The Var is the department in the center of today's Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Region. It never was its historic center, which lies further east around Avignon, Nimes, Arles and Aix en Provence. It is very, very popular with tourists and its 420km Mediterranean coastline is packed with vacationers during the summer holidays. But despite the rapid urbanization on the coast it is a somewhat controlled development if compared with Spain or southern Portugal. Further inland the Var is one of the greenest departments in France with mountain ranges covered by pine and oak trees and the ever present Garrigue, the hardy shrubs of the Mediterranean. The Var is the area which suffers most under bush fires during summer and autumn. The Var's roughly 1 million inhabitants represent 20% of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region and live and 19% of the region's land area.
When the Provence, like the rest of France, was divided into departments in 1790 during the French Revolution, its central region was named after the river Var, which flows from the Southern Alpes to the Mediterranean just west of Nice. The Var river was France's border with the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia to which Nice belonged. When the County of Nice was ceded to France 70 years later the eastern portion of the Var (Cannes, Antibes and Grasse) were joined with it to form a new department, the Alpes Maritimes. This explains why the Département Var is named after a river, which does not flow through its territory.
Here is a short overview of the different regions of the Var. For more detailed information click on the hyperlinks or take a look at the menu on the right column.
Central & Haut Var
This region is the heart of the Provence Vert, the green Provence. Most of the population is concentrated in and around the towns of Draguignan, Brignoles and Saint Maximin le Sainte Baume. The remainder offers a different pace of life with forested mountains, endless vineyards and in between beautiful ancient villages - a country setting tailor made for a restful vacation. You don't have as many important historic sites here as further west. But you are closer to the Mediterranean coast and an opportunity to enjoy a day at the beach. ...... read more about it here.
Massif de l'Esterel
Between Saint Raphaël and Cannes lies the Massif de I'Estérel, an ancient mountain range with Mont Vinaigre as its highest peak at 614m (2,050ft). Driving the coastal road is a dramatic sight, the rugged, reddish rocks contrasting with the azur blue sea. The red color of the rocks comes from the porphyry, a type of reddish solidified magma. A great area for hiking, there are few roads crossing it. A wild country and spectacular panoramic views yet close to Cannes ...... read more about it here.
Massif des Maures
The Massif des Maures is a succession of forested ridges and hills stretching from Hyères to Frèjus, bounded by the valleys of the Gapeau and Argens rivers to the north and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. Though reaching only about 800m (2,600 ft) at its highest point, the Massif des Maures is definitely a very mountainous setting with its sudden drops, steep valleys and winding roads. It is densely forested and is ravaged from time to time by devastating forest fires ...... read more about it here.
It's no surprise that St.Tropez is such a tourist magnet, its location and Mediterranean flair make it irresistible. But the heydays when artists and intellectuals like Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir congregated here are over. Nowadays Saint Tropez attracts the rich, the socialites and paparazzi, the like of Naomi Campbell, Bruce Willis, Ivana Trump and Paris Hilton. And of course all of those who try to catch a glimpse of them. But its all done in relatively good taste with plenty of ....... read more about it here.
Pays de Fayence
North of Fréjus and Saint Raphaël lies the Pays de Fayence, a mountainous area with a group of perched villages around Fayence. In the 1960's the French government realized the historic significance and tourism potential and started funding the restoration of these villages. Today the "Villages Perchés" of the Pays de Fayence similar to those of the Luberon and Haut Vaucluse further west are major tourist attractions. Many out-of-towners have bought and restored village houses ....... read more about it here.
Porquerolles (Iles d'Hyères)
The Ile de Porquerolles is the largest of the group of islands known as the Iles d'Hyères or, as they are often referred to in France, Les Iles d'Or, the Golden Isles. No cars here, but you can rent bikes at the minuscule port of Porquerolles. Bike paths go in various directions through lush vegetation and vineyards - but be aware its quite hilly. The next island to the east Port Cros,is the smallest of the three and a National Park. The third island Ile du Levant is occupied by the French Navy, only the western tip with the naturist village of Heliopolis can be visited ...... read more about it here.
Toulon's story is a bit like Marseille's, only on a smaller scale: industrious, noisy, busy, a melting pot - a wonderful place if you like to live in a vibrant city, not so great if you are looking for peace and charm. In other words it does not have to be on your list of sights you absolutely need to visit in the Provence. But there are some interesting places in town and the villages of Mourillon to the east and Saint Mandrier southwest are quite beautiful vacation locations well known to ...... read more about it here.
Western Côte d'Azur
The western section of the Côte d'Azur stretches from Ste.Maxime and St.Tropez in the east to Bandol in the west. A magnificent coastline with many scenic spots, sandy beaches, rocky shores, the azur Mediterranean Sea. Enjoyable in spring and autumn, but beware of the summer holidays when millions vacation here. If you own or rent a vacation house and you know your way around, this does not present a problem, you know how to arrange yourself. But for first time visitors to the Provence the summer holiday season can be challenging and careful planning is required to make your trip a success ...... read more about it here.