ToulonCopyright: Gerardo Borbolla/Shutterstock.com
ToulonToulon is a genuine incarnation of Provence, not one of those garishly painted souvenir shops some other towns along the Riviera seem to have turned into. Toulon smells of real lavender and thyme in the market places, of salty sea breeze that wafts through the coastline, and of a vibrant yet relaxing atmosphere that attracts locals and visitors alike.
The CityEver since the Sun King proclaimed Marseille as the centre of French trade at the Mediterranean sea, Toulon's harbour was only of second choice: in its sheltered bay, it accommodated and built the French navy and so it has remained until today. Toulon is the home port for French aircraft carriers and other naval ships: the military base and the Navy’s shipyards occupy a large area in the western part of town, and with its several miles of quays, it is a town within a town itself, now hosting yachts and fishing boats and sailing ships as well. Further to the west, undulating hills and the Château Vallon Cultural Centre arise, and squeezed between the railway station and the yacht harbour,the Old Town and its maze of little alleyways, fountains and delightful squares like le Cours Lafayette (also called le Marché Provence) emerge. To the Southeast, the village Mourillon awaits you with fine old residences of the haute bourgeoisie, lively vegetable markets and above all, sandy beaches, while to the north, the mountain of le Mont Faron towers over the town. Take the cableway up to the top for a magnificent view over the turquoise bay.
Do & See
Toulon is the very soul of Provence, as this huge military port reveals its sunny charm nearly all year long: while breathing in the breeze of the majestic sea, you can also take in the fragrances of Provence herbs and oils while experiencing a culturally rich atmosphere that heartily welcomes you to everywhere.
In Provence, just walking around hills and fountains will give you a good idea of what to expect in the restaurants: scents of thyme, rosemary, and fresh vegetables in olive oil hanging in the air. It is, however, mainly simple food, as a little tapenade (purée of olives) on some bread, a glass of rosé wine, and some marinated and grilled peppers are quite enough for treating any visitor like heaven. Especially when eating outside beside a fountain, in the shade of some plane trees, in the heart of Toulon, visitors enjoy this city probably best.
Cafés are a way of life in this part of the world. Everybody has their own favourite, depending on the time of day – but at the same time, the café that happens to be nearest is your favourite. In short, they exist to make life easier and more relaxed. A croissant in the morning, a coffee in the evening, or perhaps a pastis before going to a restaurant? The field is wide open!
Bars & Nightlife
The Provençal nights are gentle and treacherously beautiful, so it's no surprise that the sailors' town of Toulon has a thousand-year-old tradition of partying well into the night. The cafés and bars around the harbour and along the beaches at Mourillon are the most popular ones, but there are also quite a few hidden places just waiting to be found.
Shopping in Toulon is a pleasure, as discovering the small alleyways and fountains around place Puget and rue d’Alger and browsing in clothes shops or little bookshops always keep hidden surprises. If you admire the more chic areas around Mourillon, the antique shops and designer boutiques will give you some idea of how those houses are furnished, and if you feel the lure of the sea down by the harbour, you can always buy some fishing or diving equipment.