Toulon has two cruise ship ports: one in the heart of the city and one in the nearby town of La Seyne sur Mer across the other side of the bay. This is a guide to both of them.
Toulon presents quite a few advantages over Marseille for cruise tourists. Regarded as the most sheltered port on the French Mediterranean, the bay is relatively protected from the fierce Mistral wind.
As a naval port which must remain open for military reasons, Toulon is more secure and less vulnerable to strikes than Marseille, which has been plagued by industrial action of various kinds over the last few years.
Cruise tourism in the region has been intensively developed by the Var Provence Cruise Club (VPCC), a grouping of a dozen ports along this strip of the Mediterranean. Since the VPCC was set up in 2008, cruise traffic in Toulon and La Seyne has quadrupled.
However both ports remain relatively small and easy to manage, at least for the time being. A brand new cruise terminal at La Seyne was inaugurated in spring 2016.
And there's more good news for tourists: the VPCC has developed a wealth of useful documentation to make things easier for them. There is a welcome desk, pictured, at both ports where hostesses dispense advice and maps.
The VPCC has also started a "cruise friendly" campaign. Under this scheme visitors are given a map of participating bars, restaurants, shops, transport providers and museums.
They also get a discount, a free gift or special service at these businesses and - it's promised - a "friendly and smiling" welcome.
Owners commit to opening when cruises are in town, including Sundays, and to speak a little English. They are also briefed about tax rebates for foreign customers, different weights, measures, clothes and shoe sizes and so on.
Toulon isn't viewed as one of Provence's must-see tourist attractions. But, as our own online guide suggests, the city does offer a very good range of fun and interesting things to see and do. And it is excellently placed for in- and out-bound transport connections, with its rail and bus stations, private boat companies and ferries as well as Toulon-Hyères airport.
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It's worth having a close look at the cruise company schedules to see where your ship will dock before choosing your tour.
The Toulon city centre port enjoys the bonus of being very close to the beaches, main sights and onward transport. Walking distance, in fact. No cruise bus shuttle or taxi required!
Some cruises imply they will be docking in Toulon. In fact they may be coming to La Seyne, which is 13 km / 8 miles out of Toulon itself, as can be seen from this map. Click on the map to enlarge the image.
Two thirds of all cruise tourists will pass through La Seyne because it can accommodate much larger ships than the port in central Toulon.
However La Seyne is less convenient unless you want to spend the day locally (there are excellent beaches here too). Still, tremendous efforts have been made to provide a wide variety of transport options at this terminal.
PORT OF TOULON
Toulon's city centre cruise port can accept four smaller ships and additional vessels can call at anchor in the bay. In 2016 Costa had a 12 day cruise starting in Toulon, but this is not continuing into 2017.
Another company, Croisières de France, is offering around 30 Mediterranean cruises starting in Toulon and La Seyne between March and November 2017, though these are aimed at French-speaking tourists.
The terminal buildings - which are also used by ferry services to Corsica, Sardinia and Elba - were modernised in 2016 and now look splendid. They have a snack bar, vending machines, telephones, toilets and a little craft market. Outside, three car-parks can accommodate up to 75 tourist buses.
In terms of information the port is extremely well set up for visitors. Next to the welcome desk, a large-scale, easy-to-read map of the city centre shows points of interest, taxi ranks and the nearest cashpoints / ATMs (there are none in the terminals). Another panel illustrates where the bus stops are located.
A third lists taxi prices to surrounding destinations. Supposedly they are flat fares for cruise passengers, but a note at the bottom of the panel (in French only) cautions that this is a rough guide.
The fare actually charged is that on the meter, which could be significantly more if you get caught in heavy traffic, take the motorway or have luggage. So check the exact situation with the driver before you hop in. There is only one official local taxi company, Taxis Région Toulonnaise Tel: (+33) 04 94 93 51 51.
