Tour the Estérel hills on the regional express train
Hop on the regional express train (TER) from Saint-Raphaël to Mandelieu-la-Napoule for a full immersion in the intense colours and striking contrasts of the Estérel hills, between sea and mountain…
Train routeLenght1 day or more
Stage 1Saint-Raphaël Valescure
This first stage of your journey – the town of Saint-Raphaël at the foot of the Estérel hills – is a real must! The town and adjacent shores overflow with not-to-be-missed cultural and natural sights. You can reach the historic quarter and its shaded lanes – a memory of bygone days when Saint-Raphaël was a simple little fishermen’s village – on foot from the train station in just a few strides. Let the scents and colours of the flower and vegetable market guide you. Without even realizing it, your steps may have led you straight to Saint-Raphaël’s archaeological museum or the Romanesque church of San Rafeu, erected in the 13th century. If you enjoy a bit of sport, climb up the 129 steps to the top of the church tower to gaze at the magnificent panoramic view over Saint-Raphaël and its vicinity, from the Estérel hills to Roquebrune rock via the tip of Saint-Tropez. You can even glimpse the next monument on your bucket list: the unmistakeable Notre-Dame de la Victoire Basilica crowned with Byzantine domes, located just next to the Old Port (Vieux-Port). If you simply want to chill, you can head back down to dip your toes in the sand on Plage du Veillat, one of Saint-Raphaël’s largest beaches. But if you’d rather savour the intimate atmosphere of the local coves, you can continue the adventure at Calanque de Santa Lucia and Calanque de Fournas along the “sentier du littoral” costal footpath. They’re a bit harder to reach, but you won’t find any crowds there.
Where to eat, sleep and what to do in Saint-Raphaël ?
Stage 2Le Dramont
After a short, 25-minute journey – perfect for lapping up the stunning vistas over turquoise Mediterranean horizons – here you are in Le Dramont. When you exit the station, you’ll immediately come to Plage du Débarquement beach, where over 20,000 American soldiers landed on August 15th, 1944. From the beach, you can glimpse Île d’Or island and its very unusual tower built in red stone from the Estérel hills: it inspired Hergé, the father of Tintin, to write The Black Island. Next, walk along the “sentier du littoral” coastal footpath to Cap Dramont: a protected natural area forming part of Estérel national forest. If you’re a rock climbing fan, you’ll find several official climbing routes here, all accessible from the coastal footpath. Alternating azure waters and red rocks, the path leads to the summit of the cape and lighthouse (Semaphore). The views from up here are truly breathtaking. Continuing on, you can head back down towards the sea and Plage de Camp Long beach, reputedly one of the most beautiful beaches on this stretch of coast.
Where to eat, sleep and what to do in Le Dramont ?
Anthéor-Cap-Roux railway station is only 6 minutes further on down the line, just before the majestic Anthéor viaduct, completed in 1962. This monumental structure was built to allow people and goods to cross the Estérel hills and valley below, home to the little town of Anthéor. Standing guard over Plage d’Anthéor beach, also a major stage for the Allied Landings, the viaduct is a truly impressive sight, best admired with your feet in the water. The humble little houses and grand villas clustered on the hillsides form the typical landscape that inspired many late 19th-century painters and earned Anthéor the nickname of “artists’ nest”. If you enjoy canoeing and kayaking, climb aboard on Plage d’Anthéor and paddle your way along the coast to the fiery red rocks of Ile des Vieilles cove, or head the opposite way to Calanque de Saint-Barthélemy and the Cap Roux reserve. If paddling isn’t your thing, Ile des Vieilles cove is also accessible by car.
What to do in Anthéor-Cap-Roux ?
Stage 4Le Trayas
It’s time to get back on the train! This time, you’ll be crossing Anthéor viaduct and embarking on the wildest stage of the journey. Here, the railway line follows the coast almost to a T, as it winds its way over the Corniche d’Or coast road, opened in 1903 to connect Saint-Raphaël and Cannes. The Corniche follows the road taken by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago; at the time, it was known as the Via Aurelia. 5 minutes later, it’s time for a stop-off in Le Trayas. Just underneath the station, 5 minutes away on foot, lies the intimate Calanque de Maupas cove, lined with red rocks plunging their feet into the water. Pass through the station again and take Rue Georges Hechter. 650 metres further on you’ll come to the little Belvédère du Trayas, offering very pretty views. From here, you can head back down to Calanque d’Abel Ballif, located just underneath, or take time to roam the steep lanes of Le Trayas, winding their way up and up to magnificent viewpoints gazing out over the sea. After you come back down, you can end the walk on the beautiful beach of Calanque Notre-Dame. Seasoned walkers might want to opt for one of the hiking trails leading to Pic de l’Ours (you’ll need around 1¼ hrs) or Pic d’Aurelle (1 hr), for a genuine deep dive into the wild and fiery red atmosphere of the Estérel hills.
Where to eat, sleep and what to do in Le Trayas ?
The last stop on our journey is Mandelieu-la-Napoule, 6 minutes away from Le Trayas. Captain Nemo is here to welcome you: the station underpass is entirely decorated with scenes out of Jules Verne’s novel “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”. You’ll find plenty of shops and restaurants in Mandelieu town centre, but it’s easy to get out of town and into nature too: it only takes 3 minutes to walk to the first two beaches – Plage de la Raguette and Plage du Château. As its name implies, Plage du Château basks at the foot of Château de la Napoule, a fortress that was destroyed and rebuilt several times. You can now visit its art collection and grounds. If you fancy taking to the waves, climb aboard a boat bus to Ile Sainte-Marguerite, forming part of the Iles de Lérins archipelago: a magnificent, protected natural area. Alternatively, explore the verdant banks and quiet waters of La Siagne river if you’re looking for an easier option – you can enjoy a ride on an electric river boat too. If you want to take to the heights, opt for a hike or mountain bike tour in the Estérel hills. The ascent to Mont Turney from Mandelieu-la-Napoule is easy and offers delightful views over the sea. From there, you can push on to Mont Saint-Martin in about 1¾ hours. Sportier hikers may want to prolong the challenge to Col de la Cadière, Col de Notre-Dame or even Pic de l’Ours: a wonderful way to take in the vastness of the Estérel hills and spot the various places visited during your picturesque train ride.
Where to eat, sleep and what to do in Mandelieu-la-Napoule ?