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The sun-dappled port of Toulon lies at the very heart of the French Riviera, halfway between Marseille and St.-Tropez. The pleasant city of some 200,000 has a long history. It was settled as early as the 7th century B.C.E. by Greek colonists, followed by the Romans in the 2nd century B.C.E. The city is best known as a center for the French Navy, beginning in the 15th century and continuing to today. The harborfront fortifications are only the most obvious reminders of this legacy.
Toulon's cityscape was shaped by the preeminent city planner of the 19th century, Baron Haussmann. Before he reimagined Paris, Hausmann was the prefect of Var (the region of which Toulon is the capital) and the city’s upper town served as a trial run of his ideas on urban design. Buildings from that era include France’s second-largest opera house as well as the Galeries Lafayette and a number of stately streets and squares.
While Toulon has plenty of interest for a day in port, it’s also a convenient starting point to explore other highlights of the Riviera, from hill towns like Aix-en-Provence to sleepy Mediterranean villages along the Corniche.