24km (15 miles) SW of St-Raphaël; 61km (38 miles) SW of Cannes
Ste-Maxime is just across the gulf from glitzy St-Tropez, but its atmosphere is much more sedate. Young families are the major vacationers here, though an occasional
refugee from across the water will come over to escape the see-and-be-seen crowd. The
town is surrounded by the red cliffs of the Massif des Maures, protecting it from harsh weather. However, the wide stretches of sand and the cafe-lined promenades lure travelers
to spend their days basking in the sun. More active vacationers might want to try
windsurfing or water-skiing in the calm waters, or even golfing. A 16th-century fort,
built by the monks of Lérins (who also named the port), houses a museum. The best
thing about Ste-Maxime is the price—though the town isn’t as in vogue as St-Tropez,
it’s fun and affordable and according to locals, a lot less decadent.
GETTING THERE Access to the nearest railway station is at St-Raphaël. For information
about the buses that run frequently between St-Raphael and Ste-Maxime, and
from Ste-Maxime on to St-Tropez, call Sodetrav (& 04-94-54-62-36). One-way passage
between Ste-Maxime and either St-Raphael or St-Tropez costs between 5€ and
6€ ($6.50–$7.80) per person. If you’re headed to Ste-Maxime from St-Tropez anytime
between February and December, there’s frequent ferryboat service (transit time:
20 minutes) for a cost of 6€ ($7.80) per person, each way. For information about
these boats, contact Les Bâteaux Verts, quai L.-Condroyer (& 04-94-49-29-39).
VISITOR INFORMATION The Office de Tourisme is on 1 promenade Simon-
Lorière (& 04-94-55-75-55).
A DAY AT THE BEACH
Beaches are the main attraction here. There are at least four nearby. Two are an easy
walk from the town center: Across the road from the casino is Plage du Casino—we
advise avoiding it because of the fumes from the nearby roadway, the narrow sands,
and the hordes of sunbathers. A better bet is Plage de la Croisette, a wider, nominally
less-congested expanse that’s a 2-minute walk west of Plage du Casino. The most
appealing are Plage de la Nartelle and the adjacent Plage des Eléphants, broad
expanses of clean, fine-textured light-beige sand about 2km (11⁄4 miles) west of town.
To reach them, follow signs along the coastal road pointing to St-Tropez. Here you
can rent a mattress for sunbathing from any of several concessionaires for around 15€
to 20€ ($20–$26) depending on the beach.
SEEING THE SIGHTS
Start with the 16th-century La Tour Carrée des Dames (Dames Tower) at place des
Aliziers. It was originally a defensive structure; today it’s home to the Musée des Traditions
Locales, place de l’Eglise (&04-94-96-70-30), with exhibits on the area’s history
and tradition. The museum is open Wednesday to Sunday during July and August from
10am to noon and 3 to 7pm, and September to June from 10am to noon and 3 to 6pm
only. Admission is 2.30€ ($3) for adults and .75€ ($1) for children 11 and under.
Facing the tower is the Eglise Ste-Maxime, place des Aliziers (&04-94-49-06-67),
with a green marble altar from the former Carthusian monastery of La Verne in the
Massif des Maures. The choir stalls date from the 15th century.
St-Maxime hosts various markets, including a daily flower-and-food market on
rue Fernand-Bessy every Tuesday to Saturday 8am to 3pm (during July and Aug, it’s
open daily 8am–1pm and 4–8pm). On Thursday, a crafts market is held on and
around place du Marché; on Friday morning (8am–noon), vendors sell a variety of
knickknacks on place Jean-Mermoz. In the pedestrian streets of the old town, an
arts-and-crafts fair takes place daily in summer from 7pm to midnight.
Outside town are several worthy sights. About 10km (6 miles) north on the road
to Muy (Route de Muy) is the Musée du Phonographe et de la Musique
Méchanique (& 04-94-96-50-52). This extensive display of audio equipment is the
result of one woman’s 40-year obsession. Sometimes she gives personal tours. In the
museum is one of Edison’s original “talking machines” and an audiovisual pathegraphe
used to teach foreign languages in 1913. The museum is open Easter through October
only, Wednesday through Sunday from 10am to noon and 3:30 to 6pm. During
July and August, it’s open from 10am to noon, and from 4 to 6:30pm. Admission is
3€ ($3.90) for adults and 1.50€ ($1.95) for children 5 to 12 years.
If you’re a nature lover, follow the signs along boulevard Bellevue for 1.5km (1 mile)
north of town to the little town of Sémaphore. Here you’ll find a panoramic view of
the mountains and oceans from an altitude of 120m (400 ft.). There are also many
hiking trails that wind along the coast or into the mountains. The tourist office has
maps, or you can head for the Sentier du Littoral (Chemin des Douaniers), a trail that
meanders along the coast toward St-Tropez and has access to the sea at almost all
points along the way.
WHERE TO DINE
La Gruppi FRENCH/PROVENÇAL Earthy and amusing, this restaurant thrives
on the promenade adjacent to the sea and has done so ever since the Lindermanns
opened it in the 1960s. La Gruppi is the Provençal word for a miniature trough used
to feed barnyard animals, here used affectionately and nostalgically. Bay windows illuminate
dining rooms on two floors, decorated with rattan furnishings. The deluxe version
of the establishment’s savory bouillabaisse must be ordered a day in advance;
otherwise, you get a simplified version, which the chefs refer to as a soupe de poisson.
Other menu items are seafood platters; herbed and roasted lamb from Sisteron; and
veal, chicken, and all the vegetarian bounty of Provence. If you opt for fish, a staff
member will carry a basket filled with the best of the day’s catch for your inspection
and advise you on their respective merits. One particularly succulent example is
braised sea wolf in champagne sauce.
82 av. Charles-de-Gaulle.&04-94-96-03-61. Reservations recommended. Main courses 25€–30€ ($33–$39); fixedprice
menus 23€–32€ ($30–$42); bouillabaisse 40€ ($52); soupe de poisson 12€ ($16). AE, MC, V. Apr–Sept daily
noon–2:30pm and 7–10pm; Oct–Mar Tues noon–2:30pm,Thurs–Mon noon–2:30pm and 7–10pm. Closed 2 weeks in Dec.
Restaurant Sans Souci FRENCH/PROVENÇAL Philippe Sibilia’s Italian-born
grandfather opened this place in 1953, and since then it’s always been reliable. In a
turn-of-the-20th-century building next to the church, it has a Provence-inspired decor
with ceiling beams and old-time accessories. Menu items prepared by the goodhumored
owner are concocted from fresh ingredients and years of practice. Examples
are pan-fried Provençal veal, sea wolf with fennel, octopus salad, filet of hake with
basil, and one of our favorite dishes anywhere, noisettes of lamb with a tapenade of
olives that’s enhanced with pulverized anchovies and a hint of fresh cream.
58 rue Paul-Bert.&04-94-96-18-26. Reservations recommended. Main courses 14€–18€ ($18–$23); fixed-price
menus 19€–24€ ($24–$31). V. Feb–Oct daily noon–2pm and 7–10:30pm.