The town of Saint Raphaël is often associated with its neighbour Fréjus. This is for a good reason: in addition to being side by side, they have a shared history… or at least in part. While Fréjus is renowned for its military port and status as a trading post, Saint Raphaël swiftly made its reputation as a seaside resort.
Long considered as the «residential suburbs of Fréjus», the development of Saint Raphaël began in the Ninth Century.
As Fréjus Port was silted up, Saint Raphaël provided a good alternative. In addition to Napoleon, the town has also seen a many political figures pass through, including George Clémenceau, Albert I of Belgium, as well as great artists such as Alphonse Karr, Victor Hugo, Théophile Gautier, George Sand, and many others.
Sumptuous villas have been built here, after all, the town enjoys an ideal location. On one side, there is the sea with sandy or pebble beaches, calanques and small well-hidden creeks. On the other, there is the Rade d’Agay (harbour) which opens the way to the Esterel Massif. Listed as an outstanding natural site, especially known for its red rocks and assortment of Mediterranean plants, the Esterel Massif offers a magnificent landscape for hikers to explore.
Traces of prehistoric habitation have been found in many places in and arouond the commune of St Raphaël, most especially in the nearest part of the Masif de l’Estérel, where over a hundred archeological sites have been located.
Many Stone-Age megaliths and dolmens remain n the area from the paleolithic and neolithic ages.
The dolmens de Suveret can be seen north of the center, at Valescure, near the hotel Latitudes and the Golf de Valescure. There’s a menhir to the east of there, at the entrance to the Parc de Veissieres. A more ornate example is the “Pierre Levée” (or “Pierre Guérisseuse”) in the area of Les Ferrières: it’s an elipitical megalith about 2 metres high, with 219 small cavities.
During the Roman period, the area now occupied by St Raphaël was popular for the wealthy families [patriciennes de Forum Julii], where they built their Gallo-Roman villas. One example was located at the site of the town’s casino, where it had a view across the bay towards Saint Aygulf. Excavation showed this villa was decorated with mosaics, had a vivarium to stock live fish, and have thermal baths.
The area at the north of the current town, Valescure, was named Vallis Curans for the curative properties of the climate, and many wealthy families built their villas there. The ruins of one are at the site of the Golf de l’Estérel club house.
The current town was established in the 11th century by the Monks of the Lérins Islands, and In the 12th century the Templiers established and important commanderie.
Saint Raphaël was a fishing port from the 15th to the 19th century, as it is to a much lesser extent today.
The towns popularity as a tourist destination began at the end of the 19th century: the writer Alphonse Karr, who moved from Paris to Nice in 1855, visited St Raphaël often, along with other writers and artists, includingGeorges Sand, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Frédéric Mistral and Guy de Maupassant. Karr died here in 1890.
In 1799 an even more important Frenchman put St Raphaël on the map a bit earlier, when Napoleon Banaparte landed here on his return from Egypt. The “conqueror of the pyramids” passed through town in the other direction on 28 April 1814, debarking for Elba Island as a prisoner.
On 15 August 1944, the allied troups landed at Dramont beach, 5 km east of the center, beginning the debarquement of operation “Camel-Green”.
A sight-seeing ‘must’ in Saint Raphaël is the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Victoire (basilica), the Jardin Bonaparte (gardens) and the Archaeological Museum.
You can also stroll about the Vieux Port (Old Harbour) and visit one of the many markets: Marché de la Place de la République, Marché de la Place Victor Hugo, Marché du Vieux Port,etc. The town also has a water complex where you can go on trial dives and sea safaris.
As far as golf is concerned, the Beaurivage mini-golf course provides a nice course for enthusiasts. Otherwise, there are many courses along the coast.
Saint Raphaël/Fréjus is on the main rail line [rail map], for service between Paris, Lyon, the Riviera and Italy. The railway station is the St-Raphaël Valescure station, serving all SNCF trains (TER and TGV), located on the Rue Waldeck Rousseau in the town center.
TGV Trains. Saint Raphaël is on the TGV line between Paris Gare de Lyon and Nice. Several daily TGV trains stopping at Saint Raphaël are direct; others require changing at Lyon or Marseille.
Saint Raphaël/Fréjus is also, along with Nice, a “Train-Auto Accompagné” station, for travelling with your car between the Riviera and Paris. The auto-train station is on the Rue Denis Papin, just west of the town center.