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Overlooking the Gulf of St. Tropez in the department of Var in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region lies the picturesque town of Sainte Maxime. This charming seaside town is situated on the French Riviera in south eastern France 90km from Nice and 130km from Marseille. With the beautiful clear waters of the Mediterranean to the south and the Maures mountains to the north, Sainte Maxime has breathtaking views in every direction. The Massif des Maures give natural protection from the cold winds of the Mistral and with over 300 days of sun annually, the weather is a major draw for visitors and is famous for the inspiration it offered to poets, writers and artists over previous generations.
Sainte Maxime is a family orientated town and recent developments include a new cultural centre built with a cinema and activities for both children and adults. The new road (D25) from Le Muy to Sainte Maxime has made the whole area more accessible and it is increasingly attractive as a holiday destination. The largest source of revenue for Sainte Maxime is the summer tourist industry but the city is very much alive all year round with approximately 14,000 local residents. Property is being built along the coastline and restaurants and bars with music are springing up everywhere. However, the town retains its local traditions and there are several festivals throughout the year in celebration of its history.
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Originally founded by an order of monks from the Lérins Islands near Cannes in 1000 AD, the town was named after one of their Saints called Maxime in the 8th century. They built a monastery and settled in the area trading in fish, cork, wine and olive oil which were transported to Marseille and onwards to Italy. The 16th century La Tour Carré, now a museum, was built to commemorate the monks and Napoleon restored the guns in this tower to protect the villagers at the beginning of the 19th century. Historically, the town was little more than a collection of farms centred around the church and it was only in the 18th century that Sainte Maxime began to grow into the vibrant and beautiful resort that exists today. Visitors began to come during the early 20th century and was popular with the artistic group of the period who came to enjoy the fantastic climate and lovely beaches.
On 15th August 1944, the beach of Sainte Maxime was at the centre of Operation Dragoon, the invasion and liberation of Southern France during World War II. By the foot of the harbour pier and by the beach at La Garonette, there are memorials located at the landing places honouring the US forces who did so much to secure freedom for the Allies. At La Garonette, the sailing centre is named La Batterie as it was the location of a German artillery battery.
The fires of 2003 destroyed vast areas of the hills and woodland behind Saint Maxime and reforestation will take many years.
The town is well positioned with more than 10 kilometres of white sandy beaches along the coast including La Nartelle which is renowned for its fine sand and clear waters where water sports of every description are available. La Croisette is a supervised beach for those who like the sun and sea with public and private facilities inviting you to relax and have fun. There is also a sailing school which offers training courses and tuition at every level for children over 7 years of age. La Madrague has opportunities for scuba diving and to the east, Garonnette and La Plage des Eléphants beaches have water skiing, windsurfing, jet skiing and snorkelling. La Plage des Eléphants was named after local author Jean de Brunhoff who wrote the childrens’ much loved series “Babar”.
This stretch of the Riviera coast has 87 beaches, each with a different name and personality. One of the best loved beaches is Sainte-Maxime’s Plage du Centre Ville which, as its name suggests, has a central location right in front of the Casino with a restaurant. It is flat and sandy and ideal for families because it is sheltered, ensuring the swimming is very safe. The Casino beach is private with a wonderful view of the Golfe du St. Tropez and an attractive restaurant. Havana Plage and Paris Plage both have good on-the-beach restaurants. The beaches are particularly popular with families, however in mid-summer they are virtually full and there is no shade so it is advisable to bring or rent a parasol.
In addition to all types of water sports, there are also two sports halls and many outdoor facilities including tennis, an 18 hole golf course, hiking, archery, horse riding and mountain biking to enjoy. A cycling path along most of the coast towards St. Tropez and Port Grimaud has recently been extended and touring the Massif des Maures by foot or by bike is a popular way to explore the countryside. Two modern shopping centres, a casino and even a music school are available for visitors as well as a cinema and a theatre.
The Botanical Gardens (Jardin Botanique de Ste Maxime) also called Parc des Myrtes, is found beside the N98 opposite Le Croissette plage. This large, shady botanical park is very quiet and peaceful despite being so near the busy beaches. A tranquil area full of regional trees and bushes, this is a pleasant place to sit and ponder and there is also a children’s playground and space for picnicking.
The streets of the town are pedestrianised so there is ample opportunity to visit the shops and cafés which line the streets in the old town opposite the harbour. There is a daily covered market at Rue Fernand Bessy near the market place. Every Monday, the ‘Capet’ food market in Ave. George Clemenceau takes place and every Thursday in Place des Sarrazine regional produce, fruit and vegetables are sold. On Fridays, the Marché Forain in Place Jean Mermoz holds a large mixed market.
Accommodation & Restaurants
La Nartelle Beach is the most exclusive spot amongst the beach club restaurants which includes Mario Plage. There are also plenty of sun-loungers by the bar offering complete relaxation with a view to die for. Other beach clubs are La Renne Jaune, Barco Beach and the Madrague. On the pier there are marine shops to browse and an excellent restaurant.
Sainte Maxime has an excellent selection of restaurants, some overlooking the Gulf of St. Tropez which provides a sumptuous backdrop to mouthwatering menus. Particularly recommended is Hostellerie la Belle Aurore at 5 bd Jean Moulin. La Badiane has a romantic appeal set in an intimate dining room with superb food and local wines. La Reserve on the front specialises in bouillabaisse, oysters, lobsters and provençal cuisine. There is something for everyone ! Though some restaurants are quite expensive, there are plenty of reasonably priced places to eat in comfortable surroundings offering a warm welcome.
Hôtel Les Jardins De Sainte-Maxime is 300 metres from the beach and 15 minutes from the city centre. It has an indoor and an outdoor pool and most of the rooms have a private balcony with an exceptional view of the bay. The restaurant serves a range of Mediterranean cuisines and regional specialities which can be served either in the dining room or on the terrace. Hôtellerie de la Poste is right in the centre of town and guests can enjoy a drink on the hotel’s poolside terrace which is surrounded by a pretty garden.
Apartments and self-catering villas for rental are available throughout the year but booking in advance is essential during the season. There are also several camp sites nearby with full facilities for children. B & Bs are plentiful and often located within easy reach of the beaches and the jewel of the Côte d’Azur, St. Tropez, is just a short journey away.
By boat: One of the great attractions of Sainte Maxime is the boat service (Les Bateaux Verts) which crosses the bay to St. Tropez and northeast to Cannes. During the summer months these boats are a blessing to escape the inevitable traffic jams which build up on the roads into St. Tropez. From St. Tropez there are boats which take you further southwest to Cavalaire-sur-Mer and Le Lavandou from which you can also visit the Hyères Islands. Trips to Les Issambres and Port Grimaud leave on a regular basis from the harbour.
By rail: The nearest station on the main rail line is Saint Raphael, 14 km from Saint Maxime which has frequent services to Cannes, Antibes, Nice, Eze, Monaco, Toulon and Marseille.
By air: Nice Cote D’Azur airport is the most convenient but Hyeres airport is not far away.
By car: From Nice airport or if you are coming into the Cote d’Azur by car, take the A8 to Le Muy turno-off. Drive down the D25 to Sainte Maxime. To avoid toll charges, come off at Saint Raphael and drive along the coast on the D1098.