Draguignan days: There’s more to this city in Provence than the American military cemetery
By MICHAEL ABRAMS | Published: August 11, 2020
The town of Draguignan in southeastern France is a little off the beaten track.
While it is in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region — think St. Tropez and other popular Riviera destinations — hordes of tourists don’t make their way there.
What brings most Americans to Draguignan is the Rhone American Cemetery, the final resting place for 861 service members, most of whom lost their lives in Operation Dragoon, the 1944 invasion of southern France.
The cemetery is a peaceful spot of green covered with rows and rows of Latin crosses and Stars of David, marking the graves. Like other cemeteries administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission, it features a chapel, a Wall of the Missing with the names of 294 service members who were not found engraved on it, and a map of military operations that took place in the town.
A giant angel of peace holding a small boy adorns the facade of the chapel, overlooking the neat rows of graves.
The cemetery and last year’s 75th anniversary of the World War II operation were what brought me to Draguignan, but being there for a couple of days, I seized the opportunity to explore the rest of the town with its distinct Provencal feel — blue skies, warm weather, olive trees, old stone buildings and, of course, nearby vineyards.
Strolling through the old town, with its warren of pedestrian lanes lined with shops, bars and cafes, I stumbled across the colorful Rue de Trans, where around 90 residents painted the pavement in 2018.
From there, I followed signs and headed for the Tour de l’Horloge, Draguignan’s old clock tower. It sits in a peaceful park among the olive trees, at the top of a hill, offering a good view of the town below. The Saint-Sauveur chapel, built in the 12th and 13th centuries, is nearby.
The next day, I headed out to see something much older than the chapel or the clock tower, which was rebuilt in the 1660s.
One of the largest megalithic tombs in Provence, the Pierre de la Fee dolmen, or single-chamber tomb hewn out of local sandstone, sits on the outskirts of town. It dates back to about 2,500 B.C.
The walk to the dolmen didn’t look far on paper, and although I had water, I wilted in the Provencal sun before I found the ancient edifice. The Pierre de la Fee consists of three supporting stones, on top of which there’s a ceiling slab that’s said to weigh about 20 tons.
As hot as I was, it was worth the walk. How often do you stand face to face with something that old, that’s such a feat of engineering?
While Draguignan doesn’t have a lot of other tourist attractions, there is also the Municipal Art and History Museum (newly reopened after renovations) and an artillery museum.
Worth mentioning also — because of the shade — is the Jardin Angles, a leafy park on the edge of the old town.
But one of the nicest things about Draguignan is that you can end your day there with a nice glass of wine and a delicious French meal.
Directions: Draguignan is in southeastern France, north of the Riviera off the A8 autoroute. From Germany, head toward Lyon, then Marseille, and then take the A8 toward Nice, exiting at Le Muy. From Italy, head to Genoa, then take E80 to the French border and the A8 to Le Muy.
There are signs in Draguignan for the Rhone American Cemetery. Its GPS coordinates are N43 32.1683 E6 28.3783
Food: There are plenty of restaurants in Draguignan, covering all price ranges. It is a good place to try French, and especially Provencal, cuisine. Two places I liked were Les 1000 Colonnes on the Place aux Herbes and La Table de Martine on the Place du Marche.
Information: For info on the cemetery, go to www.abmc.gov. The town’s website (in French only) is ville-draguignan.fr, but it has very little tourist information.