I am loosening my helmet to wipe the sweat from my face while putting my sunglasses back in place. I take a few sips from my water bottle while enjoying the view on world’s third largest bay, after Hong Kong and San Francisco: the bay of Toulon along the French Riviera. From the top of the 584-meter high Mont Faron, the view on France’s hidden gem and massive military harbour is merely splendid: the naturally protected harbours, the rooftops of the narrow medieval streets, the surrounding summits toped off by fortifications, and some of the most beautiful beaches of the riviera.
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The sun burns my skin and makes me sweat as much as the continuous climb up over a winding stony path zigzagging its way up to the top of the Mont Faron. It feels like it does not take much altitude to get out of the city. Still, every meter of positive elevation requires some serious efforts, and the breathtaking views are as many excuses to take a break. The scent of pine trees fills the air when I take a deep breath before continuing.
The first part of the trail winds on the top of the Mont Faron and is basically flat, perfect to discover the peak and explore the views from all sides of the mountain from the bay to the inland villages. I pass families who took the cable car up to visit the zoo, which would have been an option with the bike, but the downhill would not have been that rewarding!
After exploring the top of the mountain a bit more, I start making my way down via the downhill mountain biking track. The fun part starts with a few stairs down the dirt path. It gets rockier and requires quite a bit of technique to conquer. Focused on not puncturing, I make my way down slowly and in a controlled manner on the steep parts or faster on the few horizontal sections. It is hard to divide my attention between the trail and the stunning views on Toulon. Sharp bends after sharp bends, the harbour gets closer among pine trees and to the sound of cicadas.
Apart from a few weeks in the fall, the trail is mostly dry and requires skills to adapt to its challenges: lack of traction in pebbles, slippery bends, sharp rocks, deceiving roots, unforgiving irrigation channels… At times, the view opens up to the trail I took on the way up. Once I merge with the asphalt road again, I have a few more bends to enjoy, this time releasing the handles of my brakes and feeling the warm wind on my bare arms. I am soon rolling into the center of Toulon, so close to the beach already!
Text: Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau
- Refer to the website of the tourist information office to choose your points of interests in and around Toulon.
- Toulon is easily reached either by train from Paris (4 hours with the TGV) or by plane (1 hour from the Marseille Provence airport or 30 minutes from the Toulon-Hyères airport).
- Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area! Only the mountain biking loop is shown here as the regular road was taken from Toulon to get to the bend where the bike up starts (follow “téléphérique du Mont Faron”). Read the map counter-clockwise to see the way up, then on the top of the Faron and back down (12.5 kilometers not including the way to the starting bend). Click here for a short tutorial and learn how to download this GPS track and use our interactive maps offline on your phone without any roaming fees.
For more in and around Toulon, click on the images below: