Saint Raphael

 

Saint-Raphaël: A Family Resort on the Côte d’Azur

Saint-Raphaël lies on the Gulf of Fréjus on the French Riviera halfway between Cannes and Saint-Tropez. Part of the Provençe-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, it is also part of the larger Fréjus Saint-Raphaël metropolitan area, with the city of Fréjus only 3 km away. One of the larger seaside towns on the French Riviera, it has a population of about 30,000, and the economy here is based largely on tourism, but there is also a naval academy and a small commercial port. Unlike much of the Côte d’Azur, its resorts are relatively affordable and very family oriented. Saint-Raphaël is known for its wide beaches, good restaurants and more laid back attitude. While visiting, one can also enjoy the local casino or boat trips out to the Isle de Lérins.

The area of Saint-Raphaël was first populated as far back as the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras. Over a hundred archeological sites have been uncovered in the town revealing many stone-age megaliths and dolmens. Later it was a Roman settlement, where the Roman aristocracy enjoyed their villas overlooking the sea, many paved with mosaics and equipped with thermal baths. Like Cannes, Saint-Raphaël was officially established in the 11th century by the monks of the Lérins Islands. During the Middle Ages, the town was often attacked by barbaric tribes and Saracen pirates, which brought the Knights of the Temple, just returned from the crusades, to the rescue. The Templiers built a church which acted also as a fortress to defend the town. From the 15th to 19th century, Saint-Raphaël was mainly a fishing port until it too, like much of the Côte d’Azur, was discovered by writers and artists such as Alfonse Karr, Georges Sand, Victor Hugo and Alexander Dumas. It was also here that Napoleon Bonaparte landed on his glorious return from Egypt in 1799, just to depart from here later in 1814 on his way to the prison on Elbe Island. On August 15, 1944, the Allies landed just 5km from Saint-Raphaël on Dramont Beach as part of Operation Dragoon which helped to liberate France.

Main Attractions

The Beaches

Most visitors to Saint-Raphaël come to enjoy the beautiful beaches and sparkling water of the Mediterranean. The town is set on the Baie de Saint-Raphaël, which allows for a small port but also many great beaches. Here one finds beaches filled with fine sand or small pebbles, all in walking distance from town, although they say the best are those between the Vieus Port and Santa Lucia. The Plage du Veillat is the beach closest to town. It is covered in sand and a great beach for the whole family. The Plage Beau Rivage is just a five minute walk and is covered in light grey pebbles. The Plage du Débarquement, only 7km from town and covered in both sand and pebbles, is where the Allies landed in 1944.

Promenade René-Coty

This promenade runs along the coast, connecting the beaches, while passing restaurants and hotels. Enjoy a leisurely stroll here and take in the view. On your walk you will also find statues of local heroes, Félix Martin, a 19th century mayor who helped promote the town as a resort, and 19th century artist Alexander Karr who died here. There is also a pyramid near the old port built in honor of Napoleon’s glorious return from Egypt.

Eglise des Templiers

This is the church and fortress built by the Knights of the Temple in the 12th century. It was designed to help defend the town from the invasion of pirates. There is a watch tower above one of the chapels from which they would sit and watch for approaching ships at sea, and the town would take refuge within in the case of invasion. This is the only intact structure of the old city, and in the courtyard one finds remnants of the ancient Roman aqueduct that once provided water to the wealthy Romans who lived here in their villas.

Musée d’Archéologie Sons-Marine

This museum displays objects salvaged from the sea including amphorae, ships anchors and items retrieved by Jacques Cousteau from an ancient Roman ship that perished just off the coast. The displays also include antique diving equipment and other relics having to do with the town’s sea heritage. It is located in the presbytery of the former church of Saint-Raféu, which while still sanctified no longer holds masses.

Marché Alimentaire de Saint-Raphaël

Enjoy the fresh local products while visiting of this market where natives and tourists alike buy fish, meat, cheese and produce. Nearby one also finds the Flower and Produce Market in the older part of town.

Isle de Lérins

These islands sit just off the coast. Saint-Marguerite Island is the closer of the two and is filled with rare Mediterranean plants and birds. The National Forest Authority has marked botanical paths throughout the island, which are a great way to explore. On the island is also the Pointe de la Convention, the fort and state prison in which the legendary Man in the Iron Mask was held captive for about 11 years. There is also the Musée de la Mer, a sea museum that has a large collection of artifacts collected from Roman and Saracen wrecks off the coast. Here one also finds a photography collection that focuses on travel and the Mediterranean.

Nearby is the Island of Saint Honorat, owned by the Cistercian Monks. The Monastére de Lérins is the oldest monastery in France and is believed to have been first established in 410. The fortified monastery one finds today was built during the Middle Ages as a defensive structure, since the monks were also often victims of invasions. Today the monks support themselves by selling their wines and liqueurs to the tourists.

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