Toulon is a medium size city (15th town of France) between Marseille and Nice. It is located in the west of French Riviera and in the southeast of Provence.
Climate is typical of the South of France. The summers are relatively hot. Temperatures usually get higher than 30 °C. June is a hot month but a sudden storm may occur once. July usually features hot temperatures and blue sky. August may be even hotter, but storms may begin to occur. Autumns are rainy. Storms *will* occur. Winters are dry. Temperatures won't go deeply under 0 °C, but the wind will increase the feeling of coldness.
Unlike other towns of France, Toulon is not crossed by any big river, and there is no big river in the whole district (French: département du Var). Some small rivers cross the town : Rivière neuve (English: new river), Le Las, L'Égoutyer also known as Rivière des amoureux (English: lover's river) with no apparent reason. Except de latter, the rivers are now in underground tubes and not visible.
The economy relies on the presence of a big French naval base that creates thousands of direct and indirect jobs. Tourism is also important.
The history of Toulon is about three thousand years old. The Ligures settled here because of exceptional conditions:
- a hill protects the center of the town from the Mistral, a strong wind which blows in the southeast of France (you will experience wind almost everyday).
- on the south face of the hill, several sources gush out, which is exceptional in the so dry Provence. The name Toulon is linked to Telona, and ancient Ligurian goddess of sources.
- the hill (named Faron, about 500 m high) allows to see boats arriving from very far away, specially enemy boats. The name Faron cames from the Greek pharos (English: lighthouse) for this reason. At the top of Faron, there is still a military camp dedicated to communications with submarines.
- the water of the port is very calm, because it is protected by a peninsula (Saint-Mandrier) that nearly closes the port as a lagoon. It was possible to watch boats entering the port from there.
For all these reasons, Toulon early became a town of military vocation. When the Romans invaded the Provence (Latin: provincia romana), they settled a military base and renamed the town Telo Martius, where martius recalls Mars, the Roman god of war.
During the Middle Ages, Provence was under the coup of lords, before being integrated into the French Kingdom in 1482. During the XVIIIth Century, Toulon became an important military port for France, were boats and sails were being built. A famous convict prison was built. During the French Revolution, Toulon gave support to the monarchy, but Bonaparte (later known as Napoleon the Ist) took back the town. During World War II, Toulon was invaded on November the 27th, 1942. The seamen scuttled all the boats so that the Nazis couldn't use them. The town was freed by the Allied Forces on August 25th, 1944.
The main roads are from east to west (and the opposite). There are highways from Nice (A57) and Marseille (A50). You'll have to pay a toll to go outside the suburbs of the town on these highways.
Hourly links to Marseille (45 min), 9.6 Eur full price one-way ticket.
Regular links to Nice (1h30).
Toulon-Hyères regional airport, 18 km east of Toulon, +33 4 00 83 83, fax. +33 4 94 00 84 13. It is linked to other French airports.
Other airports are Marseille-Provence (100 km west of Toulon), +33 4 42 14 14 14 and Nice-Côte d'Azur (150 km east of Toulon), +33 4 93 21 30 30.
There are two roads to go to Toulon from the Toulon-Hyères airport. Either you follow the highway (free, fast, but not very interesting) (French: Toulon par autoroute) or you choose the road that follows the coast (French: Toulon par la côte). It may take a longer time, but this is nicer and on rush hour you may avoid traffic jam on the highway.
If you consider getting through the town and not stopping, the ease depends on the sense of driving:
- If you are going from East to West (Nice to Marseille), just follow the highway and enter the tunnel (free, speed limit 70 km/h). In a few minutes you will be out.
- If you go from West to East (Marseille to Nice), you'll have to cross the town itself (because the tunnel is one-way until at least 2007), and it will take a longer time.
Visiting the town
This part of the town was built in the Middle ages. It is called vieille ville (English: old town) because of its age or basse ville (English: low town) because it is the lowest point of the town except the sea). The historical center is located just just at north of the port. You'll see very small intricate streets. Specially recommended wide streets are the Algiers and Lafayette streets (French: Rue d'Alger and Cours Lafayette). These two are bordered by numerous shops and crowded every Saturday. Other small streets feature only old-looking buildings.
- Visit the port and its promenade. The folk of old Provence, the typical accent of locals, and some wooden boats on the still sea (the folk is better in smaller town along the coast, however). Numerous souvenir shops, coffee shops and fish restaurants. Also on the port square, you'll see the statue of the Spirit of navigation pointing at the sea.
- Tour de l'horloge, a monumental clock a the entry of the naval base (at the west of the port), anciently used to ring at the beginning and at the end of the working day.
- Just between the port and the south of Cours Lafeyette, you'll see the Louis Blanc place with Saint François de Paule church. Built in the XVIIIth Century, it is of typical baroque style.
- Traditional markets of Provence, every morning on Cours Lafayette except on Mondays. You'll find there all local products of the region. There are also other smaller markets.
