Located in the south of France in the Var region, 45 minutes from Nice, nestled between Cannes and Saint-Tropez, the city of Saint-Raphaël stretches on 22 miles of coastline.
Due to its nautical proximity, it's a top scuba diving spot, with 5 ports and a waterfront town center. While its head is turned towards the sea, Saint Raphaël also offers 3 golf courses, including the Valescure, created in 1895 by Lord Aschcomb.
The jagged coastline—studded with marinas and 27 sandy and pebble beaches—culminates in the inlets of the Massif de l'Esterel. This flaming-red quartz mountain covers 32,000 hectares and offers visitors a glimpse of untainted Mediterranean flora.
Since antiquity, the coastal territory of Saint-Raphaël has been a vacation destination. Over two millenia later, when the historic Paris-Lyon-Marseille (PLM) railway line to Italy was put into place in 1863, Saint-Raphaël built a station near the Old City. Large luxury hotels and the Casino quickly sprung up from there. Thanks to its easy access to the train and sea, Saint-Raphaël became a popular resort, attracting many artists coming to enjoy the light and light-heartedness of the Côte d'Azur—the likes of Gounod, Georges Sand, and Maupassant were frequent visitors.
Under a mild September sun, the Mediterranean reflects the flocks of gulls soaring above it, simultaneously lapping against the boats of fishermen throwing their nets into the sea.
Descending from the train, a visitor can hear the cackling of the gulls and feel the spray of the sea before even leaving the station.
The narrow streets of the Old Town were made to wander in, dotted with flower stalls and vegetable vendors offering Provençal products.
Later, one can stroll into the past and discover the 12th-century Romanesque Church, the Museum of Prehistory and Underwater Archeology, and the imposing Neo-Byzantine Basilica "Our Lady of Victory," built more than a century ago.
The Call of the Sea
The warm weather invites a strong thirst—luckily, the seaside terraces and harbor cafés have more than enough to slake it.
Apéritif hour means one thing: Côtes de Provence rosé. Born from the vineyard in the Esterel, whose vines are planted in the heart of the Massif, fomenting the wine known as "Terre Destel." Or, if you prefer the light gold taste of a local Saint-Raphaël brew: Riviera Beer is blonde, light, and sweet, with a fine mouthfeel.
After the apèro, the servers of the shaded terraces offer sumptuous meals featuring local products with Mediterranean flavors, as well as the catch of the day from the sea.
In the afterglow of a great meal, there's plenty to discover still: like exploring the city, setting out in a maxi-catamaran, nautical sports, relaxing on the beach,or playing pétanque with the Raphaëlois. The what doesn't matter as much as the where, so long as you're in a spot to admire the twinkling lights all around the gulf reflecting off the sea.