A highlight of any visit to Toulon is a spectacular ride on the téléphérique (cable car) up Mont Faron, the mighty limestone crag dominating the city.
The 584 metre / 1916 foot high Mont Faron is part of a chain of mountains protecting Toulon from the cold Mistral north-west wind which sweeps through Provence. It helps to create the region's mild microclimate. Faron, by the way, is a provençal word for phare (in French) and lighthouse (in English).
The seven-minute ride in the little red cable car takes you soaring over swanky villas with swimming pools, which gradually give way to shady woodland as you approach the top of the mountain.
All along the way there are stupendous views across the bay, one of the most beautiful in Europe, the port, Porquerolles and other nearby islands, the mountains and city.
In 2017 Mont Faron was issued with new cable cars - with a big glass panel in the floor. The ride up and down the mountain will be even more vertiginous!
Click here to go on a "virtual visit" up and down Mont Faron and here to enjoy the view from the summit. Click here for our guides to Toulon city centre, to its beaches, to the harbour, naval base and maritime museum and to Toulon Rugby Club and its legendary Stade Mayol.
WHAT TO DO AND SEE
Once at the top of Mont Faron, there's enough to entertain you for at least several hours, whatever your tastes. Sporty types can go rock-climbing, VTT (mountain) biking, jogging or hiking through several acres of scented aleppo pines and Mediterranean oaks.
There are two VTT trails and a maze of marked hiking paths of all levels of difficulty. You can pick up a leaflet with a map of these at the cable car station or the Tourist Office.
On summer evenings a small open-air theatre (théâtre de verdure) hosts concerts (good to know: a free public toilet can be found here too).
And Mont Faron is one of the top places to watch Toulon's Bastille Day fireworks over the bay on 14 July or the Patrouille de France aerial displays in mid-August.
It's not just a summer holiday destination, though: other sporting, cultural and educational activities are offered throughout the season from February to October, including motorcycle, biking and vintage car rallies, Easter egg hunts and nocturnes (guided night walks) themed around astronomy, flora and fauna and so on.
Alternatively, of course, you can simply relax with your own picnic or have a meal or drink at one of Faron's two restaurants. It's no surprise, then, that Mont Faron is a popular excursion for locals as well as for tourists.
Anyone interested in history should head straight for the Tour Beaumont close to the upper-level cable car station, one of nine forts along the top of Mont Faron guarding Toulon and its naval base.
Some of these forts are currently being restored, or are used by the navy. Fort Beaumont has been converted into the Mémorial du débarquement en Provence, a museum-memorial to the Allied Forces landings in Provence and it's now one of the major sights in Toulon.
Everyone knows about the Normandy landings, the Allied campaign that, in June 1944, began to turn the tide of the Second World War. The story of the Provence landings two months later, on the night of 14-15 August, is much less familiar.
Codenamed Operation Dragoon, this campaign enabled the liberation of Marseille and Toulon, two key strategic ports on the Mediterranean.
And it opened up a second front alongside Operation Overlord, the Normandy offensive, catching the Germans in a pincer movement. It was the beginning of the end of the Nazi occupation of Europe.
Announced by a famous radio code message from London, "le chasseur est affamé" ("the hunter is famished"), nearly 350,000 soldiers plus hundreds of ships and aerial bombers descended suddenly on the coast of Provence. It must have been a fantastically inspiring sight.
To mark the 70th anniversary of the landings, the Mémorial du débarquement en Provence closed for 18 months for a huge, 3.2 million €uro makeover. It reopened in spring 2017.
The facelift was long overdue. The thrilling story of the Allied landings is splendidly commemorated at comparable sites in Normandy. But the Toulon memorial, which first opened in 1964, had been showing its age. Now these war heroes have the monument they truly deserve.
The revamped museum reconstructs the campaign and the liberation of Marseille on 28 August with maquettes, maps, photographs, a big, animated diorama showing the deployment of troops all along the coast and plenty of modern interactive exhibits
Another section focusses on personal memories: uniforms, weapons, medals and objects such as a kit for forging papers and passports.
The memorial underlines the fact that this was an international collaborative effort. It emphasises the roles of the French Resistance and other civilians, as well as of the participating nations: they include Great Britain, the United States, France, Canada, North Africa and the Caribbean.
Dotted around the fort are military vehicles including a Sherman tank, pictured above with the fort in the background. Its terrace also affords some of the best views across the surrounding hills, pictured with a vintage anti-aircraft gun in the foreground.
Note that the museum is closed for lunch from 1.00-2.00pm and all day Mondays outside July and August. Tel: (+33) 4 94 88 08 09. Following the restoration work, it now has wheelchair access.
The other main sight on Mont Favon is a fauverie, or zoo, which you reach along an rough track, passing on the way a simple little chapel housed in a former powder magazine and dedicated to those who gave their lives during the war. The zoo is about 20 minutes from the upper cable car station.
