During your holiday in the South, plan a few urban stops along the Mediterranean sea. The coastal cities, bathed in sparkling light and salty air, brim with unique and unforgettable experiences.
A City That is Sure to Surprise You
From the first time you set foot in the heart of the city, Marseille imposes its style. The temperature rises thanks to the sun and the warmth of the locals. The Phocaean city is both a cultural and human journey – stroll around the city to take it all in. Marseille, its neighbourhoods of many worlds, its architecture both typical and modern, its aromas of spices and soap, its flavours, its Mediterranean Sea, its mountains, its Calanques. We won’t tell you any more – come and see its magic for yourself!
Art by the Sea
At the foot of Mont Faron, Toulon is nestled besides a beautiful natural harbour, an immense body of water that is protected to the south by the Île de Saint-Madrier and to the north by a barrier of 530-metre-high mountains. Climb to the Memorial du Débarquement et de la Libération (the Liberation Landings in Provence) on board the new cable car. From this 19th century fort, you will enjoy a magnificent panorama over the Mediterranean. Then, take a stroll in the city centre, which is being re-born with interior design boutiques, lifestyle shops, and art studios at every street corner. To the southeast of the city, do not miss the Mourillon district, a village in the city that faces the sea. Finally, take the Sentier des Douaniers (the Customs Officers Path) along the coast to explore the Calanques de Toulon and the coves of Méjean and Magaud, lined with fishermen’s huts.
The Blue and the Green
Hyères, one of the oldest seaside resorts along the Mediterranean coast, is packed with perks! Hyères is the gateway to the Presqu’île de Giens, where surfers and boarders will have a date with nirvana along the four kilometres of the legendary Plage de l’Almanarre. You might even find the French windsurfing team there at its permanent training centre. Leave the peninsula to stroll around the town centre. The picturesque little streets, today inhabited by artists and craft workers, are loaded with fortified gates, passages and staircases, remains of the three sequential enclosures of the medieval city. As you walk around, admire the 7000 majestic Phoenix canariensis palm trees that line the streets of Hyères.
Even at the furthest reaches of Patagonia, the name of this flowering bay and its vibrant city evokes images of colourful houses, beaches surrounded by a glassy sea, games of pétanque beneath the plane trees and the whistling of the wind in the boats’ rigging. The little port of Saint-Tropez, which needs no introduction, is where God invented farniente (relaxation), assisted by a few mermaids. Saint-Tropez is also a coastline of red rocks, secret coves and bold promontories. Organisations like the Conservatoire du Littoral have protected these jewels of nature from developers. Explore this sparkling coastline that is sprinkled with beautiful islands Port-Cros, Le Levant and Porquerolles, where the Fondation Carmignac opened its doors in 2018. A neglected countryside, dripping with springs and waterfalls, Dracénie is also worth a detour. To best explore it, climb to its summit,at the top of the Var.
The Côte Bleue
A Charming Coast from Istres to Martigues
Straddling the Mediterranean and the Étang de Berre, Martigues is crossed by canals that earn its nickname as “the Provençale Venice.” Painters like Delacroix, Corot, Loubon, Dufy and Ziem took up residence on the famous Quai Brescon, known as the “bird mirror” from the end of the 19th century. Félix Ziem even has his own museum in Martigues! The stretch of water, lined by what were fishermen’s houses with painted facades, invites you to explore the Gallo-Roman archaeological heritage of the city and the Chapelle de l’Annonciade. If you follow along the bank, you will arrive in Istres. Flanked by five lagoons, including the Étang de Berre and the Étang de l’Olivier, Istres is called the “City of Water.” Which makes it ideal for water sports with your family. To dive in, head to the little port of Les Heures Claires. In summer, don’t miss the starry Thursdays (Jeudis Étoilés), in the town centre and the concerts on the Plage du Ranquet. Along with your clan, come taste the simple pleasures of on the banks of the Étang de Berre, far from the busyness of the coast.
Provence in Blue and White
On the edge of the Parc National des Calanques, Cassis is an amphitheatre that opens onto the sea. The Plage de La Grande Mer, whose gentle sloping beach is a delight for families, stretches out under a hill dominated by the old castle. Go along the fishing port, a departure point for Cassis skippers and for guided tours of the Calanques. The Calanques are also accessible in slow-tourism mode, by kayaking and paddle boarding. Or why not board Europe’s biggest catamaran, Le Levantin, for dinner at sunset? Behind the old village, the terraced vineyards produce mineral and subtly salty white wines, which have enjoyed AOC status since 1936 (the oldest appellation in France!). Between Cassis and La Ciotat, take the Route des Crêtes, which winds to the top of one of Europe’s highest sea cliffs, Cap Canaille stunning in its red and ochre colours. The panorama is truly magnificent.
The Birthplace of Pétanque and Cinema
Incredible but true: two of the greatest popular passions of our time, pétanque and film, first saw the light of day in this little town! The film projector was first introduced to the public on September 21, 1895 at the Palais Lumière, where the family of Louis Lumière, the inventor of cinema, were spending the summer. The second session was organised a month later at the Cinéma Eden, the last movie house of that era that is still active. Fifteen years later, in 1908, Jules Lenoir, a rheumatic player, sat down to play “pieds tanqués” (feet firmly planted,) the Provençal game that is pétanque’s ancestor. Voila, pétanque was born! Behind the naval yards, explore two charming calanques of red rocks (poudingue) hidden in the shade of the Bec de l’Aigle: Mugel, near the park of the same name, and Figuerolles, where Georges Braque drew his inspiration.