If you don’t enjoy long journeys, the call of Toulon and its environs is deafening. With Cityjet flights direct from London City Airport, those working or living in east London can be airborne in minutes rather than hours.
I land at Toulon-Hyeres Airport (really the latter) and am bussed to beach club restaurant Le Marais . It's a little over two hours after leaving London.
Suddenly everything is vintage pornography, chintz lampshades and a glass wall to the kitchen’s chic cooks bearing the legend “sexy is everywhere”. The azure backdrop is a gently lapping Mediterranean sea.
A little later, I’m in Hyeres itself. Along with its outlying holiday island Porquerolles here’s where I spend a decent chunk of my first 24 hours.
Hyeres, once a hangout of British aristos, is a marvellous mound of confusion sprinkled with relics from early modernist masterpiece the Villa Noailles (all Jean Cocteau and concrete fetish), a Knights Templar tower and an English church to pander to the expats.
Cast against the youthful verve of the beach club, the polished cobbles of its winding, close streets prove a decent antidote to London’s bustle.
But its pavement cafes, cool churches and grand French Riviera boulevards (palm fronds waving obediently in the wind) are not what I’m looking for. Instead, travellers should board a boat to Porquerolles.
Protected from development by the state, the island is a blissful marriage of pine trees, white sands and petanque.
It’s a destination fit to sate my need for escape – a fantasy blend of fresh air, light wines (especially the crisp rose of Domaine Perzinsky ) and refreshing seas.
Already a hugely popular with the French – going slightly off season is advised when things are cooler and the restaurants are less crowded – it’s my hot tip for the summer.
Only a short voyage into the Med, it feels adrift from Europe; a place of endless bike rides, dips in salt water and seafood in the bars. No parties, but a chance to slow down with only the soft sounds of bicycles and golf carts passing by.
When I arrive in Toulon proper the following day the contrast is unfavourable – more Portsmouth than Provence.
By some distance the best thing to do is to take its cable car and bust out of the city for the top of the Mont Faron.
There a converted Napleonic fort houses a memorial museum telling the story of the Allies recapture of France’s most important naval port from the Nazis during the Second World War.
It also affords superb views over the city, confirming some places are much more attractive when seen from afar.
While neat and tidy, a whirlwind tour reveals it’s still wrestling to find points of interest apart from its rugby stadium and the great psychological and architectural weight of supporting 70% of the French navy’s tonnage.
Away from Toulon I’m taken on a tour of Ouest Var, an area impossible to comprehend thanks to its maze of semi-wooded roads.
The numerous hilly vantage points (navigated ably by immense minibus pilot Olivier Lopez ) do little to help in the pouring rain and it’s not until the sky clears and I arrive at La Seyne things start to make more sense.
I’ve washed up across the bay from Toulon in an area shy by comparison to the divas of Hyeres and its big brother.
But despite the functionality of much of the scenery it’s not without charm. Restaurant La Lagune is a spark of culinary brilliance beside a tranquil state-protected lagoon, once dived by Jacques Cousteau.
The medieval village of Ollioules is another gem, complete with ruined battlements and its demi-eponymous olive trees.
If Porquerolles busts the budget, this is a fine alternative.
You can find out more about the area here .
Jon flew with Cityjet, which flies three times weekly (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) direct from London City Airport to Toulon-Hyeres during the Summer season (ends late October) with fares available from as low as £60 one way. Price includes one checked bag and complimentary drinks and snacks on board.
3 places to dine
When travelling eating is often required. To minimise time spent on this profound distraction we've a tip for each area.
Sail over to Porquerolles and head to the main village square where delightfully smooth dishes of fish await alongside local wines at bistro L’Alycastre . They’ll even do you a petanque picnic while you hurl your boules.
If you find yourself at a loose end in the main city pop down to the beach and enjoy foie gras served on pasta at Restaurant Le Lido . Gets the rugby crowd and operates a lively bar if the confines of the dining table become too much.
3. Ouest Var
Marked out by its unusual approach to canneloni (strips of courgette round a cream cheese sausage) Restaurant Le Cannier is nevertheless popular and right on the beach for pleasant views of the sunset in La Seyne.
3 places to see
Sights are popular with tourists, so here are a trio of destinations worth tracking down to use your eyes on.
This one’s a cheat as the thing to see is Porquerolles, where you should be staying. But the way to see it is from a private boat, zipping up the coastline via cliff caves and rocks the navy used to shoot at for target practice. Book at Espace Mer .
A visit to the Memorial du Débarquement at the top of the Mont Faron sensitively tells the story of the Nazis’ capture of the port and its smooth liberation including the German flag torn down by the allied forces who sped on to Marseille and victory.
3. Ouest Var
For those with a head for heights a visit to the Pont Levant in Port de la Seyne delivers commanding views with a glass lift to the summit in its raised position 44m above the ground. It’s permanently up so there’s little danger of a rapid return to earth.
Keep up to date with all our articles on Facebook