- Place Puget, in the historical center, is the ancient center of the town. You'll find a fountain built in 1780. The sculpture showed three dolphins, now completely covered by ivy. You'll enjoy staying in the shade of this place, at a coffee shop, during a hot afternoon.
- The Saint Marie de la Seds Cathedral is near Place Puget. Built in the XIth century, it has never been finished, but widened in 1738. There are numerous paintings of XVIIIth Century.
The new town
Also called Haute ville (English: high town) by contrast with basse ville, because it was built in a higher part of the town. It is located at the north of the historical center, in the XIXth Century, by the baron Hoffman (who was later called to build Paris). Numerous buildings and places are in the late XIXth Century style.
- Place de la liberté (English: Liberty plaza). The This is one of the main places of the town. There's a nice statue in a fountain. In winter, a skating rink is settled for children. However this place may be noisy due to the main boulevard of the town just along the place.
- The Opera House, place Victor Hugo, +33 4 94 93 03 76, is 100 m east of the Place de la Liberté.
- The railway station is 100 m northwest of the Place de la Liberté, also of XIXth Century style.
Museums and places of interest
- The town features several beaches just south of the Mourillon quarter. They were set up in the 1950's to develop tourism. More beautiful beaches may be found elsewhere on the coast. In any location, you should be prepared to crowd on the beach. The beaches of Toulon are associated to a park with entertainment for children of all ages. At the east of the town, the Cap Brun and Anse Magaud beaches are more isolated, far less crowded, but more difficult to reach (need to climb a little).
- Take the cable car (French: téléphérique) to go to the Mont-Faron Hill. Téléphérique du Mont-Faron, boulevard Amiral Vence (or bus 40, stop at téléphérique), +33 4 94 92 68 25. It gives direct access to the Memorial Museum of landing in Provence.
- Memorial Museum of landing in Provence (French: Musée-Mémorial du débarquement), top of Mont-Faron, +33 4 94 88 08 09.
- Mont-Faron zoo (French: Zoo du Mont-Faron), +33 4 94 88 07 89. It is a center for wild beast reproduction.
- Bibliothèque municipale et Museum d'histoire naturelle (English: Municipal Library and Museum), Boulevard de Strasbourg. As a building, the library is worth seeing. The museum features wild life collections.
- The Navy Museum (French: Musée de la Marine, place Monsergue (at the entrance of the naval base), +33 4 94 02 02 01. Collections relating the naval history of the town.
- The Museum of Tour Royale, pointe de la Mitre, +33 4 94 24 91 00. The Tour Royale, one of the numerous forts of Toulon, was built in 1514 by the king Louis XII. Later, it was used as a prison, now opened for visits. It also features a naval exposition.
- The Boat-Museum named La Dives, pointe de la Mitre (+33 4 94 02 06 96), opened May to October. Before being a museum, this boat was dedicated to the transportation of tanks for a landing.
- On the top of Mont-Faron hill (500 m high), you'll be able to see the town from above. If you go by car, the road is impressive. If you by cable car, this even more impressive. Several paths allow hikers to cross the forest and go to/from the museums, the zoo, the cable car, etc.
- Alexandre the 1st Garden (French: Jardin Alexandre Ier), at the west of the Municipal Library, garden opened with entertainment for young children, and a bandstand with casual concerts on Sundays.
- Frédéric Mistral Garden (French: Jardin Frédéric Mistral), cours Frédéric Mistral, garden with collections of exotic spices. The brides and grooms often choose to go there to take photographs after their wedding, on Saturdays afternoon.
- Jazz in Toulon, annual music festival.
- On July the 14th, Bastille Day is commemorated with a military march on the main boulevards. During the afternoon, there is usually an aircraft show that will be best seen from the beach and, at midnight, fireworks.
- On August the 15th, fireworks at the Saint Louis fort next to the beaches.
Beautiful beaches may be found in the small towns around Toulon. These ones seem to be specially recommended.
- Les Sablettes.
- L'Argentière, in the town of La Londe-les-Maures (30 km east of Toulon).
- La Capte, near Hyères (15 km east of Toulon). The bottom is of pur sand (no seaweed) and the depth increases very very slowly.
La flambée, pizza restaurant. Nice, intimate, reasonable prices and good food, building Le Marsouin, 518 bd Bazeilles, +33 4 94 42 12 07
Grand café de la rade, +33 4 94 24 87 02, on the port, facing the statue of the spirit of navigation. Big coffee shop and restaurant, easy to find. There are really numerous coffee shops on the port, this is only an example.
- Sainte-Anne hospital, 2 boulevard Sainte-Anne, +33 4 94 09 90 00, fax. +33 4 94 09 92 16.
- Chalucet Hospital, rue Chalucet, +33 4 94 22 77 78.
Avoid walking alone at night in the historical center of the town. Or remember to be nice to the people you may meet there. This is the "red" quarter of the town.
Tourists' office: place Raimu, +33 4 94 18 53 00, fax. +33 4 94 18 53 09, http://www.toulontourisme.com
The town's website, http://www.toulon.com/