No more than 4.5 by 1.5 miles, Porquerolles is a pebble in the sea off the Riviera coast. Embarking for Porquerolles is a joyful adventure, especially in September or October, when the light from the sky and the sea paints the vineyards red.
Porquerolles forms an archipelago with the islands Port-Cros, Levant, Les Embiez, Bendor and St-Honorat. In his novel The Rover, Joseph Conrad painted a magnificent picture of Porquerolles, with its creeks and unspoiled nature (there are no cars on the island, and it’s against the law to take seashells or rocks or to leave a cigarette butt). The beaches of white sand are disproportionately huge compared to the island’s size and contrast sharply with the greenery of the pines and oaks all around. Porquerolles has two faces: On one side it’s Mediterranean, with flowers, cypresses, olive trees. On the other side, where it’s all mineral, Porquerolles looks like Arizona.
The sea is the clearest you’ll find in this part of the world. You can swim from Porquerolles to Port-Cros (followed by a boat, if you wish). All kinds of sea creatures will literally eat from your hand: dolphins, barracudas (small ones!), groupers, bream and even whales. There’s even an underwater path between the islands with signs explaining what you’re looking at, just like on a scenic road.
In summer, musicians climb to the top of the lighthouse to play under the pale evening sky. You can lie in the grass and listen while looking at the stars. Every summer, the island hosts the spectacular Jazz à Porquerolles festival, featuring the world’s greatest jazz musicians.
Porquerolles’s beauty is that it has remained authentic and quiet. “It’s the anti-Mont-St-Michel,” says one resident.
What to do
* Visit Domaine Perzinsky, makers of organic rosé wine. The Perzinsky family take you on a tour of the vineyard in a 19th-century horse and carriage. 04.94.58.34.32
* Le Pub Côté Port is one of the island’s institutions. Every night, local musicians come and jam together at the café. Residents come here for breakfast and the late afternoon apéritif. 1 rue de la Douane, 04.94.58.32.65
* The 17th-century church on the main square looks oddly like a Mexican church. No one knows who built it or why it’s there.
* Across from the church is the terrain de boule (pétanque field), the center of life on the island.
Hotels and restaurants
* Les Mèdes 50 rooms, a tapas bar and a gorgeous garden in the heart of town. €79-€339. 2 rue de la Douane, 04 126.96.36.199,www.hotel-les-medes.fr
* Le Mas du Langoustier Four-star hotel right on the sea. Its restaurant is the best on the island. €175-€310. Chemin des Langoustiers. 04.94.58.30.09, www.langoustier.com
* Villa Ste-Anne Sip an apéritif on the terrace of this lovely hotel on the Place d’Armes. €130-€140. 04.98.04.63.00, www.sainteanne.com
* L’Arche de NoéThe restaurant to enjoy fresh local fish. €25-€70. Place d’Armes, 04.94.58.33.71, www.arche-de-noe.com
* Fill your picnic basket at Chez Jean on Rue de la Douane-it has the best pizza on the entire Côte d’Azur.
How to get there
High-speed trains run daily from Paris’s Gare de Lyon to Hyères. www.tgv.com
The nearest airport, Toulon-Hyères (04.94.00.83.83), receives daily flights from Orly airport in Paris.
A shuttle boat will take you from Hyères to Port-Cros, where you make the quick transfer to the Porquerolles shuttle. Check times (depending on dates) at www.tlv-tvm.com