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I watched my wife and children sleeping gently, as I got up at 06h55 on 11 Sep 11 to see us cruising through the gentle rays of the sunrise into Toulon.
We were sailing on the Royal Caribbean International's Liberty of the Seas, the second largest cruise ship in the world, and it took some delicate sideways manoevers to parallel park next to the dock at La Seyne - a small town next to Toulon.
We decided to give all the guided tours a skip and do our own thing in Toulon - we didn't want to be bound by a leaving time, as we weren't sure how well our little one would acclimatise to the Aquanauts kiddies club, and wanted to give her all the time she needed (it was our first day at sea).
After settling our daughter in (no problem!) we caught a taxi to the historical centre of Toulon for 25 Euros (bus would have cost USD15, but we were in a hurry). Our taxi driver was a rather innovative fellow - he tied his seatbelt around the back of the driver's seat, so he wouldn't be bothered by the continuous beeping of a BMW, telling you to put your seatbelt on.
Toulon has been a French town since 1482, and is situated between Nice and Marseille, in Provence. Behind Toulon is Mont-Faron and in front of it is the sea. Its economy revolves around the French naval base (as you cruise into Toulon you can see various naval ships) and tourism.
If you're not into cruising then you can fly to Toulon-Hyeres airport (18km east of Toulon), Marseille-Provence airport (100km west of Toulon) or Nice-Cote d'Azur airport (150km east of Toulon). It's often cheapest for South Africans to fly to London, and then catch a Ryanair flights from London Stansted to Toulon.
The historical center of Toulon is the lowest part of the town, located just north of the harbour. Go for walks along Lafayette and Algiers Streets, which are filled with shops and get crowded on Saturdays. See the Place Puget, the center of the historical center.
Near Place Puget is the Saint Marie de la Seds Cathedral, half-built but never finished (in the 11th Century).
See the Tour de l'horlage, a clock at the entry of the naval base
The Rugby Club of Toulon play at Stade Mayol in the middle of the town
When visiting a place for the first time, I like to find the best vantage point from which to see its entirety. The top of Mont-Faron Hill was my first stop in Toulon. Go buy tickets for the cable car at the tourist office in the historical centre - for 6 Euros they gave us a combined ticket for bus number 40 (leaves adjacent to the old Church) to Telephonique stop, the cable car ride to the top, the bus back and a ferry trip. At the tourist office also get a copy of the bus timetable (on Sunday buses are especially infrequent).
Mount Faron was the scene of fighting during the sieges of 1707 and 1793, then under the German occupation in 1944. With the increase in artillery range, the Beaumont Tower was built between 1842 & 1845 as part of a warning system to prevent its occupation by enemy troops, who who could have endangered Toulon. The Beaumont Tower is home to the Memorial Museum of the August 1944 Provence Landing. Be aware that this is France and they often take an extended lunch break, so for example we couldn't visit the inside of the Beaumont Tower, as it was closed between 12h00 and 14h00. This has happened to me before on the Eiffel Tower, where I had to wait an hour for the ticket office to open before I could get to the top floor.
There were other itmes of interest - besides the stunning views of Toulon, there's a World War II battletank and a WWII anti-aircraft gun. There are also memorial stones to :
"Captaine Lamy" who was the first to arrive on Mount Faron on the 22nd August 1944, at the head of the 3rd Company.
Lieutenant J.M. Chipier who died in the Battle of Toulon
There's also a very friendly shopkeeper at the top of the Mont, who sells a variety of Toulon-related tourist items - I recommend a stop there.
This sign at the furnicular said "thank you for your patience" in French and German, but not in english (no need to thank the english for their patience, as they have none!).
Visit one of the cafes and sit outside and watch the world pass you by, as you sip on your drink. There are loads of yachts in the harbour and in the distance you can see French naval vessels. I enjoyed an Orangina and waffle at Haagen Dazs.
A ferry ride across the bay is well worth it, if you want to see the French naval ships up close and get a wider angle view of the whole town.
Here's a photo from the ferry.