plage Mistral ToulonToulon boasts some of the finest beaches in Provence, secret coves as well as lively, family-friendly resort areas - and, best of all, most are within easy reach of the city centre.

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Its best-known beaches are in Le Mourillon, an intimate former fishing port tucked around a spur of land a little south-east of the main cruise ship terminal.

Artificially created in the mid-1970s, this cluster of beaches is laid out as a succession of wide anses (bays) and very generously equipped with leisure facilities.

If you want something slightly wilder, Toulon has craggy little coves as well. Several of its beaches have earned the Pavillon Bleu (Blue Flag), an official eco-label signifying that they meet strict standards in terms of facilities, safety and environmental quality.

Many of Toulon's beaches can be reached on foot (though you may have to scramble a little to get to a couple of them): the closest ones are a 20-25 minute walk.

In fact the city recently refurbished and reopened a footpath that leads all the way from the Tour Royale just south of the cruise ship terminals to the anse Magaud on the eastern edge of the city.

Coastline signClearly signposted with explanatory panels, pictured, it's known as le sentier du littoral (coastal path) and offers some lovely views en route. Click here to read about it (in French) and other coastal hikes in the area.

This full walk is 5.5 km / 3.5 miles and takes - officially - two hours. Note, however, that some stretches of this path are a little steep and, as it's vulnerable to rockfall and erosion, parts may sometimes be closed off for restoration.

Alternatively the no.3 and no.23 buses and the little tourist train all run from the city centre and main cruise ship terminal to the anses de Mourillon. Bus no.23 continues on to the anses of Méjean and Magaud.

The beaches of Le Mourillon also have a very large and - very impressively - free - parking area with space for 1,300 cars. Several beaches here are also set up for wheelchair access. Click here for our full guide to how to get around Toulon by various modes of transport. And click here to view Toulon Town Hall's daily updates of the water quality and temperature (in French).

toulon beach map smallThis guide covers the beaches east of Toulon as far as the anse Magaud. Click on the map to enlarge the image.

The closest beaches to the city centre are the plage de Pipady and the plage de la Mître, a series of rocky creeks and gravel beaches that formerly belonged to the military and were only recently opened to the public, in 2004.

You can get to them along the coastal path starting from the mighty 16th century Tour Royale, the first defensive fort to be erected at the entrance to Toulon's harbour. These beaches are equipped with showers and, at the height of the tourist season, a lifeguard station.

The plage de la Mître is distinguished by an unusual "sugar loaf" rock formation and, though not exactly secluded, is favoured by nudists. If you continue along the coastal path towards Fort Saint Louis, you will pass a belvedere with a panoramic map indicating points of interest in the bay.

Built in 1696, Saint Louis was the last of the four forts erected to protect the bay of Toulon. It sits alongside the Port Saint Louis, an attractive little harbour populated with traditional fishing boats, whose owners set up stall to sell the daily catch at around 10am each morning. Just opposite, the Best Western La Corniche Hotel is the best spot to stay in this part of town.

The Fort Saint Louis signals the beginning of the anses / beaches of Le Mourillon and most families will make straight for these. They are (west to east): Lido, Mistral (pictured top left), Source and Pins. A fifth anse, Tabarly, houses the Toulon Yacht Club.

Seven hectares / 17 acres of sand went into their creation, and a wide, shady and grassy park area perfect for picnics screens them very effectively from the pollution and noise of the busy main road.

Wheelchair ramp ToulonProtected by breakwaters and with a shallow slope into the sea, the beaches are safe for children. Most of them are fairly accessible and the plage du Lido and plage de la Source are specifically set up for disabled users, with access ramps, pictured, and (at La Source) free aquatic wheelchairs for bathing.

The many other amenities include playgrounds, a skateboard park, beach volley, mini-golf and sun-bed hire, plus first aid and lifeguard stations, showers, toilets and so on.

This stretch of coast is densely lined with bars and restaurants (Le Lido, on the beach of that name is a local favourite), and is very popular with joggers. Pictured below: jogging at sunset at the anse des Pins.

Jogging on Toulon beachVarious events are held in Le Mourillon throughout the year, starting with an open-air seafood feast at Port Saint Louis in early March and continuing throughout the summer with a jazz festival, circus shows, pétanque matches and a Patrouille de France aerial display in August.

When you get bored with the beaches, the district of Le Mourillon itself, with its street market, jardin d'acclimatation (botanical garden), plentiful boutiques, bars and restaurants, charming squares and buzzing village atmosphere is an attraction in its own right.

The rue Lamalgue is the main shopping street and the market, at the place Emile Claude and place Monseigneur Deydier, is on every morning except Mondays.

The Musée des Arts asiatiques (Museum of Asian Art) is located in the Villa Jules Verne. Despite the name, the famous French author never lived there; it was bought by his daughter in law.

The museum contains a trove of oriental treasures gathered by sailors and others on their travels, and is on the waterfront opposite the Fort Saint Louis at 169 littorial Frédéric Mistral. Admission free.

Just east of the yacht club the coastal path (slightly steep at this point) leads to the plage de la Batterie basse, a shaded pebble and gravel beach, parts of which are used by nudists. It may also be accessed by driving to Cap Brun Fort and taking the steps leading down from the car-park there. There are no facilities at this beach.

Port Mejean ToulonRight on the very edge of town are two of the prettiest bays and beaches. The sweeping anse Méjean is a beach of mixed sand and gravel lined by picturesque blue-shuttered fishermen's cottages, pictured. It has a lifeguard in summer and a restaurant, L'Escale.

You can reach the anse Méjean along the coastal path; if driving, you may find space in the free car park at the bottom of the chemin de la Batterie basse. A path continues on from this bay to the last one within the Toulon municipality: the anse Magaud.

Though right on the edge of town, this smaller sand and gravel beach also has a lifeguard in summer and a restaurant right on the water, the Restaurant Bernard. As with L'Escale, advance reservation is advised.

Both the anse Mejean and the anse Magaud can also be accessed from the main road (the avenue de la Résistance). After you pass the very swish Restaurant des Pin Penchés on your right, turn right at the roundabout down the pedestrian-only chemin de la Mer which takes you to the sea.

Photo credits (from top): © Google Street View, SJ for Marvellous Provence (four images), Google Street View.

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