The spectacular natural beauty that spurred the development of France’s Mediterranean coastline can still be found today if you know where to look. The place to rediscover the Riviera as it used to be is along the coastline of the Var, the French department that runs roughly from Bandol just east of Marseille to Saint-Raphaël. The area’s most striking physical feature is its dramatic ocher mountains, which in many places come right down to the water’s edge. Aside from Saint-Tropez, the region has remained uncrowded and unspoiled and is surprisingly little known to foreign travelers.
The best jumping-off point for discovering the Var is Marseille. After the Suez Canal opened in 1869, commerce in the port of Marseille boomed. An era of prosperity began and waned only after France lost its North African and Asian colonies in the 1950s and 1960s. Deprived of this activity, Marseille fell on hard times and acquired an unenviable reputation for drug-related organized crime. Within the past decade or so, however, the city has invested heavily in an easy-to-use tramway system, major renovations of its former docklands and new museums. The latest addition is the striking Mucem, or Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations, which occupies a magnificent modern building on the waterfront at the head of the old port. Today France’s second-most-populous city is very different from its outdated image.
Le Petit Nice