Var (83400) Population: 48,043 Altitude: 40 m
Hyères includes a great town of markets, Medieval sites, terrace café-restaurants and shopping, as well as the seaside peninsula Presqu'ile de Giens and the famous islands Iles d'Hyères, with Prquerolles, Port-Cros and Levant. Market day Tue, Thur, Daily.
The Town of Hyères
Coming up from the beach, or turning in from the end of the autoroute, you'll drive up through a commercial-residential district on the Avenue Gambetta with its wide sidewalks lined by double rows of palm trees. If you come into town by train, you'll have a 10-15 minute walk from the station to the center. However you arrive, don't plan on leaving soon; if you have only one day you'll miss a lot of Hyères.
From the top of the avenue, much more town extends out to the right (east), including wide pedestrian shopping malls (the outside street variety). Straight north from the end of Ave Gambetta, continue on the Rue Rabaton to the Place Massillon and the start of the old town.
The Place Massillon is a large, open square, with the 12th-century Tower of Saint-Blaise and several good terrace cafè-restaurants. The daily market is held here, and the tiny streets leading to the square are packed with market stalls and shops.
The well-restored old "tower" was a Knights Templar commandery.
It was built in 12th century by the Templiers as the Chapelle Saint-Blaise. It's open for visit; there are some historical items and information on the lowers floors, but it's most interesting for climbing the narrow, spiral stone stairway to the top of the tower for a magnificent view of the town.
Above the Place Massillon are a maze of interesting old streets on the hillside, meriting hours of wandering and exploring. It's small enough, though, that you'll discover most in just an hour or two (not counting the park). On one level there's an observation table with a good view of the plains below and the coast. Behind the observation table, the medieval Porte Pensicola leads upwards into even narrower streets, many of them paved with thick round cobble stones and bordered by stone walls, with shrubs and flowers everywhere. A lot of the streets of the upper vieille ville have the stone roots of the underlying rock joining streets and walls.
The old town has, in addition to its narrow streets and medieval arched portes, lovely old houses, many painted in the Provençal pastels with contrasting shutters and doors. Most are finely restored, many with the ancient stone door and window frames integrated into the facades. Even the vieille village school house is interesting with its red brick construction.
Park St Bernard
If you like flowers, or gardens, or quiet restful places, or great views, you'll love this park. In the old town go up the Rue Saint Esprit to where it turns and becomes Rue Barbacane. Facing the Porte Barruc archway, follow the steps to up to the right through a small gate, and into a lush other world. (It's open from 8h00 until evening.)
A myriad of walkways and steps leading to different levels or through small arches into adjacent plots take you through a lush, green and colorful environment. Olives, pines and other trees provide shade in extensive gardens full of Mediterranean plants. The park is peaceful and quiet, with benches or low walls for sitting and resting. There's a great view of the coast from here, and down across the roofs of the town, including the observation table below. High above and behind the park, you can see the lookout point at the Chateau ruins with an even further view.
At the top of the park is the Les Palmiers district, where the ramparts of the Villa de Noailles are being rebuilt. A road from here goes around the hill to the right, circling up to the Chateau ruins to the top, about a 45-minute walk.
The Seaside and Presqu'ile de Giens
The seaside and out onto the peninsula Presqu'ile de Giens [Hyères Coast Map] is typically seaside resort, but perhaps more crowded than most. It's lined with campsites, hotels, tourist shops, traffic, restaurants and attractions, in a setting of salt marshes and umbrella pines. A popular attraction is the large Magic World fun park, on the D42 road just west of Hyères-Plage.
The Presqu'ile has the village of Giens, a little port, and the Tour-Fondue with an old fortress and the ferry to the islands of Porquerolles, Port-Cros and Levant. Just off the point are the little islands of Petit Ribaud and Grand Ribaud: pretty, but without access. The fortress is picturesque, sitting on a promotory jutting into the sea. You can clamber up the rocks (a bit dodgy) and walk around the base of the fort, but there's not much point. La Tour-Fondue itself has a pretty little inlet, with a few fishing boats anchored.
The ferry to the Porquerolles leaves roughly every hour, and many passengers take their bicycles for touring the island.
The Golden Isles (Iles d'Or) are three islands off the coast of the Var department, east of Toulon. The name "golden" is said to have been bestowed on them during the Renaissance, because of the light reflected from the golden-brown mica shale.
The islands are Porquerolles Island, Port-Cros Island. and Levant Island.
In the period of 1880-1887, Robert Lewis Stevenson stayed at the Chalet de Solitude in Hyères. At the time, he was sunning himself here and wintering in the French-Swiss Alps.