Venture down to the south-eastern French Riviera, and you’ll find the charming seaside town of Bandol. One of the most picturesque places in France, it is a small port town with a large boardwalk, bright sunshine, and plenty of cafés where you can people watch while indulging in the local wine.
This stretch of the Mediterranean counts several popular towns including La Ciotat, Cassis, Sanary-sur-mer, Le Castellet, Saint-Cyr-sur-mer and La Seyne-sur-mer that are all right next to each other, along with the famed cliffs of the Calanques.
Overlooking the Mediterranean, you’ll find Bandol with its beautiful sandy beaches, and coastal hiking trails to make an excellent holiday destination. It captures all of the charm and culture of the quintessential south of France. The town plays host to some of the most stunning beaches in the area with plenty of entertainment nearby, including a casino.
Excavations show that a town existed in the area as early as antiquity. However it was not until the Middle ages and the French wars of religion in the 16th century that a fort was built nearby, leading to a village to grow near it. The famous wines of Bandol had already made it to the table of King Louis XV, putting the town on the map.
But besides the wine, there are plenty of things to do if you visit Bandol. When it comes to beaches, shop, and cafés in town, the provençale charm is out in spades. In addition, you could go hiking, swimming, or boating in the area, as the natural parks that surround Bandol are quite unspoilt. So let’s see the top things to do in the area, shall we? Allons-y!
Things to do in Bandol
1. The Town and Harbor
Bandol has an extensive harbor for small pleasure boats, and walking around the harbor will for sure give you boat envy. Unlike the luxury yachts of nearby St. Tropez and Monaco, these boats are more “normal size” rather than for the billionaire set, which adds to its appeal.
(Just remember the saying: “the happiest days of your life are the day you bought a boat, and the day you sold it”.)
In addition to the boats, there is the town of Bandol itself, which has a rather long quai, in order to accommodate all those boats. There are several shops, cafés and snack shops along the quai, which are always packed with visitors and tourists.
Once you go into the streets behind the quais, there are several charming pedestrianized streets painted in various shades of pastel that are typical in Provence. There are plenty of eateries and shops, from traditional fare to international influences, so you should easily be able to find what you are looking for.
2. Market days
Bandol is known for its large farmers’ and producers’ markets which are held daily every morning. You will find the markets around the Place de la Liberté a few steps away from the quais.
You will find everything from cheeses, olives, and cold meats, to souvenirs, costume jewelry and more.
Every tuesday, there is also a larger farmers’ market that goes all along Quai Charles de Gaulle.
Note, if you are planning on purchasing any of the cooked food on offer, I highly recommend placing an order early. Many locals order meals in advance and then take them home to eat, so if you wait too long, everything is already spoken for. (I found this out the hard way, and had to settle for a plain ole’ sandwich!)
3. The Beaches
There are several beaches in Bandol, with the Plage Centrale being right in the heart of the town, steps away from the harbor and tourist office. It tends to get quite crowded with tourists, but if you’ve already parked your car and want to remain in town, this beach is an easy pick.
Further out of town is the Plage du Grand Vala, which is about a 10 minute walk from the Bandol town center. Usually less crowded, this beach is a great alternative.
However there is a larger beach on the other side of town called the Plage de Renécros that also gets great reviews. It is a beach with fine sand and is in a cove, so the waters are quite calm. However there have been known to be jellyfish in the area, because of its calm waters. If you stick close to the shoreline, this might be the beach for you.
4. Île de Bendor
If you are looking for a beach that is a bit more atypical, head over to Île de Bendor, aka Bendor Island. Located about 300m off shore, you will need to take one of the boat shuttles to get there.
Along with its sister island l’île des Embiez, the ile de Bendor is part of the îles Paul Ricard. If the name sounds familiar, it is because it is legend in these parts of Provence, as the maker of the Ricard brand of the apéritif Pastis.
Pastis is practically a religion in this part of the south of France, which is how industrialist Paul Ricard made his fortune with which he purchased Bendor Island in 1950. (You can read more about local foods and drinks to try in Provence here.)
Today, there is a small beach on the island, as well as 5 restaurants, a hotel, and even a tiny vineyard. There is also a small artists’ village, several boutiques, an art gallery and two museums, one on wines and spirits and the other on advertising Pastis. The museums are free, but they are only open in July and August.
5. The Wine
Bandol is in the heart of the Côtes de Provence wine region, so there are a lot of opportunities for wine-tasting and learning about winemaking in the area.
Wines from Provence all come in rosé, red and white, but it is the rosés that are the most popular on a sunny hot day in Provence.
These are considered summer wines in France, as French people normally only drink rosés (chilled) in the summer. (Rosé champagnes can be drunk all year round.)
You can visit the Oenothèque de Bandol – Maison des Vins de Bandol which is near the harbor, next to the casino for a wine tasting and an overview of the wines in the area.
However, if you wish to visit one the vineyards and have a wine-tasting in the cellars, I recommend booking a tour that will take you to a couple of tastings (and bonus: designated driver)!
6. Grand Casino de Bandol
If you enjoy gambling, there is a casino right in town, near the harbor. There are over 125 slot machines, 40 electronic games, as well as 2 tables playing poker and another two for roulette.
It isn’t the biggest casino, as far as casinos go, but you can easily spend a fun couple of hours here (assuming you don’t lose too much money).
How to get to Bandol?
Bandol is about 35 miles (55 km) west of Marseille, which has both a high-speed TGV train service as well as international airport with connections across Europe and the world.
From Marseille, there are TER trains that run from the main train station to Bandol several times a day.
How many days should you spend?
If you are looking to just explore Bandol, I would recommend one day. However, for a beach holiday, this is one of the less crowded spots on the Riviera, so you could choose to base yourself here to visit other towns, villages and cities in Provence.
Where should you stay?
If you wish to stay in Bandol, I recommend staying within walking distance of all the main sights and attractions:
If you enjoyed that post, you may want to read more about traveling around Provence and the French Riviera. A bientôt!