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Provence Toilets Overview

French Public Toilets Overview
Although a toilet is a toilet, you may find some significant differences between French toilets and the ones you know and love at home. Be aware that the water in your toilet bowl does not fill to a high level. This is normal outside the USA. The flush button may not be where you expect to find it. It could be located on the back wall, on the side of the toilet or hanging on a chain above,there could be even some peddles on the ground. Just look for a silver handle/peddle of some description, it will do the trick. Unfortunately the dreaded Turkish toilet is still prevalent throughout Provence. To avoid an extremely unpleasant shock, they have been distinguished in the directory.

One of the most startling aspects of using a public toilet in France is the fact that many of them are unisex. Local men and women have no problem using each other's toilets. Indeed, it is normal to walk into the Ladies and see a guy using a stall with the door wide open! This may sound shocking but you will be surprised by how quickly you get used to it. If the idea is simply impossible for you, always try to use an attended toilet or pop into a larger hotel to avoid the issue.

Public/Automatic Toilets

The fearsome Madam Pipi has all but disappeared throughout Provence and many of the old public toilets are or have been transferred into automatic toilets. Some non automated toilets do remain however they close for lunch and are usually presided over by the usual stone faced lady with an iron grip on the loo paper. For example, Aix en Provence, not known for their public facitlities, charge E 0.50 for their public facilities which close precisely at 12.30 and reopen at 14.00.

In the majority of cities you will generally find three types of Automatic Toilets:
A) The automatic toilet is housed inside the classic public toilet design. For example, those found in Sisteron.
B)The door in the wall. Either stainless steel to blind you whenever the sun strikes metal such as those found in Provence or cleverly camouflaged to ensure you walk straight past it several times before spotting the thing. Prepare for this scenario when you visit Grasse.
C)The Kubrick. Otherwise known as the Steel Monolith. Often mistaken for little power generators or substations on the streets. A good example of this type of automatic toilet outside Nice.

You may wonder why public toilets are concealed or discretely located throughout Provence and on the Cote D’Azur. .A medieval city doesn’t really want a steel box next to the old cathedral and many cities are in rather short supply because no one wants one in front of their establishment. The real reason is the same all over the world .Councils don’t want the financial burden and want to out source. Many local councils are still debating the issue because they simply don't see it as important!. Draguignan have been arguing about it since 2004 and with local elections looming in 2014 they are still putting forward proposals!

Many of the newer automatic toilets are disabled friendly. Access can be tricky however because many of these have been located in front of the curb or with bushes and trees in front of them. But you can relax, most towns will have disabled facilities available. Those that have been installed correctly are roomy and have a grab bar. Instructions are provided in Braille and multi lingual instructions are provided. Tarascon is the exception. They have just spent E 75,000 on updating the public toilets without allocating a single euro for the disabled visitor. If visiting the city, the local tourist office is your only option.

It is annoying to note that these automatic toilets do not provide baby changing facilities and improvisation is difficult. All automatic toilets are self cleaning, always allow the cleaning process to complete before entering otherwise you will be drenched in water and cleaning fluids.

Cleanliness is always a difficult issue. Small towns have small budgets,so an automatic toilet is the favoured option to avoid added expense. Therefore if you find some really grubby toilets, be sure to let the local tourist authority or the Town Hall know. You can also let the local police know if you see any drug dealing or cruising taking place, particularly in family friendly areas. Remember to take toilet tissue and some hand sanitiser before you leave for the day. Better to be safe than sorry.

How do I use it?
All Sanisettes are basically the same. To use, check the indicator located outside to see if the Sanisette is occupied. If not, insert your money and the door will open automatically. The area will be somewhat damp because the toilet is automatically cleaned after use. You can wipe the seat over before you sit down if you like but at least you know it has been disinfected and that is important with public loos! Whatever you do, don’t just walk straight in after another person because the cleaning cycle needs to do its thing. The loo disappears into the wall and this could prove highly embarrassing, not to mention possibly painful, particularly while enthroned!

