In My Viewfinder: Beautiful & Varied Var Provence. Where? Let Us Show You

A window opens to cruising in Var Provence: Admiring the Mediterranean Sea on the island of Porquerolles. © 2012 Ralph Grizzle

We spent the past week filming in 14 locations in Var Provence. I’ve seldom visited a cruise destination with such a diverse range of memorable experiences, which will become apparent to you as you view the photos in our Flickr slideshow.

Var Provence is the France that Americans like me dream about when imagining the easy and romantic lifestyle along the Cote d’Azur.

First, however, I should tell you that there is no such place as Var Provence. The official name of the region I am speaking of, and where I am sitting as I type these words, is Var, a department (roughly equivalent to a county) situated in the south of France — in Provence.

Beautiful Bormes Les Mimosas, a hilltop village noted for its flowers, and a shore excursion in Var Provence. © 2012 Ralph Grizzle

The name Var Provence is a marketing tactic, albeit not a deceptive one. Allow me to explain.

Internationally, Provence has a strong image, thanks in part to the 1989 bestselling autobiographical novel by Peter Mayle called A Year in Provence.

The Var, on the other hand, lacks brand awareness.

Before I came here last year, the name Var had no meaning at all to me. Var? What’s that? A restaurant? A bar? A brand of soap? A small car? Perhaps a dog? I had no idea. I do now, and I like what I have seen here. I think you will too.

Not well-known among North Americans, Saint-Raphael boasts 36 kilometers of coastline, stretching nearly to Cannes. © 2012 Ralph Grizzle

The folks at the Var Provence Cruise Club thought it was a shame to hide the fact that their region was in fact in the heart of Provence, so they came up with the idea to market the region in a way that people could identify with. As they were in the heart of Provence, they began using Var Provence when talking to cruise lines about their region. Suddenly, North Americans had an image to associate with the region: Provence.

Var Provence offers a variety of experiences. Within minutes of Le Levandou are secluded beaches like this one. Travel just over an hour north to the largest canyon in Europe. © 2012 Ralph Grizzle

The Var Provence Cruise Club has 10 member ports, all offering something a little different from the other. We will feature each one in videos in the coming weeks so that you can see the differences for yourself. Just in case you’re wondering, the ten ports are:

  1. Toulon/La Seyne-sur-Mer
  2. Sanary-sur-Mer
  3. San Raphael/Frejus
  4. Bandol
  5. Cavalaire-sur-Mer
  6. Le Lavandou
  7. Porquerolles Island
  8. Les Embiez
  9. Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer
  10. Saint-Tropez
What could be more French? An outdoor café with a glass of perrier and a noisette, an espresso with a dash of cream, known elsewhere as a machiatto. © 2012 Ralph Grizzle

This past week, we traveled from charming seaside resorts (some big, some small), across rolling hills to typical Provençal villages, to Europe’s largest canyon, a spectacular natural feature in a region that attracts millions of visitors from Europe annually, but is not known to Americans, with one possible exception — Saint-Tropez, one of the 10 ports in the Var Provence Cruise Club.

Le Jardin du Rayol, a Mediterranean Garden near Cavalaire-sur-Mer. © 2012 Ralph Grizzle

For now, these photos and the Flickr slideshow will give you a sense of the flavor and diversity in a cruise destination that is only now inking itself on the map.

Our young waitress in a restaurant in Le Castellet. When I asked if I could take her photograph, she immediately struck this pose. © 2012 Ralph Grizzle

I don’t think any image can represent Var Provence any better than the one above. We were touring Le Castellet, a beautiful hilltop village last Sunday when we stopped for lunch at a small restaurant that appeared to be operated by a father and his young daughter.

The young girl alone played hostess, waitress and cashier, handling with efficacy a dozen or so patrons and charming us all. When I asked if I could take a photo with my iPhone, not sure if she understood my English, she immediately stood erect and flashed a smile. Her friendliness was but one example of the warmth and hospitality I felt in Var Provence on my multiple visits here.

Beautiful windows in Cotignac. Could I live here? Please. © 2012 Ralph Grizzle

Var Provence is still a place that is genuine and authentic. If you come, you may find yourself passing real estate offices and looking, as I have done, at the prices of apartments so that you might purchase a small part of this paradise and make it your home. I am tempted each time I see a sign hanging from an apartment reading, A Vendre.

Tranquility on the island of Porquerolles. © 2012 Ralph Grizzle

This coming week, we’ll be reporting more from the region, as we travel with representatives from Norwegian Cruise Line, SeaDream Yacht Club, Seabourn, Voyages of Discovery and MSC Cruises to explore new shore excursions for new deployments in Var Provence.

The sun vivifies the contrast of colors. © 2012 Ralph Grizzle

We are, in a very real sense, pioneering the way for future cruise passengers who will visit this region. Yes, a handful of ships visit here now, but there is so much more potential. I urge you to come while Var Provence is relatively unexplored by cruise passengers.

View from a Medieval tower in Saint Raphael: Admiring the Basilica and beyond, even to Saint-Tropez on the far horizon. © 2012 Ralph Grizzle
L’Abbaye du Thoronet boasts some of the best acoustics in the world. © 2012 Ralph Grizzle

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Check out the Best of Var Provence in our Flickr slideshow.

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I’d be curious to know. Did you know of Var before now?

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