A Quick Guide to the Islands of the French Riviera
Stretching an area of over 200 kilometres between Menton to the east and perhaps to Cassis to the west, the Côte d’Azur is a hugely popular destination and has been since the Victorian times. However, whilst the names of Nice, Cannes and St Tropez are famous the world over, the numerous islands that are located within a short distance of the mainland still fly relatively under the radar. All of the following islands make for fantastic day trip options away from your South of France villa, with regular ferries making the short crossing between mainland France and the islands themselves.
Ile d’Hyères – Porquerolles
Located just off the coast of Hyères are three beautiful islands, Ile de Port-Cros, Ile du Levant and the biggest – and easiest to reach – of them all, which is the Ile de Porquerolles. Boasting Europe’s best beach of 2015, it really is a throwback to how the Cote d’Azur looked before it was developed. In an interview with The Telegraph, Nicolas Gerardin refers to it as “a garden of Eden” and the total ban on cars crossing over to the islands ensures it remains a peaceful haven. The port is well stocked with restaurants, ice cream parlours and bike rental shops and is also where boats arrive from the mainland. However a short stroll, or bike ride down the path opens up a world of protected plants and species and small coves which beg to be explored. The water here is ideal for a dip and the beaches are reminiscent of something you might expect to find in the tropics. Past the best beach, Plage Notre-Dame on the north east of the island the terrain is interesting and the fauna dense. The boat trip from Hyères takes around 15 minutes and a return ticket for adults is €19.50.
le de Lérins – Sainte Marguerite, Saint-Honorat
The Ile de Lérins takes in four islands, but the most important of these are the Ile Sainte Marguerite and the Ile Saint-Honorat. For those that have read the Man in the Iron Mask, the name Ile Sainte Marguerite may ring a bell. It was here that he was incarcerated in the 17th Century for 11 long years and visitors to the island can visit the Fort Royal and see the exact prison cell he stayed in. Aside from the historical fort from which only one prisoner ever escaped, the island is home to nice beaches (albeit less sandy than those on the Ile d’Hyères), a protected nature wetland area, the Etang du Batéguier, and beautifully fresh smelling pine forests. Beaches close to the port tend to fill up quickly, but the further you walk, the more privacy you tend to have. The small coves ensure there are a number of hidden beaches and the clear waters make for excellent snorkelling. For extra comfort and in case you have forgotten to pack a picnic, a small boat sometimes does the rounds of the beaches, weaving in and out of moored boats to offer ice creams and ice-cold drinks.
The Ile Saint-Honrat is the second of the two major islands and inhabited by monks. When not at prayer, they spend their time making wine, honey and lavender oil. The church is open for visitors and a return ticket from Cannes can cost as little as €14 when booked online. Both islands are a short boat ride away from the port of Cannes, which is itself around a 30-45 minute drive from many of our villas in the Pays de Fayence.
Ile des Embiez
A controversial choice perhaps, given that some consider Toulon to be the end of the Cote d’Azur, but the Ile des Embiez is another fantastic day trip and another option for those staying in one of our coastal villas. It is a short 15-minute ferry ride from Brusc – just to the west of Toulon – to Ile des Embiez. The island is owned by Paul Ricard, but visitors can happily hike around the island in search of hidden beaches away from the main port of arrival where there are amenities including restaurants and bars. This particular island is probably less pretty than the ones previously listed in this article but is another haven just a few kilometres off the coastline.