France: Provence

Coastal Provence

Wines along the coast to Fréjus
By Elizabeth Gabay MW

This Guide was last updated on 15 January 2010
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Main towns and villages

Saint Tropez

Definitely a place to avoid in season – traffic jams lasting a couple of hours along the town’s access roads are the norm from the end of June to early September – although the boat-bus from Saint Maxime is useful. However, thanks to the mild climate, even at Christmas, Saint Tropez is fun (think real diamonds to decorate Christmas shop windows). The town is very pretty to explore, the old ruined castle has good views and the market on Saturday is worth visiting. But, do not visit Saint Tropez for a fine gastronomic meal or for value-for-money. This is the venue for people watching and glamour par excellence. Be prepared to spend money and choose a showy restaurant – La Ponche by the sea (not the main harbour) is reasonable quality. Nearby hilltop villages (Gassin, Grimaud and Ramatuelle to name but a few) are also worth visiting.

Fréjus and Saint Raphael

These towns merge into each other. An otherwise sleepy town, Fréjus has amazing Roman ruins (amphitheatre and aqueduct), though lacking a town centre on the coast has reduced its tourist potential. It is worth continuing into Saint Raphael for a walk around the yacht harbour.

Hyères les Palmiers

Now almost a suburb of the big port of Toulon, Hyères has a long history of its own, dating back to pre-Roman times. Medieval castles, churches, 19th century villas and palaces – the town attracted northern aristocracy, royalty, artists and literary figures. Both the nearby peninsula of Giens and Hyères had salt works which can now be visited. Around the peninsula the salt marshes attract exotic bird life including pink flamingos.


I am a particular fan of this city despite its noise and size. I love the contrast of the glamour of the big hotels along the Promenade des Anglais lined with palm trees, the quaintness and touristy attractions of the old town and, in complete contrast the real city with the chance to eat well in the hidden corner restaurants frequented by the locals. From Roman ruins at Cimiez to the newly installed tramway, there is plenty to see and do. There are a large number of museums and historic sites to see around Nice.

Ventimiglia (Italy) and Monaco

An attraction in its own right is the train journey from Nice across the Italian border to Ventimiglia. The trains vary from smart double-deckers to cattle trucks, but the railway closely follows the coast allowing you to see the sea, beaches and villas at leisure and takes you to the heart of Ventimiglia with no hassles about parking. Friday is the busy and splendid market day, and there are many good restaurants to choose from all around the town. Alternatively, take the train as far as Monaco and spend a day exploring Monte Carlo.

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