Sanary sur Mer

Lighthouse at Sanary sur MerOn the coast between Marseille and Toulon, Sanary works its lazy charm on visitors with a pretty harbour, large, lively street markets and the Old Town's cobbled, pedestrianised backstreets.

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There is no real must-see sight in Sanary; it's more a place for strolling around and relaxing deliciously in the provençal sun, or perhaps for using as a starting point for a boat trip to the calanques.

Sanary is also a significant diving centre with a rich history of this sport, and offers all the other usual marine pastimes including sailing and fishing. And of course there are always the beaches: click here for our guide to the beaches of Sanary sur Mer.

WHAT TO SEE

The picturesque harbour is the main magnet. The municipality has cleverly arranged for the mooring spaces closest to the town to be reserved for dozens of colourful pointus, or traditional provencal fishing boats, and heritage vessels, some dating back to the late 19th century. Less photogenic modern boats are all banished to the edge of the port.

Sanary's morning fish market could still hold its own with the more famous one on the Old Port of Marseille. Each year on the last Sunday of June, the town's maritime legacy is celebrated in full force on La Fête de la Saint Pierre (Saint Peter's Day) in a ceremony dedicated to the patron saint of fishermen.

Giant bouillabaisse in Sanary sur MerOn this occasion, every second year (on even years), a giant bouillabaisse, or fish stew, pictured, is prepared for up to 2,500 people.

Sanary's main market, which includes arts, crafts, textiles and clothing as well as food, takes place on Wednesday mornings.

And a large farmers' market is held on the nearby allée d'Estienne d'Orves, near the pleasant palm gardens of the Jardin de Luino, on other weekday mornings. On summer evenings, craft workers set up their stalls on the seafront too.

You can take a boat trip from here to the Porquerolles Islands or the calanques - though the tour starting from Sanary to the calanques is slightly longer (at least two hours 45 minutes) than out of either Marseille or Cassis. You can even go on special cruises to spot whales and dolphins. Click here for details of all these boat excursions.

Pastis inventor Paul Ricard with the comedian FernandelIn summer there is a regular boat shuttle to Les Embiez Island, bought in 1958 by the pastis king Paul Ricard who founded the Paul Ricard Oceanographic Institute there. Pictured: Ricard (on the right) enjoying a drink with the popular local comedian Fernandel.

The Institute has aquaria, exhibitions and an extensive research and educational programme. Ricard's grave can also be found on the island, while a permanent photographic exhibition, Nul bien sans peine (No Pain, No Gain, one of the man's favourite mottos), commemorates his life.

Back in Sanary itself, the Tour Romaine, a 13th century romansque tower, guards the west side of the port (and is the emblem on Sanary's coat of arms).

Inside is a collection of Roman amphoras and other archeological objects of interest salvaged by Jacques Cousteau and his team from the Grand Congloué and other shipwrecks in the area. At the top of the tower, a terrace affords splendid views across the bay, the town and the surrounding countryside.

Walking east around the harbour, you pass Saint Nazaire, a church dedicated to the first century martyr who gave Sanary its name (San Nari is the provençal form of Saint Nazaire). The 19th century byzantine-style building is richly decorated inside with romanesque frescos and boasts a significant organ which is often pressed into service for concerts.

Behind the church, the Old Town of Sanary consists of a mediaeval area with intertangled, winding streets and an adjacent "new" area, dating back to the 16th century, which follows a grid pattern. Both are thickly populated with bars, restaurants and the usual souvenir and craft shops. Of note here is the Chapelle des Penitents Blancs, with its reliquaries and busts of Saint Nazaire and Saint Peter.

Fun fact about Sanary sur Mer On the edge of the Old Town the Théâtre Georges Galli is named after a matinee idol of the silent French cinema. Like many non English-speaking stars, Galli did not survive the coming of sound and found a new vocation: as the priest of Sanary. Famed for their dramatic sermons, his Sunday services played to packed houses.

Jacques CousteauSanary is a key diving centre on this stretch of the Mediterranean coast. Its tradition goes back to the three "mousquemers" (a pun on "mousquetaires", or musketeers): a trio of diving enthusiasts and pioneers formed by Cousteau (pictured in a portrait taken by Yousuf Karsh in 1972), Philippe Tailliez and Frédéric Dumas.

As well as achieving a world-record deep-sea dive in 1943, Dumas was a tireless inventor of home-made diving equipment. Dedicated to him, the Frédéric Dumas International Diving Museum (as this tiny museum grandly calls itself) opened in 2006 in Sanary, where Dumas spent much of his life.

Tucked away on the ground floor of a house down a side-street off the port, it's a must-visit for diving fans, with its collection of ingenious devices such as wooden goggles and leather flippers as well as a diving mask made by Dumas in the 1930s out of the air chamber of a tyre which inspired the ground-breaking squale diving mask.

Replica of an early 18th century diving suit in Sanary sur MerThere's also a replica of a bizarre 1715 diving suit, pictured, which featured in Patrice Leconte's 1996 comedy Ridicule, and a selection of early underwater cameras, including a 3D one.

The diving connection is evident elsewhere all over Sanary: in the Comex diving bell on display in the Jardin de Luino on the seafront, the miniature children's versions on the carousel by the Tourist Office and the underwater discovery trail off Portissol beach. It goes without saying that you can also scuba dive off the coast of Sanary.

