Toulon, Hyeres and Le Lavandou
"At the western end of the French Riviera you’ll find two towns and a city; Toulon, considered by some not to be part of the true Riviera, Hyeres, which dates back to the time of the Greeks and Le Lavandou, named after the lavender that grows outside the commune"
A lazy drive along the French Riviera brings you first to Toulon, important first and foremost as the Mediterranean port for the French navy. Many jobs in the city rely on the facility but the city still manages to attract nearly 200,000 tourists each year.
Toulon dates back over three thousand years and developed because of its geographical features; a tall hill called Faron not only protects the lee of it from the Mistral winds and affords an excellent panoramic view but also has several freshwater springs coming from it. The headland too provides protection for Toulon Bay, turning it nearly into a lagoon and giving it calm waters.
Today, the tourists come to experience the history and atmosphere of the old town where streets such as Algiers and Lafayette host hundreds of shops and boutiques whilst the smaller ones are crammed with tiny cafes and boulangeries. The city beaches are poor but still often crowded and it’s far better to drive out to those along the coast which are more attractive and quieter. If you’re in Toulon on Bastille Day, July 14th, you’ll be treated to a military march past, an air display and evening fireworks. In winter, Toulon still has its attractions with a Christmas market and ice skating in the main square.
Leaving Toulon behind, the next stop on the journey east is Hyeres, the oldest resort on the Riviera and older still if you consider the Greeks who set up the city of Olbia there in the 7th century BC. It’s a charming commune set on a hill a little inland from the coast but easily reached from it. One thing you’ll notice during your stay is the large number of palm trees that grow there and which give the commune’s name its appendage of Les Palmiers. Over 100,000 are grown and exported each year. The warm, humid climate is perfect for the trees and also for the thousands of tourists that travel there. Whilst in Hyeres, take a ferry trip out to the four Iles d’Hyeres located off the coast, which were important prizes when the Americans and Senegalese troops invaded after D-Day. Today they’re peaceful and dedicated as national parks.
Further along the coast still, lies Le Lavandou which is named after the scented lavender grown nearby. The commune has other claims to fame as well, being the place where the song ‘ A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’ was written and has a local by-law making it illegal to die in the commune, a thumbed nose to the regional authority’s refusal to build a cemetery in the commune. Trivia aside, it’s a charming and peaceful place to spend at least an afternoon drinking a chilled wine and watching the world go by.
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