Exploring the Côte d’Azur by public transport – a travelers’ tale

« Is hiring a car necessary? »  is one of the questions visitors from abroad who fly into the Toulon-Hyères airport or arrive by train to stay at our apartment in les Salins d’Hyères often ask. To those who mostly intend to relax and tan on the beach, the answer is straightforward: no, with beach, restaurants and shops all within a 2 mn walk, you really do not need to spend your holiday budget on a car. But how about the more adventurous types, who wish to discover the Côte d’Azur using les Salins as their base? While having your own wheels certainly gives an appreciable freedom of movement, using public transportation is a very viable option – and quite cheaper than car hire.  But how convenient is it exactly?

Dave and Joanne Swindells, who stayed in les Marines du Levant in early summer, became true experts at riding the public buses from the Réseau Mistral and other public transportation. They had the great kindness to take the time to write a detailed account of their  experience and share their knowledge. Here is their story:

« The beaches near the apartment are very popular and seem perfect for families or couples. If you want to travel outside of Les Salins and don’t have a car then the public transport is great. The buses run by Reseau Mistral seem to be very reliable and in 2 weeks use there were only 2 out of a vast number of buses that did not turn up as scheduled. You do need to get there 10 minutes early if you can though to be sure of not missing the bus.

The best value we found was to get a ticket for 7 days from the Hyeres bus station for just under 10 Euros. You pass your ticket through the machines on the bus to validate them so you can purchase them in advance and the clock only starts ticking for the 7 days from the time you first pass it through the machine. This gives you unlimited travel on the Mistral buses and boats. From the bus station you can get timetables for all of the buses and even a map that shows all the routes that you can take. You can have fun planning your journey and use the timetables to match up the buses so you don’t spend too long waiting between your journeys.

Using the 7 day ticket we travelled by bus from Les Salins to Hyeres to Toulon and then took the Mistral bus boats to both Sablettes and St Mandrier. Sablettes seemed to be a popular little beach and St Mandrier was a picturesque harbour and little town. Toulon had a lot to see and do and so we went there more than once. We travelled up to Le Revest in the mountains also which was beautiful. For the most part the buses were air conditioned and very comfortable and clean. There were many of the bus journeys themselves that were beautiful as sightseeing / photo opportunities. We travelled to Tour Fondue by bus and then paid 17 Euros for a return ticket to Porquerolles. You can hire bikes to move around the Island as walking would be quite challenging. We hired a boat for the day and thoroughly enjoyed our time around the Island.

The unlimited travel tickets mean you can jump on and off the buses as you wish at no extra cost. We travelled miles through Côte d’Azur and Provence in this way. We caught the bus to Hyères and then paid 2 Euros to take a bus run by a company called Var Lib to St Tropez, the return journey costs the same. Whilst in St Tropez we took one of the 9 Euro boat trips and it lasted for an hour and the guide was excellent and spoke really good English when he translated his commentary just for us – fantastic customer service we thought.

A single trip on a Mistral bus is 1.40 and on Var Lib is 2 Euros. They are incredibly good value considering the distances that you can travel and all that you can see from the comfort of your air conditioned seat.

We took a bus to Hyères bus station and then a train from the nearby station to Marseille. A return ticket cost 28 Euros but the trains were excellent and Marseille was well worth the visit – an amazing contrast to Les Salins.

In Les Salins itself we ate regularly at Café Rustique during the day as the service was very good and the food was beautiful. In the evenings we ate mostly at La Salade, the closest restaurant to the apartment. Their Moules Frites are to die for and are good value. We tried many dishes from the menu and thoroughly enjoyed them all and found it great value for money. La Playa was a nice experience too as they have entertainment some nights and have nice food and cocktails. It is a lovely setting there to spend your evening.

All in all our 2 weeks holiday was filled with things to do and see and a real experience. »

Dave + Joanne

Heart felt thanks again Dave and Joanne, we hope you’ll come back!

Practical information

Printed maps and timetable can be obtained from the offices of the transportation companies, but to get an idea ahead of time, here are links to their websites:

Réseau Mistral, bus network: here are the maps and timetables. Bus number 66 is the one to take from les Salins to Hyères centre.

Réseau mistral, shuttle boats across the bay of Toulon, here are the maps and timetables.

Shuttle boat between la Tour Fondue and Porquerolles (and other islands) are managed by TLV & TVM, see destinations and timetables.

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