Less well-known (internationally anyway) than its neighbours Cannes (25 miles up the coast), Nice (37 miles up the coast) and Saint Tropez (23 miles down the coast, Saint-RaphaŽl is an equally chic coastal resort on the French Riviera. Located in the Var in Provence, it is perhaps known to the British as the main landing point of operation Dragoon during the Second World War. It has been a popular resort for over 150 years since the rich and famous started to descend upon the town for their holidays taking advantage of the mild climate and pristine beaches. Coming to life during the summer months, Saint-RaphaŽl is principally visited for its coastline, although there are some tourist attractions in the town as well as a range of sporting and leisure activities to enjoy in the vicinity.
Most of the activities available in Saint-RaphaŽl are outdoor ones. Of course, being on the coast, there are a number of water-based activities including cruises from the old port, various water sports and diving. There are five marinas around the town where you'll find hundreds of yachts moored and which make a pleasant place for a stroll. Back on land, there are a number of nature trails to cover, including the Sentier Littoral which stretches around 8 miles between Port Saint Lucia and the Pourousset beach. Of medium difficulty, you can find along this path evidence of volcanic activity and discover the range of flora such as lavender that grows in the area. The Massif de l'Estťrel is a protected area which has several cycling and hiking options amongst the stunning scenery of the red rock. There are 30 different beaches around the town and around 25 miles of coastline to discover. Saint-RaphaŽl also boasts a number of markets, a casino and festivals in honour of jazz and European cinema.
The town of Saint-RaphaŽl itself does not have a huge amount of tourist attractions aside from its buildings and the various type of architecture that they show off. There are a number of churches and chapels of which the most famous is the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Victoire, a Romano-Byzantine built at the end of the 19th century whose chancel roof recalls that of the basilica of Saint Sophia in Constantinople. In the old town one can take in the Greek, Roman and Medieval architecture as well as the 18th and 19th century villas and Belle Epoque buildings. The Jardin Bonaparte as well as being the venue for a number of festivals, also commands great views of the bay. The museum of prehistory and underwater archaeology displays the findings of recent excavations both on and offshore.
Getting to Saint-RaphaŽl is relatively easy. From Paris there is a TGV (high speed train) which stops there on its way to Nice as does the TER from Marseille. There are local buses between the town and Nice, Aix-en-Provence and Marseille as well as others to Frťjus. It is easy to get to Lyon and Italy on the train. The closest international airport is in Nice while there are smaller ones at Cannes and Saint Tropez.
If possible it is best to avoid Saint-RaphaŽl during the summer holidays as the town's population swells. You may find it difficult to get a hotel room, although you could camp if you don't mind the outdoors. Being a highly touristic destination, watch out too for restaurants taking advantage of one-time visitors with high prices and low quality. Try and get recommendations from locals or friends before you go. Otherwise keep your wits about you as you would anywhere else and don't openly flaunt cash and expensive items, even though it is not known as a particularly dangerous place.
Being a small town whose economy is reliant on tourism, Saint-RaphaŽl does not have a cuisine of its own and caters heavily to tourists from all over France and the rest of the world. Like in many resorts across the south, the best food is often from the sea as it is fresh. You'll find this in abundance here, as well as other traditional French dishes that you could find anywhere else in the rest of the country. You're sure to find though some Provencal dishes such as bouillabaisse, fougasse bread and pissaladiŤre from Nice. Tapenade and calissons (a sweet from Aix-en-Provence) are widespread too.
Similarly to its cuisine, there is no typical souvenir to bring back from Saint-RaphaŽl. In terms of food you may want to buy some calissons, tapenade or herbes de Provence to use in your own cooking. Other than that you may find some clothes in the chic shops in the town or some wines from the region. However the best thing you're likely to bring back from Saint-RaphaŽl is a tan.