We discover the golden island of Porquerolles off the south coast of France.
THE WEEKEND: Spend a long weekend on the picture-perfect Isle de Porquerolles, an island little-visited by Brits in a region where the rustic charm of Provence and the cosmopolitan chic of the Cote d’Azur overlap. Cycle through olive orchards, hike along rugged cliffs, snorkel, dive and paddle-board in the turquoise waters of a protected maritime reserve – or simply sunbathe your way around the island’s award-winning beaches.
GETTING THERE: Fly into Toulon-Hyeres airport in the coastal town of Hyeres, nestled in the midpoint between Nice and Marseille. From there, refuel at beachside restaurant Le Marais, a 10-minute drive from the airport, before getting a taxi transfer to the Tour Fondue, where you can catch a 20-minute direct ferry to Porquerolles.
BY DAY: We hired a bike from the island’s village and went on a self-navigated tour, before going wine tasting at the Domaine Perzinsky. A small vineyard, it nonetheless produces a range of well-priced reds, whites and roses, and has an overly friendly cat for good measure. The easily accessible white sand beaches of Notre Dame and Plage D’Argent on the north side of the island are stunning, but those willing to work for their sea and sand should go on foot to the south side, where there are secluded coves only accessible by a short hike down.
THE MARITIME RESERVE: The highlight of this region, though, is not to be found on land. The French government bought 80 per cent of Porquerolles in 1971, protecting it from further development, and much of the island is now part of the Port-Cros National Park, the first maritime park in Europe. While Porquerolles’ waters are made for for snorkelling, swimming and paddle-boarding, take a day-trip to the neighbouring, national park namesake island of Port-Cros, where the waters are even clearer and, crucially, that bit quieter in the high season.
BY NIGHT: Porquerolles can get busy with day-tourists during the summer, but with the last main ferry leaving at 7pm, the buzz winds down fast. After the daytime tourists have left, while away the evening dining and playing petanque at L’Alycastre, on the village’s main square. Sip southern French wine and enjoy freshly caught seafood, making sure to try the calamari and a mouthwatering local fish called dorade. More adventurous folk can sample another local specialty: sea snails.
WHERE TO STAY: For island luxury, stay at the tucked-away, four-star Le Mas Du Langoustier, which has its own pool, private beach and restaurant. Budget travellers can stay at the Auberge Les Glycines, a cosy hotel just off the village’s main square – perfect for stumbling back to after a petanque party and local wine.
NEED TO KNOW: CityJet flies three times weekly from City Airport to Toulon until late October, with fares available from £60 one way. Rooms at the Langoustier start from at €490 per night for two, including dinner and breakfast. Rooms with breakfast at the Auberge Les Glycines start from €210 per night. TLV TVM runs regular ferries each day between Tour Fondue (Giens) and Porquerolles. Bikes can be rented from Le Cycle Porquerollais.