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Best known for its historic naval port and successful rugby team, Toulon is also a magnet for culture vultures thanks to a clutch of unique museums and the largest opera house in France after Paris.
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Top 5 sights for first-timers
For magnificent views overToulonand coast, take the cable car up to Mont Faron. At the top is a zoo specialising in the conservation of big cats and a museum dedicated to the Allied landings in 1944. It’s also good walking country.
Boulevard Amiral Vence
As well as from Mont Faron,Toulon’s beautiful bay is best viewed from the sea. From May to October, hour-long boat trips pass the naval base (home to submarines andFrance’s immense aircraft carrier, Charles de Gaulle) and 17th-century military fortifications.
Port de Toulon
Musée National de la Marine
Housed in the former arsenal and accessed via a monumental doorway, this museum is one ofFrance’s five national museums dedicated to naval history. Apart from models of boats, there is an area dedicated to Vauban, the country’s celebrated 17th-century military engineer.
Place Monsenergue, Quai de Norfolk
The reason to visit the Musée d’Art is to see the collection of 19th-century Provençal art, which includes paintings by landscape specialists, Fauves and symbolists. Works range from the 15th to the 20th century and also encompass photography by the likes of Cartier-Bresson.
113 boulevard Général Leclerc
Museum d’Histoire Naturelle de Toulon et du Var
As well as permanent exhibitions on the geology, archaeology, botany and zoology of the area, the museum holds temporary exhibitions on the biodiversity and ecosystems of the Var and beyond. Its palm-filled 19th-century garden is also worth a wander.
737 chemin du Jonquet
Top 5 sights for old hands
About seven kilometres north of the airport, Hyères was the first resort on the French Riviera. TheOldTownhas a lovely square watched over by a Templar tower, and two gorgeous gardens, at Castel Sainte-Claire and 1920s modernist Villa Noailles, are atop the hill.
Musée des Arts Asiatiques
In Mourillon, a belle époque villa is home to an interesting collection of items from theFar East. The main theme is how Buddha influenced art, including temple sculptures fromTibetand ritual vases fromChina.
Villa Jules Verne, 169 littoral Frédéric Mistral
About 15 kilometres off the coast, this small island wasEurope’s first marine national park. As well as admiring the migratory birds, lush vegetation and 17th-century forts, snap on a snorkel and follow the underwater nature trail. A great place to get away from it all.
A tour of the naval base
Toulon’s little white tourist train takes visitors on a 45-minute tour of the naval base andOldTownfrom mid-April to mid-May and from June to mid-September. Expect to see warships, submarines and, if you’re lucky,France’s aircraft carrier. ID required aged 15 and above.
Port de Toulon
Opposite the beaches of Mourillon, this 19th-century garden is a lovely place for an evening stroll underneath the palm trees. Its south-facing aspect ensures the growth of many exotic trees and plants, and there’s a kids’ playground and a tennis court too.
Littoral Frédéric Mistral
Written by World Travel Guide