I’ve been to Toulon a few times now, once as my destination and the other times as a transfer. It’s a train hub whether you’re going north or south.
Toulon is the town where I had my first vin chaud (mulled wine) and therefore commenced the obsession. (I have packets to make my own now.) It’s also the town where I cracked my phone screen without actually dropping it (long story) and a few months ago I grabbed a coffee along a busy road as I waited for my train to Nice, watching the world go by. The train station even had working wifi, so that was already a good sign.
Toulon is the perfect day trip from La Ciotat or even Marseille. It’s big enough to attract tourists but small enough to still have that “provence-al” feel. In the historical downtown, the streets are tight and crowded. Locals bustle along on with baguettes tucked under their arms. Usually the bigger the city the more intricate the bakeries become, so we made sure to stop by a few and grab some chocolate cakes and macarons for the road.
The train station is right outside downtown, so it’s an easy walk to the water and the markets. We didn’t find any beaches, but the part of Toulon we explored was full of marinas. And, like a lot of the cities in the south, the views didn’t disappoint. It’s nestled right in the slope of some mountains, so you can look one way and see the rocky countryside and then turn the other way and look out over the Mediterranean.
In the winter season there is a Christmas market (in comparison, it’s bigger than the one I found in Marseille, which turned out to be a bit disappointing). Wander through Liberty Square as it is transformed into the best winter wonderland the Mediterranean coast has to offer. There’s even a few carnival rides if you’re feeling adventurous. It’s free to walk around the stalls filled with handcrafted soap, glittering jewelry, leather handbags, and even some local original work.
There’s also a whole section dedicated to food! Try some of the cheesy bretzels (the other way to spell pretzels) that come with dozens of toppings. And then wash it all down with some vin chaud because, even though there’s no snow, the south can get chilly. It’s the end of April, yet I’m still wearing my winter coat every other day.
We spent the rest of our day walking around downtown. I picked up a few souvenirs: some of the handcrafted soap from the Christmas market that had been carved into the shape of a lily and a small jar of Nutella-like spread with fizzing crystals in it. A.k.a pop rocks.
Spend a weekend exploring or just stop by for the day. Whether you’re with some friends or traveling solo, Toulon is a beautiful southern city that has that French charm you’re looking for – minus the crowds.