Towns of L’Esterel: Saint-Raphaël & Frejus
Saint-Raphaël and Frejus started out as two nearby towns, but over the centuries they’ve merged to the point where it’s hard to know where one ends and the other begins. They are now essentially one large town.
Saint-Raphaël is a family-friendly holiday resort town located on the French Riviera midway between Saint-Tropez and Cannes. Its heyday was in the late 19th century when beautiful Belle Époque mansions were built along its seafront overlooking the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, during WWII, all of the medieval buildings (except for one church) were destroyed by bombs.
Whilst Saint-Raphaël isn’t filled with ‘must-see’ tourist attractions, it is one of the most low-key, charming and welcoming resorts along the Côte d’Azur. You can easily spend a leisurely day here. There are some attractive beaches within walking distance of the town center and a fine selection of stylish cafés and restaurants.
First impressions for many visitors are the beautiful Belle Époque buildings which overlook the promenade. These were destroyed during the Second World War and have been rebuilt in their original style. Just inland from the harbor stands the Basilique Notre Dame de la Victoire, which dominates the skyline of Saint Raphaël. Dating back to 1887 this beautiful church is the town’s main architectural and religious attraction.
There is a small Old Town which is home to a number of interesting attractions and is well worth wandering around. It is located around the medieval Eglise Sant Raféu , which houses the Musée Archéologique de Saint-Raphaël. This museum has some impressive artifacts discovered in the region –some of which date back to prehistoric times– together with an underwater archaeology section. Visitors can climb to the top of its tower to get great views over the port.
If you’d prefer to spend a few hours relaxing in the sun, there are some lovely beaches within easy walking distance of Le Vieux Port. The nearest ones are Plage du Frejus to the west and Plage du Veillat to the south-east.
Fréjus was the first naval base in the Mediterranean Roman, a thriving city full of emotions and stories. Today, it is a city of art, history and culture. Fréjus has preserved several monuments from its past. The town possesses an important historic and architectural heritage, with many Roman remains.
The magnificent Fréjus Cathedral is a national monument with a history dating back as far as the 5th century. There’s also a Roman aqueduct in the town center. The baptistery, which dates from the 5th century, is one of the oldest in France. In the cloister, the archaeological museum contains objects excavated in Fréjus.
Port Fréjus marina and the fine sand beach at the end of Fréjus Beach make the town a popular seaside resort. All nautical pleasures are available in Fréjus (bathing in sea water, fishing, coastal shipping in the coves, scuba diving, water skiing, surfing windsurfing, kayaking, kitesurfing, sailing…), without forgetting the Provencal getaways, walks in the picturesque narrow streets, gourmet indulgences (truffle, honey, olive oil, wine “and Castles of Fréjus” AOC Fréjus).
Charles Lenthéric, a prolific writer on the ancient monuments of France, visited the Fréjus area in the latter half of the nineteenth century. He almost believed he was in Italy, as his The Riviera Ancient and Modern (1895) testifies: “The whole effect of this southern landscape [in Fréjus] is much more Italian in the classical sense of the word than are many celebrated sites in Italy itself. The character of the land is the same, the sky is the same, the general air of sadness is the same as on the banks of the Tiber, and the Roman ruins scattered all around render the resemblance still more striking.”
In the evening, the many bars on the seaside promenade offer you a delicious glass of house wine and fresh fried chips without making much of a dent in your pockets, while the nearby souvenir shops distract the shopaholic in you. You’ll be stopped by random locals who will strike up a conversation. It’s a slow life in Frejus and St Raphaël, but a content one.
Wondering how to get to Frejus and Saint Raphael? Check out our guide: How to Get to the Esterel Area.