Provence … vast plains, trains and auto-tuned popstar lookalikes along the Toulon-Marseille coastline

On my way to Marseille from Toulon a few months ago (2013), I decided to take the scenic route along the most westerly part of the stunning Côte d’Azur coastline. This area may not be as chic nor as sophisticated as neighbouring Nice, Cannes or St Tropez in the east, but in comparison it certainly has its own charm, raw beauty and quirky sense of humour:

The view across Provence to the Mediterranean sea beyond, from the ledge of 'Le Trou de Madame' in the delightful medieval village of La Castellet, 8km north of Bandol

The view across Provence to the Mediterranean sea beyond, from the ledge of ‘Le Trou de Madame’ in the delightful medieval village of La Castellet, 8km north of Bandol

'Le Trou de Madame' - or 'The Lady's Hole' in English (stop sniggering) - was an observation point within the fortified walls of the village where for many years the lady of the castle stood and kept watch daily, waiting in hope for the return of her son after war. Sadly, he never returned

‘Le Trou de Madame’ – or ‘The Lady’s Hole’ in English (stop sniggering) – was an observation point within the fortified walls of the village where for many years the lady of the castle stood and kept watch daily, waiting in hope for the return of her son after war. Sadly, he never returned

Taking a risk to take a photo of an abseiler climbing down the rugged 394m high sandstone Cap Canille, the highest sea cliff top in France

Taking a risk to take a photo of an abseiler climbing down the rugged 394m high sandstone Cap Canille, the highest sea cliff top in France

Well, this is certainly one way to reach the seaside town of Cassis below (I chose to drive down)

Well, this is certainly one way to reach the seaside town of Cassis below (I chose to drive down)

The beautifully curvy 'Brindille' by local sculptress Roselyne Conil, sunbathing along the coast between Cassis and Bandol ...

The beautifully curvy ‘Brindille’ by local sculptress Roselyne Conil, sunbathing along the coast between Cassis and Bandol …

More J-Lo than Bardot

More J-Lo than Bardot

More Boules-lards than bollards

More Boules-lards than bollards

This ornate drain-pipe caught my eye in Bandol (a feature in several of the seaside town's back streets) not just for its delightful design but also because it looked remarkably like pop-sensation Rihanna ...

This ornate drain-pipe caught my eye in Bandol (a feature in several of the seaside town’s back streets) not just for its delightful design but also because it looked remarkably like pop-sensation Rihanna …

...

One of the highlights of this journey was passing through the coastal town of La Ciotat, halfway between Toulon and Marseille, around 30 km from either city. The town itself is just like any other coastal town along this stretch of the South of France …

The pretty, unassuming town of La Ciotat by night

The pretty, unassuming town of La Ciotat by night

… but what makes this town remarkable is its train station.

"What's so special about that train station?" I hear you ask

“What’s so special about that train station?” I hear you ask

This typical Provence-style train station is arguably the birthplace of cinema. In 1895, brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière filmed a train coming into this station and then screened the piece to a paying audience in Paris turning it into one of the first ever commerically screened cinematic movies. Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat also gave rise to the legendary story (although many doubt it is actually true) that those first paying audiences ran out of the screenings in terror believing the train was real and heading straight towards them.

The movie may not be a blockbusting dramatic feast by today’s standards, but it remains one of the most important, iconic and charming movies in cinematic history.

(this embedded footage is via YouTube, under standard YouTube licence)

Of course I couldn’t resist my own remake, but unfortunately I was only equipped with a stills camera at the time of my visit. If one whizzes down the next three photos fast enough, they may well merge into one and appear to move just like images in a flip book.

Approach of a Train at La Ciotat Station (2013), the prequel

Approach of a Train at La Ciotat Station (2013), the prequel

Arriving of a Train at La Ciotat Station (2013), the second prequel

Arriving of a Train at La Ciotat Station (2013), the second prequel

Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station (2013), the disappointing remake

Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station (2013), the disappointing remake

It was a shame that the station didn’t shout about its historical credentials a lot more than it did. Apart from a plaque …

Can you spot which is a train timetable, a (broken) ticket machine and a commemorative plaque?

Can you spot which is a train timetable, a (broken) ticket machine and a commemorative plaque?

"In this station in 1895 the great scholar Louis Lumière filmed the entrance of a train and created one of the first cinematic films by Auguste and Louis Lumière. Placed 22 November 1942 by the care of the Lumière Committee and the Tourist Office of La Ciotat"

“In this station in 1895 the great scholar Louis Lumière filmed the entrance of a train and created one of the first cinematic films by Auguste and Louis Lumière. Placed 22 November 1942 by the care of the Lumière Committee and the Tourist Office of La Ciotat”

… and a couple of sun-bleached photographs along the opposite platform …

Photos of the brothers and a memorial shot from 'Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat' (left) alongside posters of zoo animals and the Summer 2013 release of the less memorable movie 'Riddick'

Photos of the brothers and a memorial shot from ‘Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat‘ (left) alongside posters of zoo animals and the Summer 2013 release of the less memorable movie ‘Riddick

...

… very little else in and around the station suggested that this was indeed the location for one of the first cinematic movies ever filmed.

It would appear that I wasn’t alone in wanting more commemoration at the station. Outside in the carpark a local artist had created his own fitting tribute:

Le Banksy

Le Banksy

La Ciotat station is actually quite a few kilometres outside La Ciotat town itself, but local transport buses (though few and far between) do connect the station with the coastal town. I popped into La Ciotat afterwards in the hope that the town embraced its place in cinematic history more obviously than its station did. The local cinema does pay homage, albeit in name only …

Cinema Lumiere in La Ciotat showing three movies that probably will not be remembered as fondly as 'Arrival of a Train ...' (and probably won't be remembered at all this time next year)

Cinema Lumiere in La Ciotat showing three movies that probably will not be remembered as fondly as ‘Arrival of a Train …’ (and probably won’t be remembered at all this time next year)

… and the home of the brothers, east of the town (although I couldn’t find it as there were no signposts for it anywhere) is presently (2013) being renovated into a cinema museum.

Well, it’s a start.

TLT x

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