When you talk about visiting the South of France most people will instantly think of the glamorous French Riviera, or the Provençal countryside filled with lavender fields or vineyards. Despite being described as the sunniest city in France by some of the people we met, the city of Toulon is unlikely to be anyone’s first guess of where you might be headed. A port city which was largely destroyed during the Second World War due to its large naval base, Toulon isn’t as pretty or as famous as the towns and cities further down the coast. However the sea is just as blue and the area is still interesting to explore – and with fewer tourists doing so!
I’ll admit now that I wasn’t drawn to Toulon as a destination in itself as James and I were visiting family friends who live here. However, I’ve come away with a long list of things to do next time we visit so there is clearly plenty to keep you entertained, even if you don’t have friends in the area.
One thing our holiday featured a lot of was beaches. I’ve never really classed myself as a beach-lover – give me lakes and mountains any day! However, I’m slowly becoming a convert and I think this holiday had a lot to do with it. Toulon is lined with multiple beaches and coves, meaning that even if you go to the beach everyday (which we did) you don’t have to go to the same place so there are new views and things to explore. The water is a gorgeous colour and is also really clear, so if you have goggles it is great to watch some of the fish whilst swimming. A dip in the sea each day was very refreshing given how hot it was!
Although artificial, the Mourillon beaches are really family friendly and are lined with restaurants and playgrounds so are a good place to come if you are planning on spending some time there or want access to a range of facilities. L’anse Méjean is a little less popular and further away from the city centre, meaning that it is less crowded. Whilst there are a couple of restaurants, this cove feels much more natural and I can see why it was our host’s favourite beach. There are some great views from the chapel on the cliff top as well. Alternatively you can head further afield to Les Sablettes for a sandy beach if you prefer sand to shale.
We didn’t spend much time in the city centre but it was nicer than I expected for somewhere that had been largely flattened during the war. I love visiting foreign markets, so I very much appreciated a trip to the market on Sunday morning to admire the range of fresh produce on display. The market we visited wasn’t far from the Mourillon beaches, so after a walk along a road featuring a small art gallery and lots of independent shops we stopped to admire some of the boats in the harbour before paddling in the sea to cool down.
We were also given a whistle-stop city tour which featured the Toulon Opera (which is apparently the second largest opera house in France) and the Cathedral, as well as several sculptures around the city.
On the water
If you’re not in the water, another great way to spend time is on the water. We had hoped for a boat trip to Porquerolles, an island about an hour’s boat ride away which is apparently a beautiful place for a day trip. Unfortunately the boat wasn’t running the day we could go so this has been added to the list of things we want to do next time. However, we still managed a boat trip over to Les Sablettes so that we could enjoy a boat ride. From the beach, after a picnic in the rain (which shocked the locals but we didn’t really class it as proper rain), we walked along to Tamaris to admire some of the Moorish style buildings before catching the boat back to Toulon.
We also tried paddle-boarding for the first time! I was terrified to begin with as I was convinced I’d fall off but by the end I was getting the hang of it and would probably do it again depending on the location. Once you’ve found your centre of balance and got used to the waves lapping against your board, you can really enjoy your surroundings and seeing things from a different perspective. We saw a submarine (partially submerged) which was quite exciting and much bigger than we thought it would be! It was also great because the water was so clear as you could see the rocks and seaweed beneath you. As well as paddle-boarding, you could also try kayaking, windsurfing and catamaran lessons so there is plenty of opportunity to try something different and get out on the water.
In addition to the boat trip to Porquerolles, next time we’d also like to go up Mount Faron via cable car which as well as being home to great views also has a zoo and war memorial. I wouldn’t mind exploring some of the surrounding wine region and returning to the beautiful city of Aix-en-Provence (I’ll be writing a post on this shortly). We also liked the idea of a trip to Corsica (there are ferries direct from Toulon).
I thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Toulon and would recommend it as a less touristy destination on the Cote d’Azur. We had a wonderful time and were very well looked after by our generous hosts and friends. Thank you to everyone who made our time in Toulon so enjoyable!