Quick guide to... Draguignan
Legend has it that the Provençal city of Draguignan got its name, derived from draco, Latin for dragon, after a bishop called Saint Hermentaire slayed one of the firebreathing beasts that terrorised pilgrims on their way to Lérins Abbey. Nowadays, Draguignan is better known for a different kind of fire: gunfire. As the self-proclaimed ‘ Capitale de l’artillerie’, it is home to the École Nationale d’artillerie and the École Nationale d’infanterie. From humble beginnings as a small village thriving off olive and grape cultivation, the Middle Ages saw Draguignan become an important bastion on the medieval Aix-en-provence to Grasse route. A Roman fortress once stood proudly on a hilltop above the city, only to be destroyed three times between the 11th and 17th centuries. It’s not just the Romans who have influenced the architecture here; Georges Haussmann was once prefect of the Var département and his trademark plane tree-lined boulevards dissect the city. With the azure waters of the Verdon Natural Regional Park to the north and the Mediterranean allure of Saint-tropez to the south, it is an ideal base for tourists seeking a true taste of Provence.
What can I see and do?
You can’t miss the imposing Tour de l’horloge, constructed in 1661 on the site of the besieged fortress. The 24m high clocktower topped with intricate ironwork offers amazing views over the terracotta rooftops and is particularly worth a visit on a clear morning for the best photo opportunities. A destination on every agenda should be the Musée de l’artillerie attached to the École Nationale d’infanterie, a leisurely half-hour walk from the centre-ville. It includes a well-curated display of old weapons with explanations in English. Heading back towards the city centre, along the same road as the museum, stop off at the Rhone American Cemetery. The final resting place of 860 soldiers, the 12.5 acre site was created to commemorate those who lost their lives in the Second World War, mostly during Operation Dragoon.
Where can I eat?
For high-quality Provençal cuisine, Auberge Pierrot (menus from €28, aubergepierrot.fr) offers an extensive selection of regional fare. Look out for the intriguingly-named
Steak du Dragon Flambé,
which features a fillet of beef topped with a tangy pepper sauce. La Boîte à
Crêpes (menus from €13, laboite acrepes83.fr) offers a good variety of crêpes, omelettes and salads, and you can even devour them al fresco on the pavement terrace. For a local twist on a classic, indulge in the special Provençal galette made up of mushrooms, egg, sour cream, Emmental and local herbs. If meat is not your thing, La Musar’dîne (menus from €28, lamusardine. wordpress.com) is a particularly good vegetarian restaurant in the city centre, priding itself on totally organic, local and seasonal produce. However, it is reservation only, so make sure to book 24 hours in advance.
Where should I stay? The 2-star Hôtel du Parc (doubles from €71, hotelduparc.fr) in the city centre is full of rustic charm. The 17 rooms, some airconditioned, all include a TV and minibar, and guests can also enjoy a shaded terrace in hot weather.
Get me there!
Nice Côte d’azur is the nearest international airport, around 82km away, and is regularly served by UK airports. Toulon-hyères Airport, 87km away, is also a viable option.
For more information, visit tourisme-dracenie.com