The novelist Aldous Huxley wrote his dystopian novel Brave New World while living in Sanary in 1931 and over the next years, between 1933 and 1944, the town was a magnet for many exiled Jewish and/or dissident artists and intellectuals fleeing Hitler from Germany and Austria. They included Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Lion Feuchtwanger, Stefan Zweig and Ludwig Marcuse, among many others.

Some escaped, to America and elsewhere; others were taken to the Camp des Milles internment and deportation camp outside Aix en Provence (you can also visit the Camp des Milles). Sanary has various memorials to this sombre era, including a marked trail (a map is available at the Tourist Office) and a commemorative plaque.

The children's playground on the habour, Le Jardin des Enfants d'Izieu, also has a plaque remembering 44 children and their seven teachers who were deported to Auschwitz in 1944. Anyone interested in exploring this history further can consult the extensive archives at Sanary's Médiatheque.

On the western outskirts of Sanary are two more attractions, side by side just off exit 12 on the A50 motorway towards Marseille. The Zoa is a combination of zoo, or parc animalier, and exotic gardens (parc exotique): families with small children should note that many of the plants are of the prickly cactus variety.

The Zoa, or zoo, at Sanary sur MerOpen all year round, the 60-year-old zoo houses mainly tropical birds and small mammals such as meerkats, wallabies or Senegalese pygmy goats.

Now under relatively new ownership, it plans to develop its reptile houses. There are plenty of picnic areas and a gift shop that also sells drinks and light snacks and a rather small - but free - car-park (entrance to the Zoa itself is quite pricey, however).

Down a side road just off that same car-park is the Jardin des Oliviers, or olive gardens (note that its poorly signed entrance is easy to miss).

This three hectare / 7.5 acre hilltop site claims to exhibit three examples of each of the 1,000 species of olive trees in existence throughout the world though the Insider has to confess they all looked pretty much the same to the untrained eye.

Landscaped with traditional restanques, the region's typical dry stone terraces, the garden also features ancient ovens and kilns and a traditional noria, or water pump, operated (on special occasions only) by a hard-working horse. It's an idyllic spot for a breath of fresh air, even if it's a pity about the drone of traffic from the adjacent motorway.

HOW TO GET TO AND FROM SANARY SUR MER

Sanary is highly oriented towards cruise tourism and these day trippers come in by tender from smaller vessels moored in the bay or by chartered tour bus from the larger cruise ships in Toulon. If you're not doing this, here's how to get to Sanary from Toulon, Hyères or Marseille.

Traditional fishing boats in the harbour of SanaryBy bus: This is the best way to get to Sanary sur Mer by public transport. Route 8805 runs from Toulon to Bandol via Sanary and Six Fours. Route 8806 runs from La Seyne sur Mer to Bandol, also via Sanary and Six Fours. Route 8807 runs from Sanary to Ollioules.

All three services are operated by Varlib. Type in the number of your chosen route in the box marked "numéro ou nom de ligne" to view the current bus timetable.

By rail: If you are coming from Marseille or Hyères, you will have to take the train. Sanary sits on the Marseille-Toulon-Hyères line. Click here for the train timetable. Select timetable no.1 (Marseille-Toulon) from the drop-down menu at the top of the page.

Note that the SNCF train station is between Sanary and Ollioules; it's just over 2 km / 1.5 miles, and a good 25 minute walk, out of the centre of Sanary. If you don't want to walk, try to time your train to meet the rather infrequent 8807 bus or budget for a taxi.

By car: From Marseille (58 km / 36 miles / 45mins), take the A50 from Marseille to junction 12, then follow signs to Bandol and Sanary on the D559. This route goes along the Bandol seafront before entering Sanary.

From Toulon (12 km / 8 miles / 20mins), take the A50 from Toulon to junction 13, then follow signs to Sanary and Ollioules along the D26 then D11. Alternatively take the A50 to junction 12 and then proceed as above.

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There is a very large car-park right on the harbour at Sanary, which was almost full when the Insider visited on a weekday morning in early May. Indeed parking is in short supply at most times.

By air: The nearest airport is Toulon-Hyères, 35 km / 21.5 miles away: see our guide to Toulon-Hyères airport for details of onward transport connections. Marseille-Provence airport is 80 km / 50 miles away and Nice is 160 km / 100 miles.

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PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Where to eat and drink: As usual in seaside resorts, the harbour-front restaurants offer the best views and, in many cases, indifferent value for money. Plunge into the back-streets of the Old Town where you'll be spoilt for choice and find much better pickings.

La Rencontre restaurant Sanary sur MerLa P'tite Cour was featured in Raymond Blanc's 2012 BBC television series The Very Hungry Frenchman. 6 rue Barthélemy de Don, 83110 Sanary sur Mer. Tel: (+33) 4 94 88 08 05. Or try La Rencontre, pictured, at 32 rue Siat Marcellin, 83110 Sanary sur Mer. Tel: (+33) 4 94 88 32 55

If you're in town in early May and you like rosé wine (and who doesn't?), watch out for Just Rosé, a four-day festival dedicated entirely to that beverage.

The Sanary sur Mer Tourist Office is right on the harbour at 1 quai du Levant, BP24, 83110 Sanary sur Mer. Tel : (+33) 4 94 74 01 04

Police station (+33) 4 94 88 53 30 or 70

Emergency pharmacy: 3237

Ambulance: (+33) 4 94 61 61 15

Internet café: Net Trotter, 20 rue Antoine Hugues, 83110 Sanary sur Mer.

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