise ship traffic nearly double in the past 10 years and, like most of the Côte d’Azur, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a free patch of sand on the beaches of the Mourillon during the month of August.
So, if you plan to make Toulon one of your stops in the south of France, or you just happen to be a passenger on one of the many cruise ships anchoring for the day, here are a few things to see and do to make the most of your visit to our “hometown”.
-Take a spin on the Petit Train
The “Petit Train” is a feature of many French towns which gives visitors an overview of the city via a short, guided tour via train of course. You can board the train at the port and for €7 you choose a “city tour” or “naval tour”. The city tour will take you through the historic center and to the beaches and “forts” of the Mourillon. This is a great tour to learn more about Toulon in general, and particularly its role as on of France’s top military ports.
Find more information at Les Petits Trains de Toulon.
-Tour the bay of Toulon
All along the port you can find tour operators offering various excursions around the bay of Toulon. For military buffs, a tour will take you around the “largest military port in Europe” where you’ll see some of France’s military crafts, notably the aircraft carrier the Charles de Gaulle. If you’re more inclined to take in the region’s natural beauty, excursions are also offered to stunning Poquerolles island and the equally beautiful Calanques of Marseille.
Excursion dates and prices available at Les Bateliers de La Rade … or simply arrive at the port and choose your favorite tour.
-Visit one of the best Provençal markets in the region on Cours Lafayette
When I heard the locals saying that Toulon had the best market in all of the Var, it seemed just another tall tale one might hear in the south… But after hearing it for about 5 years now, and from people who don’t live anywhere near Toulon, and who, I might add, are not even by the greatest fans of the city, I’ve come to believe it’s true. There are indeed several things to recommend it. First, it’s huge – taking up the whole of Cours Lafayette, from the port to the main thoroughfare of Blvd Strasbourg. Also, it’s fresh as can be with a large section of seasonal fruit & veg from around the region. Lastly, it’s “cheap as chips” as my British colleagues would say… when I’m stocking up on my summer cherries, tomatoes, and eggplant I’m quite astonished by the prices. Don’t expect those kind of deals in Nice or St. Tropez! It can be a little loud and chaotic… but that’s all part of the Toulonnais charm.
Please find times and days for the market on the Toulon market post.
-Take a historical tour organized by the tourist office
The tourist office organizes many tours and you can sign-up for a walking tour of the historical center at the tourist office on the port. Visit their offical tourist site for more information.
The Mourillon village
-Stroll, and shop, around the “village” inside the city – The Mourillon
This is one of our favorite spots in the city. Feel like visiting a charming Provençal village with its own daily market, quaint bakeries and cafés, and a cheese shop that will make your mouth water and your wallet feel quite a bit lighter? Well look no further than the Mourillon “village”- a short bus ride from the port and chock-full of restaurants, wine bars, and speciality boutiques. Take the #3 or #23 bus right across from the Cours Lafayette market.
-Hop on over to the Mourillon beaches for an afternoon along the Med
And while you’re enjoying “village life” in the Mourillon, it’s just a short walk to discover the Mourillon beaches. This is one of the main gathering spots for the city, with restaurants, bars, playgrounds for the kiddies, and of course sandy beaches that offer beautiful views of the Mediterranean. These are “popular” beaches, meaning “of the people” in French, and you’re sure to find more locals than tourists here in the off season – which again I think is part of Toulon’s charm. A €2 coffee or €3 beer will get you some of the same views you can experience at many hot spots along the Côte d’Azur… only for a third of the price!
-Hike along the “hidden beaches” of Cap Brun
Another big favorite of ours, and where I do many of my weekend walks, it along the trail that runs from the Mourillon beaches to Cap Brun. As the Mourillon beaches are man made, the beaches of Cap Brun are all natural and really spectacular (I’ll just let the photos do the talking!) and a great spot to stop for a secluded picnic – even at the start of spring we’re often the only ones on the beach in the morning or early afternoon. Just follow the signs from the Mourillon beaches to the trailhead.
-Participate in a local festival
It surely doesn’t have to be in Toulon, but it you haven’t added “visit a local festival” to your Provence plans, be sure to do it! Festivals run all year and are particulary popular in the summer. We tend to prefer the food-themed events, but there are arts and music festivals all tastes as well.
-Have a leisurely lunch, or dinner, along the port
It’s no surprise that in the south people are big fans of the pleasure of far niente, or the “do nothing” philosophy… and sometimes that’s just the kind of vacation you need. A big, long (& very fresh I might add!) lunch along the port washed down with a cool glass of Rosé might be just what le docteur ordered.
I hope this post has you just a bit curious about our little city by the sea. If you have any questions about visiting our small gem along the Mediterranean, please let me know and bonne journée one and all!