Although a small town, Hyères has three parks of note: Parc Olbius Riquier, with its mini-zoo, pony rides, and wandering peacocks; Parc Sainte Claire, the former home of American writer Edith Wharton; and Parc Saint-Bernard.

On a steep hill (Montée de Noailles) above Hyères, Parc Saint-Bernard is the perfect place to relax on benches shaded by olive trees and pines. Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, great patrons of the arts, commissioned a modern Cubist-style villa here in 1924 and brought in garden designer Gabriel Guevrekian, who created an extensive garden in the shape of an isosceles triangle, pointing away from the end of the villa. The Villa Noailles (tel. 04-98-08-01-98; played a role in nurturing the avant-garde artists of the Jazz Age, including Jean Cocteau and Man Ray, who made a film here in 1929. The villa is open throughout the year Wednesday to Sunday 1 to 6pm for changing fashion and photography exhibitions (check the website or phone in advance) and for its Fashion and Photography Festival in late April to May. Even if you can't go inside, the gardens are worth visiting for the incredible views alone. Above the villa are the ruins of a medieval castle destroyed by Henri IV. The park is open year-round daily from 8am to 6:30pm. The land lying between the city and the sea is unattractive, and the beaches are a bit polluted; but swimming is possible, notably at Hyères-Plage. Port d'Hyères has a yacht marina. We find the parks and old town more interesting than the beachfront.

Heading into town from the beach, go along the wide avenue Gambetta shaded by double rows of palms. At the end of Gambetta, continue along rue du Portalet to place Massillon, the beginning of the Old Town and the site of many good terrace cafe-restaurants. The 12th-century Tour St-Blaise (Tour des Templiers), which stands on the square, was once a command post of the Knights Templar.


Above place Massillon is a warren of intriguing old streets climbing the hillside. Many are cobblestoned and bordered by stone walls, with an abundance of flowers in summer. Look for the medieval arched portes. Most of the Vieille Ville houses have been restored, often painted in lovely pastels with contrasting shutters and doors.

Parts of the 12th-century ramparts have survived, although most of them have been torn down. A trio of lovely old towers has survived from the north curtain wall. All that remains of the south "curtain wall" are Porte Baruc and Porte-St-Paul, next to the Collegiate Church, L'Eglise Saint-Paul, place St-Paul (tel. 04-94-01-84-50).

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