In the heart of Provence, Saint Raphael is a charming marina town, situated between Cannes and Saint-Tropez, around 60 kilometres from Nice. Reclining beside the azure waters, with a backdrop of mountains, you can see why Saint Raphael is such an attractive destination.
During the Second World War, it was the principal point for landings in Provence. Beside the Frejus bay, Saint Raphael is a lively resort with pretty Belle Epoque buildings, a picturesque Old Port, and beaches, marinas, casinos and golf courses within reach.
Its 30 local beaches are spread over the varied terrain of the coastline, amongst rocky ravines and sheltered coves, and the coastline is ideal for sailing and deep-sea diving. The pink rocks of the Massif de l'Esterel cast their shadow over the crystal blue water. It was here at the foot of these mountains that F. Scott Fitzgerald was inspired to write Tender is the Night in 1920.
Mountain bike trails, horse riding and rambling paths snake around the mountains, on this 32,000 hectare protected nature site.
The imposing presence of this mountain range seeps into the town itself: even the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Victoire is built with this rose-hued sandstone. Inside this Roman-Byzantine church you're almost transported to Hagia Sofia in Constantinople thanks to the richness of its decoration.
In the summer Saint Raphael is an idyllic destination, but even in winter it is delightful. In February, Saint Raphael celebrates the festival of Viva Mimosa that winter-flowering Provençal shrub with vivid yellow blossoms, and you'll see exhibitions, shows, fleamarkets and themed walks at this time.
Provençal traditions remain important here and sailing regattas are held throughout the summer, from May to September.
A short walk away, in neighbouring Frejus, you can explore the Roman theatre. The site has been carefully restored and now hosts a theatre festival called "Aurelian Nights".
From Saint Raphael you could do a day trip to the Gorges du Verdon, a stunning natural ravine, perhaps the most beautiful canyon in Europe.
There are a host of reasons to visit the Saint Raphael area: discover this area of stunning natural beauty, the warm breeze heavy with the perfumes of the Mediterranean.
De gare à gare