Unlike Victor Hugo, who traveled from Marseille to Toulon by stagecoach in 1839, I came by train. His excuse was that the railroad didn’t even reach Toulon until twenty years after his visit. Actually stagecoaches had become quite comfortable by 1839, because they were equipped with metal springs (a Scottish invention) to cushion the jolts and bumps of the road. Poor Mozart didn’t live long enough to experience such luxury.
My train took about 45 minutes to cover the 65 km from Marseille, with several stops along the way. One of the stops was at La Ciotat, which was something of an ahh-ha experience because in 1895 the Lumière brothers made one of their early films there, The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, a fifty-second silent black-and-white film which allegedly caused a panic among the first spectators because they thought the steam locomotive was really coming towards them.
Second photo: The train from Marseille to Toulon. The initials ter on the train stand for Transport express régional, which is a subsidiary of the French national railway organization SNCF.
Third photo: When I was there in October 2012, the space in front of the railroad station in Toulon was being transformed into something that was rather grandly described as the Futur Pôle d'Échanges Multimodal de Toulon, which means a multimodal interchange hub.
The point of this is that in the future we will be able to change from one mode of transportation (like the train) to another (like the bus), as though we couldn’t do that already. Actually Toulon is one of the least multi-modal cities in France, because they have no métro, no tramway, no bike-sharing system and hardly any bicycle lanes, just buses and cars – masses of cars.
From the advertising sketches of this new project, it looks as though they want to expand the space in front of the station and get rid of the cars, but in fact the project includes a new two-storey underground parking garage that will attract even more cars to the area.
On the other hand, they have also promised to provide parking facilities for bicycles and motorcycles, and to renovate the station building, so perhaps some good might come of the project after all.
Next: Nouvel Hôtel
I rented a bicycle from tOObike for three days at € 11.00 per day, which at the time was their rate for three days or more. (This has since gone down a Euro to € 10.00 per day.) For only one or two days they charge € 12.00 per day, and they also have weekly or monthly rates. They want a deposit of € 200.00, either in cash or by pre-authorization of your credit card, which is the way I did it.
The bike was fine, and so was their service. In addition to French, the owner also speaks German and English.
Address: 266 bd de Tessé, 83000 Toulon
150 meters from the Nouvel Hôtel, 300 meters from the train station.
The word location in French means rental, by the way, not the English word location. (That’s one of those false friends I keep warning my students about.)
Next: The Rusty Nail and the Red Ticket
Each year the French Federation of Bicycle Users gives two awards to cities or regions in France. These are the Golden Handlebars (Le Guidon d’or) for the best local bicycle policies and the Rusty Nail (le clou rouillé) for the worst.
In 2009 the city of Toulon was awarded the Rusty Nail for having “fewer than 40 km of bicycle lanes, no continuity of bicycle routes, bike lanes also serving as sidewalks, parking only for cars and motorcycles and an obstinate refusal to cooperate with the local association of urban cyclists. In short, a bad example which should not be followed.”
The French National Federation of Transport Users (FNAUT) gives similar awards each year to local jurisdictions: the Green Ticket for the best contributions to public transport and the Red Ticket for the worst. Toulon has received at least two of these Red Tickets in recent years, in 2008 and 2012, for decisions ensuring that it will remain “the largest urban area in France which has neither a métro nor a tramway”.
For sixty-nine years Toulon had a well-functioning network of tramways, from January 17, 1886 to April 15, 1955.
Photos: People trying to get around Toulon on bicycles.
Next: Real and phony bike lanes
Since bicycle lanes are still a rarity in Toulon, cycling advocates sometimes go out at night and paint their own.
One of these nighttime actions was documented in 2012 by Olivier Razemon, a journalist who works for the French newspaper Le Monde. He wrote that the illegally painted bike lane was immediately accepted the next morning not only by cyclists but also by motorists, who slowed down and took care not to drive on the new markings. It took several days before officials at city hall realized what had happened, and then they sent painters out with black paint to cover up the while lines and bicycle symbols.