A fauve is a wild animal, specifically a big cat, and the Fauverie is an animal sanctuary and breeding centre for propagating endangered species, both through pregnancies and births on the site and by exporting semen to impregnate females in other countries.
Over 20 species are represented, including leopards, jaguars, lions, tigers, and lynx, as well as non-cats such as wolves, hyenas, bears and baboons. There's a small shop selling souvenirs, drinks and snacks, and a picnic area.
Founded in 1969 by Roger George De Souza and his wife, the zoo is now run by the couple's son and has a bad reputation with some locals, tourists and animal rights activists (the latter have been campaigning to get the place closed down).
Those opposed to the zoo point to its small enclosures and the lethargic, apparently unhappy occupants. Its supporters argue that the size of the cages is necessary in order closely to supervise the breeding programme.
We went along to the Fauverie with a open mind, but weren't impressed. The owner was less than welcoming and showed no interest at all in discussing the breeding programme.
Visitors have complained that the animals were sluggish and sleepy in the summer heat. We were there on a mild and rainy autumn day, and even then there was little sign of activity.
Many beasts were having a long siesta; one or two jaguars were pacing restlessly up and down. Pictured: a lone black panther in its small cage. The crudely painted landscape on the wall hardly compensates for the lack of any real vegetation inside the pen.
We saw no young animals apart from two baby baboons (some panther cubs were born early in the year, apparently, but had already been sent off to their new homes). The signage was almost entirely in French.
Apart from issues of animal welfare, the zoo is not well set up for humans either. It's neither wheel- nor push-chair friendly and one potentially hazardous pothole filled with wet cement was poorly marked with a couple of pieces of wood placed on the ground. If you are staying in the area and your family is set on visiting a zoo, you might consider the Zoa, outside Sanary sur Mer, instead.
The Fauverie is open throughout the year. Telephone (+33) 4 94 88 07 89.
Inaugurated in 1959, the téléphérique de Mont Faron is the only cable car on the Mediterranean coast. It was entirely refurbished in 2001, since when the number of visitors has quadrupled: there are now over 20,000 a month in the summer.
So expect queues in August, when the cars are likely to be running at full capacity. The intensive use of the téléphérique also requires it to be closed at times for maintenance work, so check for any such downtime before you visit.
Have a look at the weather forecast, as you won't be able to see much if the clouds are low and the téléphérique won't run in high wind (watch out, too, that the wind doesn't blow up while you're on the mountain, meaning you won't get a ride back down).
The cable car closes for the winter between mid-November and mid-January / early February.
Where: Téléphérique du Mont Faron, boulevard Amiral Vence, 83200 Toulon. Tel: (+33) 4 94 92 68 25 Website for the téléphérique du Mont Faron
How to get there: The lower station of the téléphérique is a good 30-40 minute uphill walk from the city centre. Bus no.40 will take you from the Mayol rugby stadium, Toulon cruise ship terminal and city centre right to the lower level of the téléphérique.
Buses run roughly every half hour (depending on the time of day) and the journey time is between 15 and 25 minutes. However the service on Sundays and public holidays is very meagre. Click here for our full guide to how to get around Toulon on various modes of transport.
Several great-value combination tickets are available. The "1 Jour téléphérique" ticket gives you unlimited travel for one day on Toulon's buses and boat shuttles as well as the cable car.
It's on sale at the Toulon Tourist Office, at newsagents and tobacconists all over the city and on the website of the Réseau Mistral, which runs the téléphérique and other public transport in the city. Other package deals offer passengers reduced entry to the Memorial or the Fauverie.
Drivers will find two (rather small) car-parks by the lower-level station. There's a reserved parking space for disabled visitors, though getting around is tricky for wheelchairs once you're at the top of the hill. Cyclists can take their bikes for a small extra charge.
If you prefer to drive all the way to the top of Mont Faron (not recommended), you can get there and back via a steep, narrow and winding one-way road. It takes around 15 minutes from the lower to the upper station, where there is another car-park.
Where to eat on Mont Faron: Two restaurants at the top of Mont Faron serve simple food and drinks, and you're advised to reserve ahead if you want to eat at either of them.
To enjoy the views, go for Le Panoramique, right by the upper station of the téléphérique. Tel: (+33) 4 94 88 08 00. For a shady woodland terrace, choose Le Drap d'Or a little way along the path towards the Fauverie. Tel: (+33) 4 94 88 07 77. Basic drinks and snacks are sold at the Fauverie itself.
There are half a dozen picnic areas with tables and benches dotted around the woods. Given the ever-present risk of forest fire, barbecues are strictly forbidden.
Photo credits (from top): © Téléphérique du Mont Faron (two images), SJ for Marvellous Provence, davric for Wikimedia Commons, SJ for Marvellous Provence, Téléphérique du Mont Faron.