Off-season boarding to the islands of the French Riviera

Rosebushes in bloom and arbutus trees in fruit, deserted coves and literary ghosts... Out of season, Porquerolles and Port-Cros, Sainte-Marguerite and Saint-Honorat or Les Embiez reveal their true nature. Just a few minutes by boat from the shores of the Côte d'Azur, these six islands are six worlds apart to explore on foot or by bike.

Porquerolles, under the giant eucalyptus trees

"Autumn and winter are so nice in Porquerolles", confides Adèle De Ber, the manager of the Villa Sainte Anne hotel. At the reception desk, skated petanque balls are available: a game on the Place d'Armes, under the giant eucalyptus trees, is not to be refused. Or a bike ride: almost 35 kilometres of paths are accessible on the largest of the Golden Islands from the landing stage by mountain bike and bicycle. According to Adèle, the great granddaughter of the former owners of the island, the best places to visit are the Moulin du Bonheur, the calanque de l'Indienne and the cliffs to the north, the black beach of Langoustier, and on the eastern side of the island, the fort overlooking the three rocks of Cap de Mèdes. To take advantage of the mild climate and lush vegetation in the off-season, the Hyères tourist office offers day trips including the crossing, bike hire, a meal in a restaurant and an optional overnight stay.

And for a unique cultural experience, head for Carmignac Villa open from April to October.

Visit Porquerolles (External link)

Port-Cros, an island of literary treasures

Phew! Port-Cros is exhausting. On approach, it is a hill in the sea. The boat turns under the Fort du Moulin and the cove is revealed at the last moment, a perfect refuge for pirates...and hikers. No quay, just two pontoons. The Maison du Parc national de Port-Cros (External link) provides information on the steep and rocky paths. You get out of breath and climb under a canopy of vegetation. The trellis of kermes oaks and mastic trees opens up from time to time to allow a glimpse of the shimmering sea. Rabelais came to the wildest of the Golden Islands to herorise and is said to have had the idea for the "Third Book". In the 1920s and 1930s, D.H. Lawrence, Jules Supervielle and André Gide, among others, surveyed the Vallon de la Solitude. The writer Jacques Audiberti said: "This dream was Port-Cros, and it lasts". In the off-season, people come here to take refuge while enjoying the rays and sunsets offered by the winter.

Visit Port-Cros (External link)

Saint-Honorat, spiritual harvest

For 1600 years, monks have been praying on this small island off the coast of Cannes. From the top of their monastery-tower, overlooking the harbour, the view sweeps over the amphitheatre of hills and the snow-capped Alps in the distance. The abbey's bell tower dominates the island, which is planted over three kilometres of forests and vineyards. The shop selling liqueurs and wines, renowned throughout the world, closes during mass. The pace of life here is that of the twenty Cistercian monks, between the 5th century chapels, the 19th century abbey, the small brothers' port, the restaurant La Tonnelle and the alleys open to the public. The smallest of the Lérins islands is indeed, as Paul Claudel said, "a crumb of prayer in the middle of the eternity that surrounds it on all sides".

Visit the island of Saint-Honorat (External link)

Sainte-Marguerite, Iron Mask, terns and nightingales

The Iron Mask leaves its mark on Sainte-Marguerite. By order of the Sun King, the man was imprisoned for eleven years in the Fort Royal. Leaving the cell of this "living mystery, shadow, enigma, problem" as Victor Hugo wrote, and moving away from the Vauban bastions, visitors to the Musée de la Mer dream of freedom. At the other end of the island, the Batéguier salt pond is home to over 130 species of birds. Gulls, grebes, common terns, great egrets or the more common grey heron, they are the stars of the bay of Cannes.

Visit Sainte-Marguerite Island (External link)

Les Embiez, sanctuary island

Behind the glass of its aquarium, a sea horse clings by its tail to an algae. Visitors to the Institut Océanographique Paul Ricard (External link) , nestled in a former Napoleonic fort, admire. A few hundred metres away, in the heart of the old salt marshes, the Institute's researchers study and reproduce seahorses in the laboratory. Arched like its fetish animal, the island of Les Embiez offers a variety of landscapes ten minutes from the Var coast. Forbidden to cars, the island is a paradise for walkers and cyclists in search of tranquillity. Throughout the winter (from 7 November 2022 to 31 March 2023), daytime access is available at reduced rates with no additional cost for bicycles. This is a great opportunity to observe the Mediterranean flora and fauna along the 5-kilometre trail that runs alongside salt marshes, vineyards, kermes oaks laid low by the Mistral, cliffs and coves.

Between the marina and the hotel residences you will find the wine shop, the mini-market supplying the sailors who live there all year round and the chic Sarti restaurant, with its multicoloured and delectable aioli and other local and seasonal dishes created by Chef Christophe Pacheco, Meilleur Ouvrier de France 2011.

Visit Embiez Island (External link)

Getting to the French Riviera