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The Harbour City Toulon at the Mediterranean Sea

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Purely from the touristical point of view, the city Toulon has no great significance in South France. It is simply left behind by most of the tourists. But I was so impressed by Toulon that I stood there for three days, although I actually only planned one day for this city. This is why I am able to give a very detailed report about the city.

Situation of the City

By driving alongside the Côte d'Azur from East to West, at the beginning, the metropolis string together: Monaco, Nice and Cannes follow each other in short distance. After Cannes, more or less known bath resorts and touristical metropolis appear during a long time. At the most southern point of the coast, one ends in Hyères. After approximately a further half an hour continuing driving one arrives to the next real metropolis: Toulon.

Map of Toulon and surroundings

Toulon has more than 180.000 inhabitants and is therewith the third biggest city after Marseille and Nice at the southern coast of France. Toulon is not a typical bathing resort in South France and is literally left behind by those passing by. Most of thew tourists coming from the East drive straight away through up to Marseille. I have to admit that I only visited Toulon due to the reason of a bad chance of having a rainy day in July. But as I arrived, I was so impressed by Toulon that I decided to stay there for three days.

Why do most of the tourists leave Toulon behind? For the French tourists, the area of Toulon is an economical and social crisis region, thus a city that lives from bad catchlines. Those who drive through Toulon for the first time will find some wide roads with some boring building claddings of concrete at the left and at the right side. By this way, the city appears to be rather deterrent. Also the boardwalk at the old harbour does not attract by some pretty old buildings but some modern high ones. In addition to that, the beaches are located a little outside the city centre.

Toulon is not least famous for its big harbour. In Toulon, the biggest part of the French fleet is stationed. Thus, the city had a special significance during the Second World War. Toulon is not a place where people should stay for a two-weeks holiday but rather a place where one does a stop for one or several days on the way to somewhere else. But the reason why I highly recommend a side-trip to Toulon is described in the following text.

History of Toulon

In its more than 2000 year old history, Toulon experienced numerous ups and downs, whereby the downs still strongly remain in memory. The bay of Toulon is accessible form the East. There is hardly any other place with such a big natural port basin as Toulon. Due to this reason, Toulon was already one of the most significant harbours during the antique times. Already in the Roman era, Toulon could gain great significance due to the big resources of dog whelks. The Romans used to catch them in order to make therefrom the purple-coloured toga.

View to the bay of Toulon from the Mont Faron

In medieval times, Toulon was expanded to one of the most important war harbours of France and therewith, it gained a huge significance on national level. The harbour was considered as impregnable. All around it, numerous castles and fortifications were built that are mainly kept still today and also can be viewed. From the heartland, Toulon is protected by mountains heighted more than 500 m.

A sad chapter in the history of Toulon was the time when the prisioners became here slaves of galleys. Tied up in chains and driven by whippings, they often oared the French war ships to the battles up to their death.

Toulon remained and is still today the most significant marina of France. During the Second World War, the French fleet that was stationed there was sunk by the French themselves except the submarines in order not to be caught be the nazis. Still today there is in Toulon a major part of the French war fleet stationed there.

As during the Second World War, Toulon was the central point of the war due to the fleet stationed there, the city was also strongly attacked by bombs. This is the reason why today, there are barely old buildings and the boardwalk is surrounded by new buildings.

Tourism in Toulon

Due to its historical development to a significant marina, the sector of tourism remained strongly under-developed in Toulon. When the tourism started to develop in the neighboured area around Hyères and alongside the Côte d'Azur, Toulon remained untouched. Who wanted to be on holiday in a place that is dominated by war, marine and fortifications?

The old harbour of Toulon with the boardwalk

This development could have been different. Finally, a huge bathing resort with numerous beaches could have developed in the bay of Toulon. But the visitors of Toulon benefit from the under-developed tourism. As a result, there is barely any other big city in France where one can stay over night as cheap as in Toulon.

In Toulon, there is one Office de Tourisme, where one is attended in a very friendly way and gets enough information material about the city. Unfortunately, it is not possible to park right in front of this tourist information centre. I was fully enthusiastic about the way I was helped in this office. They not only gave a lot of information about the city for free, the lady also phoned several hotels and booked an accommodation for me.

Toulon is a city that can be "done" by a tourist in one day. There are two highlights that should not be missed: for the trip on the Mont Faron one should calculate approximately 2-3 hours. The obligatory harbour round trip takes approximately  1-2 hours. Therewith, the two most important sightseeings of Toulon are viewed. But one also should not miss in any case visiting those dream beaches. What is very pleasant is that the beaches in Toulon are never overcrowded as it is the case for example in Nice, Cannes or in the typical bathing resorts of the Côte d'Azur.

Staying Over Night in Toulon

As Toulon never developed to a touristical centre and the region is economically a little under-developed, the accommodation in Toulon is very cheap. There are numerous and very good hotels in which one finds a cheap possibility to stay over night in practically every season.

I slept in the Hotel Mercure that is located in the Shopping Mall Mayon. From the outside, the hotel appears to very posh and dapper; it is, finally, THE congress hotel of Toulon par excellence. I actually would have fully abstained from this hotel; I could not belive that it is possible to stay there for approximately  80 € per double-room. The comfort-room was already available for 100 € and all this during the high season. What was also very pleasant was the guarded underground car park right under the hotel.

The hotel is located right at the congress centre of Toulon and over the Shopping Mall Mayon. Without getting out, there is a choice of several hundred shops and restaurants within the right proximity. As the Centre Mayon is additionally located in the core of Toulon, one is in the very early morning by leaving the hotel amidst the biggest market of the city. This market is not only the biggest one of the city but at the same time the biggest of the whole region. Within only 2 2 minutes, one is right at the boardwalk. I think I never have had a more centrally located accommodation before. It takes a little more than half an hour walk from the hotel to the beach.

The rooms were very clean, perfectly arranged and with very comfortable beds. There was also a TV with more than 20 20 channels in each of the rooms. There was only one thing which would interest me: the only German channel was RTL2. Do people in Toulon believe that RTL2 is the standard of television in Germany?

Going Out in Toulon

While in the early morning there is hustle and bustle in the market of Toulon and half of the city is outside, in the evenings at 06.00 p.m. when the shops closed, the streets are like a desert. Only in the boardwalk there are still crowds of people.

A free of charge and first-class jazz concert right at the boardwalk

I had one of the best pizzas in Toulon I ever could get in France. This good restaurant is called Pizze Du Port, where one gets the best wood stove pizzas of the city. As the name already says, the restaurant is located right at the harbour. The pizzas are not only good but also quite big and extremely cheap. Unfortunately, the restaurant is always crowded, so that sometimes one has to wait up to half an hour for a free tables. If one arrives during the peak time and is so lucky to get immediately a table, this does far not mean that one also gets immediately something to eat: I has to wait 1,5 hour for a pizza, although any minute, the waiters passed me by with some fresh pizzas...

Toulon is a city of jazz. There are numerous french jazz musicians coming from Toulon. On my second day in Toulon, a jazz-band of Toulon played right at the harbour on a stage with numerous seats at the front. I have to say that I already experienced a lot of jazz-musicians, thereunder also renowed ones as Chick Corea or Oskar Petersen, but in Toulon, I experienced the best jazz-concert ever.

These 5 musicians not only played very well, but they were fully dedicated to it. And the best: this concert was absolute for free. One could seat on a free chair as long as wanted. People came and left again as they wanted. The concert was up to late at night; the atmosphere was bombastic.

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