You can reach the islands from various points on the coast. The shortest trip is from the tip of the Presqu'ile de Giens, the penininsula of Hyères. Boats take about 15 minutes to reach Porquerolles. Check the ferry schedules here. The Ile de Porquerolles is the largest of the group of islands known as the Iles d'Hyères or, as they are often referred to in France, Les Iles d'Or, the Golden Isles. You can rent bikes at the minuscule port of Porquerolles. Bike paths go in various directions through lush vegetation and vineyards - but be aware its quite hilly. You can also walk, if you don't mind the scores of bikers during the summer time. The next island to the east, Port Cros,is the smallest of the three. The island and the sea-bed surrounding are a National Park to protect flora and fauna and marine life. The third island Ile du Levant is reached from Le Lavandou and Cavalaire. Most of it is occupied by the French Navy, only the western tip with the naturist village of Heliopolis can be visited.
During the holiday season the three islands are visited by more than 3.000 people daily. During the rest of the year, they are peaceful and thoroughly enjoyable. The islanders call the mainland "le continent". For them, it is a place of noise and pollution and of haste and stress. After coming back from your island tour - preferably during spring or autumn - you understand why. You wish you could stay forever on Les Iles d'Or, the Golden Isles.
Porquerolles, the largest and most developed of the three islands, is roughly 7 km long and 3 km wide. It has a couple of small hotels, a few B&Bs, some holiday rentals and a few shops and that's about it. We are not impressed with the price/quality of the limited accommodation available on the island. Not enough competition, hence high prices for mediocre lodgings. Let us know if you find any really worth the money.
The scenery is stunning - the quintessential landscape of the Mediterranean: pine trees, holm oaks, olive trees, rosemary. All of this without being disturbed by cars - there is no motorised transport on the island, but the hotels have small electric cars to transport your baggage. Biking or hiking is the rule of law. You can rent bikes in the village, try Le Cycle Porquerollais. The village is tiny and the Place d'Armes with L'Êglise Sainte Anne is the center. Most day trippers head for the two beaches east of the village, the Plage de la Courtade and the Plage de Lequin.
Over the centuries Porquerolles was a base for fishermen and perhaps some corsairs. Before them, the Phoenicians, the Greeks and the Romans were here. The name Porquerolles most likely comes from "Prote", meaning first in Greek. A permanent settlement, the tiny village of Porquerolles, was established in 1820, the lighthouse dates from 1837 and the village church from 1850. Initially the island had a succession of private owners. Then in 1912, François Joseph Fournier, an entrepreneur who made his fortune in a gold mine in Mexico, bought most of Porquerolles. He established a vineyard of 200 ha here and years later produced a top quality wine, one of the first to be classified as a "Côtes de Provence". Todays three vineyards, which produce a very agreeable wine, work in close cooperation with the Conservatoire Botanique National de Porquerolles, the nature conservation and research authority. The French government bought roughly 80% of Poquerolles in 1971, thus ending plans to construct hotels and stopping any further housing developments. This was just in time, albeit one must admit that the existing houses blend in very well and do not disturb what is one of the most beautiful spots on the Côte d'Azur.
You can cycle to the eastern tip of the island to the Plage de Notre Dame with its fine sand beach and crystal clear water and further on to the Plage de la Galère. Before you reach the beach you have to abandon the bikes and walk down a steep, rocky path. If you visit Porquerolles in spring or autumn you have a good chance of finding the beach deserted. Heading west from the village is a shorter trip. After about 2 km you can turn right to the Plage d'Argent, an excellent swimming beach. Return to the main path and go further east. You bike through beautiful countryside, typical Mediterranean, the smell of the Garrigue, the blue skies above and the cicadas singing in the trees. You will be rewarded with beautiful views, two small beaches, Plage Blanc and Plage Noir, the promontory of Sainte Anne and if you like lunch at Le Mas du Langoustier. There are two bike routes which take you to the wild, rocky southern shores. One goes to the Calanque de l'Indienne with the lighthouse and the other one further east to the Mont des Salins (127m) with a magnificent panoramic view over the Mediterranean.
The small island, just 700ha (2.7 square miles), is covered almost entirely in pine and holm oak trees. Since 1963 the entire island and surrounding sea-bed are a national park, the Parc National de Port Cros. No biking here, only walking! The only vehicle is a Mini-Moke to transport the luggage up to the island's main hotel, Le Manoir d'Hélène. The village of Port Cros has a couple of restaurants, a post office and a few shops. The island is is the ultimate getaway - nature, peace, dreams. Eating, drinking, walking and swimming are your only activities. The three small beaches are a 30 minute walk from the hotels. You can explore two of the five old forts, the Fort de l'Eminence (30 minutes by foot from the port) and the Fort de l'Estissac (15 minutes by foot from the port).
The island is 8 km long and 2 km wide but 90% are reserved for a military missile test center and therefore off-limits to the public. The rest is a naturist area, pedestrian only and while taking off your clothes is not mandatory it is the rule here rather than the exception. In 1931 Gaston and Andre Durville, both doctors, established Héliopolis, Europe's first village for naturists. The town was built on a hillside and is dominated by Fort Napoléon. There are some hotels and B&Bs here and plenty of holiday rentals. It is a quiet place with only a few shops, cafés and restaurants. So for anyone, who is a naturist and loves to get away from it all, this is heaven.