Provence: A Walk to Bandol in Winter

Bandol 1I have been living in Sanary sur Mer since December and I have discovered so much. There are endless walks and hikes around this area and I am just loving it. It’s January and it’s a bit cold but emphasis on ‘a bit’. I find that walking and biking are still great options as once I’m moving it’s actually quite warm.

So after a beautiful month of Christmas celebrations where there were lights, parades, festivals, music, and lots and lots of people gathering in the town squares, there is a bit of calm.


I am lucky to live right between the centers of Bandol and Sanary. If I go right towards Bandol I find myself walking along the beautiful open sea along the Baie de Bandol. This view is one of the prettiest that I’ve seen. I remember the first time I saw it and my jaw dropped. Now, I can’t believe that I’m living here.

As I’m walking along the Bay, I find myself with my head turned to the left, taking in the amazing views. The sea seems to go on forever. A few homes and restaurants line the coast and along the way, there are many beaches. This route is on a fairly busy road but somehow the only thing you see or hear is the Mediterranean Sea. As it’s winter, I see many people lined up along the beach walls which are sun traps. I haven’t done this yet but I’m dying to.

Bandol 5

Halfway along the bay and halfway to Bandol, there is a cafe on the right. This place is always busy. The French doing what they love best. Drinking coffee and soaking up the sun. This appears to me to be the spot where one is to see and be seen. I’ve stopped in a few times but usually, I keep walking admiring the glamorous crowd to my right.

As often as I do this walk, the sea always looks different.

The colors of the sky, the stillness… or not of the water. It is ever-changing and it never, ever gets boring. There are often people parked, taking pictures. It is just a breathtaking view.

After about 20 minutes, I have reached Bandol. Once in Bandol, I pass along a very sweet beach that looks so inviting. The beach is lined with Palm Trees and there’s a very nice place to sit under the trees. This is where to be in the heat of the summer.

Once past the beach, we come across what I call ‘the walk’. There is a very large paved walk which is lined with stores to the right and cafes to the left. This walk is always animated. I find Bandol quite relaxing as there always seem to be enough people to keep it feeling lively but it is never overwhelming.

The shops that line the walkway are very nice. I’m usually cautious in these little boutiques but here in Bandol, I think there are some pretty nice finds. The shopkeepers here have good taste.

There are many options at this point… stop and have coffee here or keep on going and hit the heart of Bandol. I do have one place where I like to stop, but often I check out the shops, and then I head down to the main area.

Note that Market Day is each Tuesday and it’s along the entire walk I just described. Along ‘the walk’ and right up I=into town.

Even though I love ‘the walk’, I can’t help but look to my left which is where the harbor is. The masts of the boats are usually calling me. I would say about halfway up is where you want to make your move. There is a big carousel which is the nicest start to the harbor walk.

The Harbor

When I walk along the harbor in Bandol, I am taken by all of the boats.

Obviously, but there are so many to look at.

I love the sound of the masts as the lines clink against the metal.

There are many fishing boats, cruising boats and let’s not forget the luxury yachts. I feel like each time I walk by I notice one that I haven’t seen before. Yes, a harbor is changeable but in general, the same boats and the same people seem to be there each time I pass by. I love the harbor because there is always activity. Someone watering down the sides of the boat, sunbathing on the bow, or enjoying something to eat in the cockpit. It’s very relaxing to walk by.

As I get further along and leave the center of Bandol behind me, I come upon the beautiful park where the townspeople play the famous game of boule.

In the morning it is quiet but in the afternoons and early evening, there are always groups of men and some women who are gathered enjoying a favorite French pastime. I love this park because not only is it right on the harbor but in the middle of the park there is a beautiful gazebo that looks so old that when you see it, the scene instantly becomes timeless.

It is a reminder that this boule park has been there for a very long time and it probably doesn’t look much different today than it did in the past. You can still see men dressed in button-down shirts, light jackets, and often a cap on their heads.

I have yet to see a beret but all of these people look so typical and you couldn’t ask for a better image of French life. The camaraderie is visible as each player looks at the player who so carefully lances the heavy ball. Precision is key. As the ball rolls towards the Jack (cochonnet) they cheer each other on. With each toss, the concentration can be felt from the sidelines. I love watching them play.

After I’ve watched enough of the games,

  • I keep following the harbor which leads to the very end where you can go left and walk along a pier that leads to a lighthouse. This way wraps back around the harbor.
  • Alternatively, you can go right and there is a path that will lead you all the way around, where you will find yourself walking along the open sea. From here the views are, once again, breathtaking. Along with the crashing waves which spray high above the rocks you’ll be looking across to the cliffs of Bandol where you’ll be able to spy a few homes. These cliffs are bigger than big and if you keep following the path, you will find your way to the other side where you can discover this beautiful neighborhood.

The Cafes

Bandol is bursting with cafes. The entire walk at the beginning and then into the heart of the town where across from the harbor are many sunny spots to choose from. I have found all of them to be good. I think that you need to look at them and select the vibe that you’re in the mood for.

I have learned that many French people spend the morning sitting in a cafe with their little espresso watching the world go by. It truly is a national sport. I haven’t quite gotten the hang of doing this on my own. I don’t know why. I like sitting there with someone but since I’ve already drank about a liter of coffee at home, I never know what to order. I have realized that buying a coffee is just basically renting the chair and you can sit there as long as you like. The cheapest option is an espresso

If you’re really loving it, you can linger along throughout lunchtime. Bandol is a very nice place to linger. The harbor, the sunny cafes, shopping, and the good food. What more could you want? This is the French life that we dream of.

Bandol is always a pleasure.

Note: Bandol – (French pronunciation: [bɑ̃dɔl]Occitan: Bandòu) is a commune in Var departmentProvence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, southeastern France. Bandol and the seat of its eponymous commune, was founded in 1595 and built around a small military fort.

The Bandol wine region, located near the coast east of Marseille and Cassis, is one of Provence’s most internationally recognized wine regions. Built around the village of Bandol, west of Toulon, the Bandol AOC covers the production of 8 communes with silicon & limestone soils. Those soils and the warm, coastal climate are ideally suited for the late ripening Mourvèdre grape which is the major variety of the region. For both the red and rosé wines, Mourvèdre must account for at least 50% of the blend, though most producers will use significantly more, with Grenache and Cinsaut usually filling out the rest of the wine’s composition.[3]

Image credits: All images copyright Suzanne Vidal



About the Contributor

Suzanne Vidal

I have a long history with France as I married a French man in 1988 and have 3 dual-national children.  I've lived in different parts of France over the years and I'm currently living in Aix-en-Provence.  I enjoy sharing my experiences and bringing France to life via storytelling.  Read more on my blog or follow me on Instagram @suzannegrossovidal.  À bientôt!

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