The French Riviera is a gorgeous region of the South of France and is well known for its beautiful cities like Cannes, Nice or St Tropez. I was born and raised in Toulon, a large military harbor on the Mediterranean coast, with a major French naval base. I went back there a few months ago to show my boyfriend around. There are many beautiful places in and around Toulon, where you can spend a relaxing day and discover the Côte d’Azur at its best.
How to get to Toulon
The closest airport from Toulon is Marseille airport. There are no direct flights to Marseille from the USA, however, you can fly to Marseille from Paris and many other cities in France and Europe. The best airline to travel in Europe is Ryanair, as it is a low-cost airline and it is available throughout Europe.
You can also fly to Nice airport, which is more interesting because Nice is a beautiful city to visit. You could even stay a few days and visit nearby Cannes and Antibes before heading to Toulon. From Nice, you can either take the train to Toulon (there are trains every day) or the bus.
When is the best time to visit the South of France
The best times to visit the south of France are from March to May and September through November. The weather will still be good, but it won’t be so busy. I went to Toulon from mid-September to the beginning of October, and the weather was perfect. Around 25°C (77°F) every day, no tourists and you can still swim in the sea.
The summer months (July and August) see an influx of Parisians and international travelers escaping to the south of France, so be prepared for the crowd if you’re willing to travel at that time.
Things to know before visiting the South of France
Language: The official language is French, but France also has regional languages. People in the South of France have a strong accent, which can make them even more difficult to understand if you’re not French. Some people speak a bit of English (or at least they try) but I definitely recommend you learn some basic French words before you go to France.
Currency: The currency used in France is euro like in most European countries.
Visa: American citizens can travel up to 90 days in France without a visa. If you’re from a country in the European Union, you do not need a visa and you can stay in France for as long as you want.
Food: French food has a very good reputation worldwide, and honestly, that is the only thing I miss from my home country. So whenever I go home, I spend my days eating all the delicious food France has to offer. On your trip to the South of France, you should definitely have your breakfast with some baguette and croissants. Enjoy your tea time with some delicious French macaron, and have a delicious dinner with a ratatouille (south of France specialty).
Fashion: French people like to dress well, especially in the South of France. In fact, you will probably be amazed by the number of fashion shops in the cities. But if you want some beautiful and fashionable clothes to bring home, you found the right place!
Courtesy: French people always say “Bonjour” when they come into a shop or when they meet someone. It is very important you greet your interlocutor before you say anything else, otherwise, you will be seen as very rude.
Local markets: Markets in the South of France are full of delicious local fruits and vegetables, fish, cheese and meat. They are often held on Saturdays and Sundays. Try the Mourillon market in Toulon, it’s held on Sundays and is a typical market from the Côte d’Azur. Visiting local markets is one of the best ways to get a true local experience.
Narrow streets: If you’re planning to drive in the South of France, you should know that some streets are really narrow, especially in the cities. Try not to get lost in the middle of a big city or you’ll quickly end up in narrow lanes and cul-de-sac.
Arguing in public: I know this might be weird, but French people argue in public. You will probably see couples arguing in the streets, shops or even at the restaurant. This is one of the things that shocked me when I went back to France because I have actually never seen that in any other countries. So don’t worry if you see people arguing!
Now that you know everything you need to travel to the South of France, and how to get there, let’s find out what are the 9 fantastic day trips you can take from Toulon.
9 fantastic day trips from Toulon, South of France
1. Notre Dame du Mai
Notre Dame du Mai (Our Lady of May) is a Pilgrimage chapel built in 1625. It is located on top of the Cap Sicié and provides outstanding views on the surrounding cities and the coast. It’s an amazing walk up, which can be hot and long if you start from le Brusc (Six Fours), but it’s definitely worth the effort. However, if you don’t want to walk for a long time, you can drive up the hill to the parking. From there, you can walk up the last 2kms to the chapel.
Porquerolles is a beautiful unspoiled island in the îles d’Hyères. Much of the island is now part of a national park (the Port-Cros Parc National) and nature conservation area. This gorgeous island is a must -see when you visit the South Of France. You can easily spend a day there, walking in the beautiful Mediterranean bush, relaxing at the beach or biking around the island. The easiest way to get there is to take the boat from the Tour Fondue in Hyères. The trip takes around 15 minutes and costs around 19,50€ return.
3. Le Gaou
Gaou island is a is a well-preserved piece of nature in Six-Fours-Les-Plages. You can walk from one end of the island to another following a botanical trail. It is accessible via a footbridge and is full of little coves, small sandy beaches, and beautifully clear water. You can admire the Gaou fishing boats and the Venus of the Gaou statue before the footbridge. This peaceful inhabited island is the perfect place to go for a relaxing walk in nature.
4. St Mandrier
St Mandrier is a cute village located near la Seyne-Sur-Mer. It’s a typical Mediterranean village with a lot of charm. It has several small beaches, bars, and restaurants. You can hike from the beach la Coudoulière, where you can also see an old fort, to the cemetery up a hill. From up there you’ll get astonishing views on la Seyne and Les Deux Frères rocks. The best way to get to St Mandrier is to take the boat from Toulon. The cost is only 1,40€ for a 20 minutes boat ride.
5. Domaine du Rayol
The Domaine du Rayol is a botanical garden located in Rayol Canadel Sur Mer. The garden contains a number of areas dedicated to plants of the Mediterranean basin, the Canary Islands, South Australia, and New Zealand, the coasts of California and Chile, South Africa, Argentina, Mexico, and Asia. The park also has 4 major buildings: the two picturesque houses Hotel de la Mer and the Rayolet, the beach cottage, and the coffee shop. Each year in October the garden has specialist growers of Mediterranean plants from around France to display and sell their products, which is a very popular event in the area.
Sanary is a coastal town on the mediterranean sea. Located only 15kms from Toulon, this popular village has a beautiful coastline with small beaches and typical shops in the city center. Sanary’s main sights include the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Pitié, the Église Saint Nazaire, the Tour Romane, Portissol beach, the port, and the local market. It’s a lovely town to spend an afternoon shopping or simply admire the provencal boats in the harbor.
7. Tour Royale and the Mitre
The tour royale is a fort built in the 16th century to protect the city of Toulon. It is now a touristic sight, on the « Sentier Des Douaniers » walking track. From there, you will get a beautiful view of Toulon harbor. Once you are on the Sentier Des Douaniers, you can walk along the coast and easily reach the Mitre which is one of the most beautiful beaches of Toulon.
8. Anse de Mejean
Anse de Mejean (Mejean cove) is a beautiful secluded natural stone beach in Toulon. There is an old chapel overlooking the cove offering gorgeous views on the coast. Anse de Mejean is not easily accessible as the road to get there is windy and narrow, but it’s definitely worth it. Also, note that there is limited parking space, so get there early in high season.
The Almanarre beach is a nearly 5 km beach parallel to the Route Du Sel (Salt Road) in Hyères. The Mistral (western wind) blows quite often, and you can watch the many windsurfers and kitesurfers who gather there. Right on the other side of the Route Du Sel are the former Salt marshes, now a bird reserve, where you can observe Flamingos among many other bird species. The beach is easily accessible by car, and there is parking along the road. However, it can quickly become crowded in the summer months.
These 9 fantastic day trips from Toulon are just a glimpse of what the South Of France has to offer. The Côte d’Azur has countless beautiful places, and you can easily spend days exploring the cities, beaches, and creeks in the area. I hope you enjoyed reading this post, let me know in the comments where you went and if you enjoyed your trip to France!
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