Sanisettes can be temperamental. Sometimes you have fifteen minutes and sometimes twenty minutes before the cleaning begins and the door automatically opens. The toilet is self-flushing and a wash basin and soap is provided. To exit, push the button and the door will open again. Be a kind stranger and remind anybody waiting for you that the loo needs to self-clean before they step inside. You would be amazed at the number of people who just bolt in only to deeply regret it moments later.

The nervous traveller need not be afraid of these automatic Tardis like structures. You cannot get locked in. There is an emergency door function inside and outside the Sanisette. If you do freak out entirely and just can’t get the emergency door to work, the fire department can gain access in seconds. You can be heard if you call out from inside if something does go wrong. Children under Ten should not enter without supervision.

Turkish Toilets
These are all to prevalent in towns and along highways in the south. Don’t be deceived while driving along the highway by the mirage of a brand spanking new toilet facility. A few steps inside and you will be confronted with a brand new Turkish Toilet. Despair inevitably ensues.
Arles has included all the toilets in their tourist without differentiating between Turkish and modern facilities.You will be comforted to know, however, that they do have a toilet with a toilet seat! Orange is guilty of the same thing the two,but did proudly tell me they did have a toilet with a toilet seat! You will find a similar situation in Orange. Strange but true.

Head towards the Camargue and you will discover that most of the toilets are Turkish in design. The fact they are not maintained makes a difficult situation even worse. The worst example of an unmaintained turkish toilet can be found at the Citadel in Sisteron. This toilet faces the sun in the car park and is disgusting beyond belief. Avoid at all costs.

Train Stations & Bus Stations

Most train stations do have toilet facilities. The frustrations range questionable conditions like those in Arles to cranky, unhelpful staff in Grasse. There is normally a toilet on Platform A or a newly installed automatic toilet for example like the one in Sisteron outside the station. Attended toilets are generally a thing of the past. Cleaners will come through a few times a day to give a cursory clean but generally things can be pretty dire. At smaller stations such as Digne-les -Bains you will find the door locked but the guards will happily give you the key. The station guards and the cafe’s staff in Grasse may grumble but if the cafe is open so is access to the toilet,even if the station guard is hiding in his office!They maybe locked but they are available for public use.

Cleanliness at the smaller stations may not be the best so make sure you have some tissues handy and some disinfectant hand wash. Politely ask the staff at the station to open up for you. Some may moan while others are very helpful. Either way, they have to do as requested so be charming but firm with your request.

Please note that Bus Stations are generally located next to or near Train Stations. Most will have either an automatic toilet available or a toilet in the ticket office. Again, the toilet must be opened upon request if they have one. Keep in mind that the French value courtesy and any attempt at speaking the language will help you in the long run. Many of the smaller Bus Stations like those in Draguignan are in the process of upgrading and do not as yet have any public facilities.

Cinemas with their ticket booths outside require you to purchase a ticket before entry so therefore have not been listed . It is easier to use the cinemas with their ticket booths inside and they have been listed in the directory.

Commerial Shoppimg Centres
Carrefour,Intermarche,Geant Casino are a few of the main players in the commercial shopping centre world in this area. You will find these behemoths looming at you in the distance along major French thoroughfares. These enormous shopping centres normally have a supermarket, pharmacy, food court and most importantly, a regular toilet. The centres are open Monday to Saturday from 8.00-20.00 with the majority open on Sunday mornings. Toilets are normally clean and freely available,but getting confirmation regarding disabled facilities has been impossible,

Mairie/Townhall & Médiathèque & or Libraries
These areas are technically public spaces therefore as such, you should be allowed access to the toilets.You will find most mairie/townhalls or médiathèque/ libraries accessible. A good example of this is the Mairie/Townhall in Aix-en Provence. Tourists are consistently using their toilets due to the distinctive lack of toilets throughout the city. Be very polite and try out your language skills before resorting to body language! The French do not appreciate grimacing visitors jumping up and down before them and would much prefer you murder their language instead. Do this and you will be directed to the toilet with courtesy.
NB: Médiathèques have books as well as other electronic devices They also have cheap internet accessWell worth a visit in their own right.
        An interesting fact is that most towns will have a toilet outside or near the Mairie and the other outside or near the tourist office
        Do not ask at the tourist office because the answer is always NON !

