During the summer months, it’s a pretty well known fact that Parisians high tail it out of their hometown in favor of either the beach towns of the Cà´te d’Azur or those of the Atlantic. Many of these destinations are familiar to non-francophones such as Nice, Saint Tropez, Cannes, Deauville, Biarritz, or Marseilles, but there are plenty of other destinations that can often be (slightly) less crowded mainly due to the fact they often require a second train to get to. So, if you want to beat the overwhelming crowds here are two of Untapped’s recommendations for your next trip to the French Riviera, no matter what time of the year it might be.
Fréjus Saint Raphaà«l
Technically two different towns, Fréjus and Saint Raphaà«l are two resort towns best known for their long sandy beaches, a rarity along the rocky coastline of the Mediterranean, and a rather rich history.
Fréjus, the older of the two, was established in 49 BCE by the Romans as a port town during the construction of the Aurelian Way under then name “Forum Julii” or market of Julius. Thanks to this ancient association the area has a wealth of Roman ruins, all of which are easily accessible to the public. In a controversial move, the amphitheater and theater have been fitted with modern seating allowing for concerts and plays to be held in these ancient settings.
Fréjus’s city center sits above the sea and is about as picturesque as one can imagine. Walking up and down the colorful streets it’s easy to loose oneself in its beauty. Each part seems to be lost in its own time, whether it’s the Villa Aurelia, the gothic church, the sprawling branches of the 1000 year-old olive tree, or the cafes and tiny streets that look as if they jumped out of a post-impressionist painting.
Its neighbor, Saint Raphaà«l, is better known for its more modern history. The town served as the landing beach for both Napoleon Bonaparte’s army after the Egyptian campaign and the Allies at the end of WWII. There is even a statue commemorating Napoleon’s legacy with the town at the old harbor.
The city itself was a small fishing village until the late nineteenth century when the mayor, Félix Martin, turned Saint Raphaà«l into a resort town with the opening of the town’s train station. The construction of the Grand Casino, multiple hotels, and the Basilica confirmed the town’s status as a top destination frequented by Europe’s royalty, artists, and writers. F. Scott Fitzgerald worked on Tender is the Night here.
In addition to the wealth of cultural activities available, there are also plenty of opportunities for those looking for more than just lounging around on the beach and going to markets or to museums. You can easily go camping or hiking in the region’s national park, the Massif de l’Estérel. There are also plenty of bike paths along the water and places to rent bikes. Finally, there are some great spots for fishing and diving, especially in Dramont. The beach is particularly great early in the morning and it offers a clear and direct view of l’Ile d’Or.
The view from Dramont looking towards the Ile d’Or, an island we previously visited on Untapped Paris
Named for the flowers that cover the region, Borme-les-Mimosas is an absolutely stunning medieval hillside village overlooking the sea. The flowers bloom in the springtime and fill the air with a vanilla-like aroma. In the off-season, the scent of eucalyptus permeates the air, and bougainvillea covers the colorful buildings while irises sprout along the winding roads. Most of the old city center is closed off to cars, allowing for plenty of walking trails to discover the town. Most of these paths lead to the ruins of the old castle that give onto an incredible view of the valley and sea.
The village has plenty of great restaurants and stores that sell various products from Provence. One store in particular is quite fun, the Maison de l’Olive is located across from the church and sells various pastries and liqueurs, including one made from the town’s namesake. The owners are very sweet and will even give samples of the liqueurs.
Outside the village center are lots of celebrated vineyards that offer wine tastings and of course there are the beaches, perfect for taking a break from the heat or for a scenic walk along the coast. If you choose to go to the beach Estagnol, there is a great fruit and vegetable market on the way that can serve as the perfect addition to any beach side picnic.
The area is a pretty well kept secret among the French, even if it’s continuously named one of the most beautiful villages in France and is the home of Fort Bréganà§on, one of the French President’s official residences.
One thing is for sure, no matter where or when you choose to go in the French Riviera, there will always be sun, incredibly fresh food, afternoon siestes, the sounds of old men debating while playing pétanque, the smell of pastis in the air, and of course all the incredible colors that have inspired generations of artists. So what are you waiting for? Profitez! And remember, in the South, its always l’heure de l’apéro!
Get in touch with the author @OliviaMohler