What to do in the Iles d’Or in France?

When people think of the islands off the coast of France, they tend to look west towards the Ile de Ré and the handful of places scattered around the jagged coast of Brittany. But in the far south of Provence, before turning towards the starry spots that border the Côte d’Azur, there is a trio of islands nicknamed “les Iles d’Or”, or “les Iles d’Or” , which are more frequented by sailors than the party-centric crowd you’ll find in nearby Saint-Tropez. In addition to being remote, since no road connects them, some islands are also completely forbidden to cars. For anyone who’d rather not learn the rules of the road from another country but still want to go beyond the crowded, metro-served cities when traveling, this one’s for you.

Each of the islands is more rugged than the next. The powdery beaches of Porquerolles require treks through pine forests and there is (thankfully) not a beach bar in sight. The preserved site of Port-Cros, a national park, ransacked by pirates until the 20th century, is today a paradise for hikers, with its marked trails criss-crossing preserved forests. And only a small part of the nearby, electricity-free Levant (90% of which is owned by the French military) is open to the public – and it’s primarily a naturist resort.

Port-Cros is a dream for hiking and diving. | Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock

The ideal way to travel these coasts is by boat, alone or with the help of a captain who can navigate the waters. If you rent a boat for a few days, even better. Port-Cros, the smallest of the islands, doesn’t even have accommodation, and options are limited on the larger island of Porquerolles (which has a population of 200). This is why most people post on the coast of mainland France in the town of Hyères, the ‘original French Riviera’, one of the less visited destinations on the coast between Nice and Marseille. The majority of tourists here are French (if that tells you anything), and it was the winter retreat of choice for Tolstoy and Queen Victoria.

Along the peninsula of Giens, once an island itself sewn to the mainland by a double strip of sand dunes on either side of the salt marshes, you will reach one of the traditional fishing ports of Hyères, the Fondue Tower, which is where the ferry departs for the Golden Isles. Of course, you can visit all three, but you’ll want to make the car-free island of Porquerolles, just a 15-minute drive off the coast, your base. Here’s what to do once there.

people ride bicycles in the park
No need to cycle long distances to find rosé. | Walter Zerla/Image source/Getty Images

Bike to Caribbean-worthy beaches

With only a handful of studios and small hotels on the island, the best place to hang out for the night is on one of the boats moored in the harbor (which can easily be booked through Airbnb). Since the only mode of transportation on the island is by bike, this is the first thing you’ll want to check off the list once you arrive. Fortunately, most boats come with a pair of wheels; otherwise, there are bike rental stands near the main square (which also serves as the main village).

The crescent-shaped island is four miles long and two miles wide, and it’s divided into two parts: the steep cliffs on the south side, where hikers can descend to hard-to-spot coves, and the long sandy shores to the north. , best accessible by bike. Take your pick from the circular coastal paths that start at the port and branch out to the beaches lining the northeast coast, such as the famous Notre Dame beach (named one of the most beautiful in Europe), which is protected by Aleppo pines.

water and beach view
Cycle to one of the most beautiful beaches, Plage Notre Dame. | Vincent Pommeyrol/Moment/Getty Images

On the other side, you will find one of the less frequented beaches, the shallow Le Langoustier, about 45 minutes by bike from the city. Nearby, the secluded Mas du Langoustier with Tiffany blue shutters, an old country house converted into a hotel that once belonged to the owners of the island, is everything you imagine when you think of Provence, namely antique furniture from French country style. and a swimming pool surrounded by eucalyptus and pine trees. You’ll find sun loungers and umbrellas on the sand below (the closest to a beach club on the island), and a bistro, La Pinède, on the terrace facing the sea. The restaurant’s specialty? The lobster (lobster), of course.

aerial view of farm and farmland
This former farm has some of the best exhibitions of contemporary art in France. | Domaine la Courtade

Walk barefoot past Andy Warhol’s paintings

When Godard was filming his classic Pierrot le fou in the 1960s, the land where Villa Carmignac is located was a farm. The architect Henri Vidal later transformed the farm into a villa and surrounded it with vines, thus creating the Domaine La Courtade. More recently it opened as a museum of contemporary art – which you walk through without shoes – with galleries illuminated by a ceiling of water and permanent works by artists from Andy Warhol to masters like Botticelli.

Outside in the National Nature Reserve, you’ll find 15 sculptures by Jeppe Hein and Olaf Breuning placed in the surrounding gardens, where an open-air cinema is held during the summer months. If you’re on a full moon, you can take a guided tour of the sculptures led by the (recorded) voices of Charlotte Gainsbourg and Patti Smith.

“Hyères in particular has a strong presence on the modern and contemporary art front, largely thanks to the famous Villa Noailles, which hosts contemporary art and design exhibitions, festivals and workshops throughout year,” says Alexandra Weinress, founder of Paris. -based The Seen, which offers bespoke private art tours across France. “Villa Carmignac is a beautiful continuation of the region’s cultural heritage, as it is home to a wide range of artists who propel new ideas forward.”

2 toasting glasses
Good food and good wine await you. | The butcher’s stall

Sip rosé, play pétanque and enjoy boat life

Despite being such a small island, Porquerolles is home to two wine estates: Domaine bio La Courtade, which offers tastings and tours of the vines, and Domine de l’Ile, owned by Chanel, in the heart of the island. , not far from Plage Notre-Dame. Pick up a few bottles of rosé and pedal into town for a DIY aperitif in the main square, where locals play petanque (or boules) until the sun goes down.

The island’s handful of restaurants mostly line the town square (Place d’Armes), so if you’re visiting during the busy summer months, you’ll want to book ahead. This is also one of the reasons why it is better to come in the off-season (May and September are really the best months, because there are fewer tourists and it is not too hot). Two excellent choices on the square are Pélagos, where you can enjoy the catch of the day a la plancha or freshly shucked oysters, and L’étale du Boucher, a butcher, wine cellar and restaurant with a Thai touch.

The island empties when the last ferry leaves, so most places end early. End the evening with a cocktail on the terrace of L’escale, which overlooks the harbour, before returning to your ship for a nightcap on deck, something you’ll soon realize everyone does at the harbour.

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Lane Nieset is a contributor for Thrillist.

About Margaret L. Portillo

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