After several of these nighttime actions, the mayor finally responded and named a city official to be responsible for déplacements doux (soft travel) and consult with the cycling associations about such measures as installing new bicycle lanes, allowing cyclists to ride both ways on one-way streets and allowing them to turn right at red lights at some intersections. These are measures which have been permitted by the French Traffic Code since 2010 but which have to be decided on in each individual case by the local governments.
Now some of the bicycle lanes which were originally illegal nighttime actions have been accepted by city authorities and have been professionally re-painted onto the streets – but not in the city center, where officials are still unwilling to do anything that might restrict the amount of space alloted to motor vehicles.
Next: Cycling in the pedestrian zone
The Old Town of Toulon is mainly car-free, since the streets are very narrow and there is no room for cars in any case. But the two official East-West bicycle routes both go through this pedestrian district, even though it would be much faster for cyclists to have bike lanes on the main thoroughfares.
This is no problem for people like me who are on vacation and just want to have a leisurely bike ride, but it is annoying for people who live in Toulon and want to commute to work or school by bicycle.
Second photo: Traffic signs in the Old Town. This is a one-way street for cars, but two-way for bicycles, and it is part of an official bicycle route. This is a very narrow street where there is hardly any car traffic, so the local authorities were able to put up bicycle signs without incurring the wrath of the car drivers.
Third photo: More bicycle signs in the Old Town. Originally these were illegal signs put up at night by cycling advocates, but now city officials have given in, legalized the route and put up official signs.
Next: Boat-bus service in Toulon harbor
In Toulon harbor there are three local boat-bus lines that run on a regular schedule, like buses. In fact, they are run as part of the regional bus system.
The three boat-bus lines are:
Line 8M : Toulon - La Seyne
Line 18M : Toulon - Les Sablettes / Tamaris
Line 28M : Toulon - Saint-Mandrier.
They say that each crossing takes an average of twenty minutes. The boats tend to run once an hour, with additional services during the morning and evening rush hours and on school days.
As of 2013, a single ride on one of the boat-buses costs € 2.00, which is 0.60 more than a single bus ride on land. But there are also daily, weekly, monthly and annual tickets which are equally valid on both the buses and the boats.
I didn’t try the boat-buses when I was in Toulon, because I realized too late that it is easy to take your bicycle with you on the boat. I saw several people doing this, but then had no time to try it myself, which is a shame since there are no bicycle routes on land to any of these places at the far ends of the harbor.
Next: Arsenal Bicycle Trail
There is the main train station in Toulon, which is about a 20 minute walk to the tourist information office and where the ferry from La Seyne sur Mer drops you off in Toulon. Some of the cruise ships actually dock across the bay in Seyne sur Mer. If you are docked in La Seyne sur Mer you can walk about 30 minutes from the cruise ship dock, around the bay and up to the La Seyne Six Four train "platform". You can reach places like Aix from either station. Most go through Marseilles where you need to switch trains.
A water taxi is available to get across the bay in a reasonably quick and inexpensive fashion. It departs by the cruise ships on the West side of the bay Seyne sur mer at Toulon as well as the small boat harbor. For 2E one way, it is only a 20 minute trip across the bay. Part of the seating is covered, however, the seats in the back of the boat are open to the elements.
There is only a national airport in Hyères which receives flights only from Paris (and perhaps from Lyon). I think there is a 'low cost' airlines who has just started to flight from London.
The best way is maybe by train because you can get the TGV, the famous french high-speed train, so you can be in Toulon from Paris or another important French town quickly and it's cheaper than the plane!
French Railway Company: www.sncf.fr
There is a very useful public bus service to travel around the 'Var Departement'.
You can travel by boat to the beach and to the 'Porquerolles' Islands.
Hyeres is 7 miles east of Toulon. The express train from Paris to Hyeres takes about five hours. The train doesn't run through to Hyeres every day so it may be necessary to take the express to Toulon and change trains or take a bus. Airports in Nice and Marseille also have regular international flights.
direct daily line by bus Nice-Toulon(about 17$ round trip if return on the same day);
many many trains to marseille all the time
hyères is a delicious beach resort,18 kms from toulon