We had planned an evenly shared day to visit Fréjus and Saint-Raphaël, a short getaway from Toulon where we were living at the time. If you have children, you surely know that trips rarely go according to plan, and instead we mostly spent time visiting Fréjus and made a whirlwind visit to Saint-Raphaël. Despite this, we had a great day and discovered lots of very nice places you shouldn’t miss if you’re on the Cote d’Azur!
Visit Fréjus in a day
For this day trip (basically, a half-day scheduled in Fréjus), we had planned several places to visit, accessible with a 3-year-old child: the Villa Aurélienne, the Hông Hien Tû pagoda, the city center, the Roman amphitheater, the port of Fréjus and finally Luna Park.
The Villa Aurélienne and its park
We started with the Villa Aurélienne, also called Château Aurélien, because it was built near the old Roman road – the via Aurelia – which connected Rome to Arles. You can park in the car spots inside the park, but you will have to go the rest of the way on foot. The villa is located inside a large park, which can be a great play stop for the children, a cool mini-hike, or be even a great spot for a small picnic break. There is also a little children playground with swings and a slide.
Admire the ruins of the ancient aqueduct, and then head to the Villa. When we arrived it was closed to the public (at noon) but it is still worth a detour for its neo-classical architecture. When it is open, it is now a cultural place in the city of Fréjus offering exhibitions, concerts and organizing parties in the park, such as the Plant Festival taking place in the spring.
Other information on the Villa Aurélienne Fréjus on the website from the city.
Hông Hien Tû Pagoda
A curious, unexpected, and above all very interesting place, we then visited the Hông Hien Tû Pagoda (Pagoda of the proud Hong Lac race), a magnificent example of Vietnamese Buddhist architecture. All of us, the young and the less young, have been fascinated with this incredible place built in 1917, peaceful and still today a place of worship. We were very kindly welcomed, and know that you can also take yoga or meditation classes there.
You can admire dozens of statues, including a 2m high and 1.5 tons heavy statue cast in Bangkok representing the future Buddha Siddhartha Gantana in meditation, as well as a a statue of the Buddha who entered Nirvana in a lying position, the largest in Europe at 10m long. Another noteworthy element is the 2.5m high (and weighing 2 tons) replica of the bell of the Temple of the Celestial Lady of Hué, an ancient Imperial city.
The historic center of Fréjus
Park in the Paul Vernet car park and follow the arts and crafts route through the maze of alleys in the historic center of the town of Fréjus. Let yourself be carried away without worrying too much about the way, until you come across the Notre-Dame and Saint-Léonce de Fréjus Cathedral. It is good to get lost in the small pebbled streets and discover artisans’ stalls or small shaded benches where you can enjoy a good ice cream.
The arena of Fréjus – the Roman amphitheater
I must admit that once you have tasted the Colosseum in Rome, it is challenging to appreciate the small amphitheaters like the one in the city of Fréjus or Arles. Strolling through the rock galleries will always be a bit magical, but I am left a little unsatisfied each time. This does not prevent us from visiting these sites every time and immersing ourselves for a few moments in the Roman history of the place. This one was built of sandstone in the 1st century and measured 113 meters in length and 85 meters in width, for about 10 000 to 12,000 spectators. The amphitheater is now reused for concerts and major events, and for this occasion has been under construction for 15 years.
We then got back in the car to go to Port-Fréjus and stroll around the port, a must in my opinion when you want to visit Fréjus. Bad luck, our toddler fell asleep in the car, then fell asleep again in the stroller, so we were “stuck” there for quite a while. Let’s be honest, there are worse places to get stuck in!
We ended up stopping for a drink during his (endless) nap, and were able to admire this marina, in the heart of the Port-Fréjus district, and the street art that decorates it in places and some vestiges of the ancient port.
To learn more: the port of Fréjus website
(Very) quick tour of Saint-Raphaël
The Archaeological Museum of Saint-Raphaël
Once our kid woke up, we were able to (finally) go to the town of Saint-Raphaël.
Luckily, the archaeological museum which interested me and seemed to be very accessible to children had a late-night opening that day and we were therefore able to visit it! The museum was much smaller than I imagined but despite that was very interesting and we did not regret making the stop – especially since access is free. We were able to learn a lot about prehistory in the Estérel (the region), the ancient era as well as Roman maritime trade with its ships loaded with amphoras and underwater archaeology. Our son still talks about the real boat propeller and the diving suit he saw there.
I would also have liked to visit the Roman church and the medieval tower, but a contemporary exhibition was on display there, so we skipped it.
We had a quiet little picnic in front of the museum, then a quick tour of the city center before leaving.
Evening at Luna Park in Fréjus with a child
Our last stop was therefore the Luna Park amusement park located in Fréjus. We wanted our 3-year-old son to experience an amusement park, and Luna Park offers activities dedicated to the little ones, so it was perfect. We had planned to arrive at the opening at 8 p.m. but our program having been totally disrupted by the siesta, we arrived much later and the place was crowded, as was the parking lot. The place is (unsurprisingly) quite chaotic, but we found the “park” delimited for the small children, with ten attractions for 10€ (only the child pays). The idea is excellent, our son loved it, however we found the supervision of the attractions and their security quite (too) “light”. Other than that we were a little disappointed with the very poor food/drink options (or the lack of directions if we missed the refreshments), but we had a great time all the same.
More information: Luna Park Fréjus
To conclude, we had a very nice day and with a young child I would rather recommend dedicating one day per city. Fréjus is much more interesting than I thought, and you can completely end the afternoon with a break on the beach for example, then continue with a dinner at the restaurant before going for a walk to Luna Park. For Saint-Raphaël, I had planned a longer visit of the city and certain monuments, followed by a beach break at Agay. It will have to be for next time !
More information if you want to visit Fréjus: Fréjus tourist office.