Longing for the bygone, uncrowded days of the Cote de Azur? Look no further than offshore, to Iles d’Hyeres, a trio of islands that still proffer the best of the South of France: long days of sun, warm water, and Provencal cuisine. The largest and most popular of the group is Porquerolles, which in 1912 was purchased as a wedding present by a wealthy Frenchman – who promptly planted a large vineyard. Today the island and its small village remain a place where the good things in life (food, wine, sailing) are still the cornerstones of day-to-day living.
A 20-minute ferry ride from the mainland near Toulon, the island is only 5 miles long and best traveled by mountain bike or on foot (cars are strictly limited). The only beaches are scattered along the northern coast, and while sandy Plage de Notre Dame gets it full share of midsummer visitors, you’ll never mistake it for St. Tropez. A gentle coastal path borders the shoreline, continuing around to the dramatic seacliffs and rocky coves of the southern coast, where you’ll find the best snorkeling. Offshore divers can explore some of the best wreck dives in the Mediterranean.
Diving is also the main attraction at sister isle Port-Cros, a national park (with 20 miles of nature trails) surrounded by Europe’s first marine park. And while most of neighboring Levant is occupied by the military, part of the island has long been a favorite with beach-loving nudists. In summer, the nightlife in these islands (sometimes called Iles d’Or, or Golden Isles), lasts well into the night at a handful of bars and discos – another longtime Cote de Azur tradition.