But you won't need to take a taxi if you decide to stay in town. Toulon's main cruise ship port is a stone's throw from the main action. Rugby enthusiasts will be in seventh heaven: it's right opposite the Stade Mayol - the rugby stadium of the legendary RC Toulonnais team.
Other visitors are likely to be keener on the fact that the terminals are 20 minutes' walk from the beginning of a long strip of glorious sandy beaches and seafront bars and restaurants.
These, and the picturesque Le Mourillon quarter, are just a few minutes by bus (no.3 or no.23) and you can buy a ticket on board.
Or you could start on a recommended walk through the city centre following little brass plaques set in the ground: it actually begins at Toulon's cruise port. From here an eight-minute walk takes you to the Tourist Office on place Louis Blanc, the start of Toulon's very large street market on the Cours Lafayette and the edge of the Old Town. Boat tours around the bay or to the island of Porquerolles can be picked up round here too.
The impressive Musée de la Marine and elegant 19th century Haussmann quarter are both just a little further. If you want to ride the téléphérique (cable car) up Mont Faron, bus no.40 will take you there, though it doesn't run often on Sundays.
The closest bus-stop to the terminal is called Mayol, after the rugby stadium of course.
For anyone who doesn't want, or isn't able, to explore the city on foot, there are various alternatives (the terminal pier is wheelchair accessible, by the way). Click here to read our full guide to getting around Toulon on various modes of transport.
Pictured, the petit train (little tourist train) goes right into the cruise terminals to pick up passengers. The 50 minute, hop-on-hop-off route then loops around the beaches, Haussman Quarter and Old Town and has an English and French commentary. It runs between April and October.
In terms of public transport, buses no.3, no.9 and no.23 take you to Toulon's recently refurbished train and bus stations. Trains from Toulon run to Hyères in one direction and Sanary sur Mer, Bandol, La Ciotat, Aubagne and Marseille in the other.
Click here for the train timetable Marseille-Hyères via Toulon. Select timetable no.1 from the drop-down menu at the top of the page.
Buses run to Hyères, Six Fours les Plages and Sanary with the Réseau Mistral. Another bus network, Varlib, serves the pretty hill villages of La Cadière d'Azur and Le Castellet as well as roving further afield to destinations such as Saint Tropez and a third, the Lignes Express Régionales, goes to Aix en Provence.
PORT OF LA SEYNE SUR MER
La Seyne receives the really big cruise ships. And the terminal buildings have recently undergone a lavish, 1.5 million €uro renovation.
Among the improvements are free wi-fi and a greatly enlarged bus and car park, including a budget long-term car park five minutes' walk from the terminal. There's a provençal craft market and a large leisure complex is also planned in the area.
To get into Toulon from the terminal at La Seyne, you have several choices.
1. Take the private boat shuttle (navette maritime), which leaves from the cruise terminal and takes about 15 minutes.
2. Take the public water bus (bateau bus), line no.8M, which leaves from a stop about five minutes' walk from the cruise terminal and takes slightly longer as it makes one or two calls along the way.
3. Go into La Seyne then catch public bus no.8 or no.18. The journey takes about half a hour.
The cruise terminal is about a 20 minute walk from the centre of La Seyne. Local bus no.81 will take you there, as will another petit train (little tourist train).
On the other hand, if you're feeling lazy, you could easily spend the day in this modest little town or stay on the tourist train and go on to Les Sablettes, a very attractive beach area.
Here lunch by the sea beckons; we ate at La Vague d'Or, pictured, which is one of the best restaurants round here. Or try mussels from one of La Seyne's offshore mussel farms. They don't come much fresher!
Whether you want to go into Toulon or on to somewhere else, other transport options at the cruise terminal include car or bicycle rental (Ma Bicyclette Bleue has hire bikes at the terminal.)
Taxis should be lying in wait for you at the cruise terminal too. The local company is Taxis Seynois, tel (+33) 4 94 10 10 20. Alternatively you can pre-book a taxi with our affiliate partner, Holiday Taxis.