Food and Drink in Toulon
Toulon is full of restaurants, many of which line the harborfront, with the rest tucked away in the side streets and squares. Broadly speaking, if you are after fresh seafood, opt for the harborfront eateries; if game and local meat are more your thing, then the city center restaurants are a better bet. They vary in price largely depending where they are in town (i.e. they are pricier in the main squares and cheaper near the harborfront). Note: Most restaurants will offer a menu du jour, which is a set menu and always good value.
Les Tables de Fontaine: Tucked away on a pretty little square with a small fountain in the center, this reasonably priced, family-friendly eatery is just a few minutes' walk from the Place de la Cathedrale. It specializes in local meat and homemade pasta, burgers and bread, and has just 24 covers including a couple of tables outside. (Place Gustave Lambert; +33 6 59 25 37 28; Tuesday through Sunday, 11.45 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 7.30 p.m. to 9 p.m.)
Le Chantilly: In a prime position at the top of the Place de Puget, this upscale restaurant offers plenty of seating space indoors, or outdoors, right in front of the beautiful fountain. The food isn't particularly special but the setting is lovely. Expect to pay around €15 for a main, or a few euros more for a menu du jour. Wine starts at a very reasonable €2.60 per glass (it actually works out better to drink by the glass than order a bottle). (5 Place Pierre Puget)
La Feuille de Chou: This gorgeous little place is tucked into a tiny square off Rue Emile Zola. This is your archetypal French restaurant: small, crowded and noisy, serving fresh local produce at reasonable prices. The only non-French aspect of it is the service -- which is attentive and very friendly. A real gem. (5 Rue de la Glaciere; +33 4 94 62 09 26)
Best Cocktail in Toulon
The drink of choice on the Cote d'Azur is pastis, an anise-flavored spirit often sipped as an aperitif. Similar to the Greek ouzo and the Turkish raki, it's usually served with a glass of water and turns cloudy when mixed together. Knock one back in one of the alfresco cafes opposite the opera house on Place Victor-Hugo where you'll find a piece of street art depicting two local characters drinking pastis.
Beaches in Toulon
Best for Families: Toulon's manmade Mourillon beaches are located to the southeast of the city and feature 22 acres of green spaces and play areas. The area also includes a sailing center and seafront bars and restaurants. Many of the Mourillon beaches have a European "blue flag," which denotes exceptional cleanliness and are great places for families. There is also good disabled access.
Best for Nature-Lovers: If you are after wilder beaches, head to La Mitre to the west of the city center. Or, if you fancy hiking, there is a coastal path which leads from the end of the Mourillon beaches along the Cap Brun coast, and affords a total contrast to the city and the naval base opposite: undeveloped and peppered with cliffs and coves.
The beaches lie about a 30-minute walk from the cruise terminal but you are better off jumping on the 'petit train' service which runs from the cruise terminal, or you can always jump in a cab from the port.
Don't Miss in Toulon
Mont Faron: This impressive mountain towers 584 meters above Toulon. To get there, you'll need to take the cable car from Boulevard Admiral Vence at the top of town. Take a cab or the number 40 bus from the Telepherique bus stop in Place Louis Blanc. Note: The cable car is closed November through February. (Open 10 a.m. to 6.30 p.m.). While at the top, check out Mont Faron Zoo, a wild cat breeding center famed for its tigers. (+33 4 94 88 07 89; open daily except Christmas Day and New Year's Day, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Discounted tickets and a combined cable car/zoo pass are available from the Tourist Office in Place Louis Blanc.
National Naval Museum: In Place Monsenergue, right beside the gates to the naval complex, the National Naval Museum brings together excellent exhibits from Toulon's military naval past and present. See some of the ships, equipment and artifacts that made the city what it is and explore naval art and literature. It's got some stunning scale models of ships and an extraordinary sculpture of Neptune, which was once attached to the front of an old naval ship. There is even a recreation of the inside of the control room of a submarine. Admission includes an audio guide, well worth using. It's located on the waterfront close to the city center and is easily accessible by foot from the cruise terminal. (Place Monsenergue; +33 4 22 42 02 01; open daily from June to September, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; closed Tuesdays, October to May.)
Cours Lafayette Provencal Market: Just off the seafront boulevard, the Provencal market runs along the tree-lined Cours Lafayette and is the city's most famous outdoor market. Visitors can pick up fresh Provencal produce, from fish and meats to charcuterie, vegetables, cheeses and sweets. The market is open every morning, except Mondays, 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Toulon Cathedral: The city's cathedral, known locally as Sainte-Marie or Cathedrale Notre-Dame-de-la-Seds de Toulon, is hidden down a side street off the main thoroughfare, Cours Lafayette, and you could walk past it if you didn't know it was there. Wedged between residential buildings, it's a hodge-podge of different architectural styles dating from the 11th century. The belltower's ironwork is typical of the region and was used to prevent damage from the Mistral winds, which blow year-round. Inside it's graceful and ornate with vast, detailed stained glass windows and works from Puget and Van Loo. (Open daily.)
Place de la Liberte: The town's main square is where all the major events take place, from outdoor concerts to demonstrations to the annual Christmas market, which takes place from the end of November to December 30. The square is so called for the eponymous statue, which was built in 1889 to represent the departure of the better-known statue to New York (Lady Liberty) three years earlier. The square is surrounded by restaurants and cafes, and makes a nice place to sit and watch the world go by.
Boat Tour: The best way to get an idea of the size of the natural harbor of Toulon is to take a boat tour. The journey lasts about 30 minutes and takes in the entire harbor, starting at the city and all along the naval base. You can see the French naval fleet all lined up, including the impressive Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier. The harbor changes dramatically in character after the naval city, reverting to beaches, countryside, oyster fishing patches and rocky headland. Plus, you get a superb panorama of Mt. Faron, and the city nestled below. Boats leave all day, all along the harborfront and are often included as part of a walking tour of the city. (Open May to September, every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
St Tropez: Toulon is known as the gateway to Provence and it serves as a good departure point for visitors looking to explore the rest of the region. Most cruise operators run shore excursions to glamorous St Tropez, with passengers being given the option to visit on their own or as part of a guided tour group. Visitors can see the favorite haunts of the rich and famous and can enjoy the surrounds of this French Riviera town.
Aix-en-Provence: Visitors have been drawn to this small city about an hour from Toulon for the architecture, the food, the history and the atmosphere. A must-see for art-lovers, Aix is home to Paul Cezanne's studio and a number of galleries. It's also known for its music festivals and wide range of libraries and museums such as the Musee Paul Arbaud, which houses pottery, and the Musee Granet, which is devoted to the painting, architecture and sculpture of Aix. Art tours usually allot time to roam the main strip, which is bustling with postcard-picture cafes and boutique and designer shops. For a closer look at the landscapes seen in Cezanne's work, head to Montagne Sainte Victoire for some light walking or hiking.
Wine Tour: Oenophiles will want to get out and explore Provence's wine regions. From Toulon, Cassis – known for crisp white wines – and Bandol, where rose is king, are within easy touring distance. Ships offer bus excursions to larger wineries, but if you want to visit small producers, a private specialty tour with an operator such as Wine in Provence might be more satisfying.