Cafes & Fast food

Sadly, many people think they have the right to blithely march into a café or restaurant and use the toilet without asking or making a small purchase. This is a very bad idea in France where good manners are paramount. If you are caught, you will be given a very tough time indeed.

Unfortunately with the limitation of public toilets in some of the smaller towns, restaurant owners have taken advantage of this situation and have been requesting you purchase a meal before being allowed access to the toilets. A coffee is no longer enough. This is particularly prevalent around lunch time and in the height of the season where they can scent a nervous tourist heading into unfamiliar territory. A small child in need doesn't worry them, the answer is still no. Toilets in cafes and restaurants are usually located downstairs but a few will be found upstairs.

Toilets in fast food restaurants can be accessed fairly easily even if they require a receipt. You can usually find a receipt on the floor or on a table. You can even ask someone leaving the restaurant for their receipt. Another option is to quickly grab the toilet door when the person is leaving. This works best when the restaurant is crowded.

Along the highways you will find McDonalds and Quick stores that will allow access without hassle. They are normally spotless which is a blessing.

Public bathrooms in hotels are frequently available in the lobby area or near the bar and restaurant. Larger hotels are much easier to access than those in smaller hotels. You will need to mindful of the smaller lobby area in boutique hotels because the staff are more likely to know their guests by sight. However it is easy to pick up a brochure and pretend to make enquiries before using the loo. As with everything, charm in key in this type of situation.

Museums/Art Galleries

Toilet facilities are normally near the entrance, the cloakroom or gift shop. Many museums and galleries in Provence are in former homes and you will find the public toilets located downstairs,at the entrance or hidden at the back. In towns where public toilets are almost non-existent. Go when you arrive and again before you leave. Be aware that by the late afternoon the toilets are squalid due to the numbers of visitors using them.

If you can find a church that is open,you will need to ask the church warden for permission to use the facilities. Normally they are open only to the congregation, but they will allow access on occasions. Please remember to leave a donation if given access.

Aires de Service
These nifty little places allow the traveller /camper to put air in the tyres, grab some fresh water and have a shower and use the toilet. Take note that some have more resources than others.
If this interests you, please visit
Some are free and open all year as they are in Arles while some like those in the Camargue are only open for the summer and require a jeton. These can be purchased at the Mairie for E 2.00

Disabled Facilities

Thankfully the newly installed automatic toilets have disabled facilities and although they are far from perfect you shouldn't be left in dire straights in most towns. Typically those towns few in public toilets will be be few in disabled toilets For example Aix en Provence and Dragugian.

Organisations such as can be helpful but brush up on your French. Corresponding with the tourist office may prove frustating so send off an email to the Town Hall for results.

It is also important to note that if restaurants do have disabled facilities,they will let you use them for free as will any hotel,museum or gallery. Take care with the large commercial centres and Mcdonalds. Confirmation of disabled facilities has been impossible to obtain.

Baby Changing Facilities
Changing baby remains frustrating in this region. You may find some changing areas located in Mcdonalds but they are usually dirty and uninviting. Use your pram as the next best option. Please do not change your baby on a table in a cafe! Some visitors do and they bitterly regret it. You will be dispatched out the door mid change without mercy. Hopefully things will improve in time, but it is bewildering that facilities have not been made available.

Garden Gate at St Tropez                        Andre Roberty                     1877-1963            Gift Mr & Mrs Daniel H Silberberg   Metropolitan Museum of Art N.Y
Vallauris Exhibition 1958                       Pablo Picasso                        1958                     Mr & Mrs Charles Kramer Collection  "   "   "  "
The Card Players                                     Paul Cezanne                        1890-1892           Bequest Stephen C Clark                        "    "  "  "
Garden of the Painter at Saint Claire      Henri-Edmond Delacroix      1908                     Robert Lehman Collection                      "     "     "