3km (2 miles) E of Fréjus; 43km (27 miles) SW of Cannes
St-Raphaël sits between the red lava peaks of the Massif de l’Estérel and the densely forested hills of the Massif des Maures. It became popular during Roman times, when rich families came to vacation here, bequeathing the rambling ruins at the neighboring town of Fréjus today. Barring a brief barbaric interlude of 1,500 years, it’s still a place of rest and recreation. That’s right, the Saracen invaders that terrorized the coast during the Middle Ages didn’t come here to sip rosé. Not until 1799, when a proud Napoleon landed at the small harbor beach on his return from Egypt, did the city once again draw attention of a positive kind.
In 1864, Alphonse Karr, journalist and ex-editor of Le Figaro, helped to reintroduce St-Raphaël as a resort. Dumas, Maupassant, and Berlioz came here from Paris on his recommendation. Gounod also arrived; he composed Romeo et Juliet here in 1866. Belle Époque–era villas and grand hotels were built for holidaying English gentlemen decades later. Most were requisitioned by American soldiers during World War II when St-Raphaël served as a key invasion point for Allied forces. The city still offers the wide beaches and coastal ambience of other Côte d’Azur resorts—at a fraction of the price.