Saint-Raphaël & L’Esterel
Saint-Raphaël is a family-friendly holiday resort located on the Côte d’Azur 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.
The resort is home to a small but charming Old Town with a number of interesting attractions including an excellent archaeological museum. There are some attractive beaches within walking distance of the town center and a fine selection of stylish cafés and restaurants.
Saint-Raphaël’s Main Tourist Attractions
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 in this lovely town.
Les Calanques de l’Esterel
Les Calanques de l’Esterel are rocky inlets and coves that expand from Saint Raphael to Mandelieu-la-Napoule and drop steeply into the limpid waters of the Mediterranean.
Discover imposing rocky cliffs and multiple wild coves characterised by the contrast between the red colour of the granite rock and the turquoise blue sea. Easily accessible, they form one of the most remarkable landscape of the Cote d’Azur. Many ancient shipwrecks also lie in the shallow waters near the coast.
You can hike along these impressive formations and enjoy the breathtaking views over the Mediterranean sea, or book a boat trip and take a look at them from the sea. But don’t forget your snorkelling gear, as you won’t be able to resist the turquoise waters.
Architecture & History
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 harbour stands the Basilique Notre Dame de la Victoire, which dominates the skyline of Saint Raphael. Dating back to 1887 this beautiful church is the town’s main architectural and religious attraction.
There is a small Old Town which is well worth wandering around. It is located around the medieval Eglise Sant Raféu and is home to the Musée Archéologique de Saint-Raphaël. This museum has some impressive artifacts discovered in the region some of which go 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 Les Sablettes to the west and Plage du Veillat to the south-east. Continuing along this coast towards Port Santa Lucia there are a number of other popular family beaches.
Towns Near Saint-Raphael
The nearest destination of interest is the twin town of Frejus, whose center is less than 4 kilometers north-west of Le Vieux Port in Saint-Raphael. Its main attractions include the magnificent Fréjus Cathedral which 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.
40 kilometers south of Saint-Raphael is the former fishing village of St Tropez which became world famous in the 1950s after Brigitte Bardot appeared in a movie which was filmed there. To this day it remains a playground for the rich and famous which is home to a luxury marina which attracts some of the world’s most expensive superyachts during the summer months.
How to get To Saint-Raphael
You will most likely be arriving in France through the Nice Côte d’Azur Airport which lies 60 kilometers along the coast to the north-east. Bus #3003 from outside the terminals runs directly to Saint-Raphael.
Otherwise, passengers can walk to Nice St Augustin train station and travel to Saint-Raphaël with a change in Antibes or Cannes. Alternatively, bus #99 from the airport delivers passengers to Gare de Nice-Ville from where there are direct services to Saint-Raphael.
Getting Around in Saint-Raphaël
The main sights of Saint-Raphael and the local beaches are easily accessible on foot from the Vieux Port. There are buses to nearby Fréjus and the town stands on the main railway line which provides access to well-known destinations along the Côte d’Azur including Cannes, Nice and Monaco. The Gare de Saint-Raphaël Valescure lies just 35 kilometers from Le Vieux Port in the town center but almost 2 kilometers from where cruise ship passengers disembark from their tender boats.
A novel way to visit the famous tourist resort of Saint-Tropez is to take a boat trip from Quai Nomy with Les Bateaux de Saint-Raphaël. Their trips take about an hour each way and provide fabulous views of the coastline en route. If the Saint-Tropez route is sold out or inconvenient for your time in port you can take a shorter trip along the coast to see the fjord-like calanques of the nearby Esterel coast.