France is surrounded by dozens of small islands where life has remained simple. From the aptly named Belle-Ile-en-Mer to the barefoot chic of Poquerolles, we invite you to discover two of France’s sweetest destinations.
Now that France has become my second home, I can finally afford to take vacations. Before, when I was merely a visitor in France, my list of things to do and see was so packed that I did not have the luxury to enjoy a moment of tranquility. Today, when I need time off from my French routine, I do what many French natives do. I hop on a train or drive to a ferry that serves one of the small islands just off the hexagon’s Mediterranean or Atlantic coasts.
It is said that all of Britanny’s landscapes are represented on this island: fabulous beaches, quaint seaside hamlets, charming harbors, wild countryside and rocky coastlines. Acknowledged to be one of France’s most beautiful islands, Belle-Ile is also one of the largest islands in Brittany (20km long and 9km large). At Le Palais, the main town, ferries come and go under the shadow of the enormous citadel designed by Louis XIV’s military architect, le Maréchal de Vauban.
Most explorations of the island start off from the city. You can rent a bike and ride to the beaches or change into hiking gear and venture along one of the dozens of trails that bisect the island’s coastline. Everywhere, between harbors and beaches, you will come across inviting havens: Sauzon, a harbor with colorful houses; Pointe des Poulains, where Sarah Bernhardt owned a summer residence; Locmaria, a small maritime village, home to le Jardin de la Boulaye, an exquisite private garden; and the Plage de Donnant, where the waves roar before breaking on the golden sand. Art connoisseurs may want to visit the site on the Wild Coast that has inspired famous artists including Claude Monet who painted “The Pyramids, Port-Coton.” Indeed, a superb show awaits you at this spot: rocky needles, sea caves and rough waters. It is definitely one of the most dramatic sights on the entire coastline.
Where to eat on Belle-Ile-en-Mer
The best crêperie. You’ll love the outdoor terrace.
Grilled meat and fish.
Where to drop your luggage:
La Désirade ***
Hôtel de charme, quiet and warm atmosphere
Le Petit Cosquet
Le Clos Fleuri ***
An oasis of peace, a few minutes away from the port.
Route de Sauzon, Le Palais
e-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
Hôtel du Phare, (no star).
Very convivial, with view of the port.
Telephone: 02 97 31 60 36
How to get to Belle-Ile-en-Mer:
By boat or ferry from Quiberon to Le Palais or Sauzon with Companies Océane.
Porquerolles, Cote d’Azur
With its forest of parasol pines and wild herbs, Porquerolles remains the queen of the Mediterranean islands. It is also 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. A favorite destination of politicians, movie stars and other celebrities, this tiny island has managed to maintain its authenticity. Strict environmental regulations protect it. Cars are prohibited in the village, making your stroll among the palm-lined Place d’Armes and window-shopping experience a pure delight. To discover the rest of the island, you may choose between several enchanting routes. You can walk toward the lighthouse, where the view will take your breath away — vertical cliffs rising out of the sea, calanques, rocky points, gorges, headlands and hills. Next, hop on your bike in the direction of the beaches located on the north shore. You will ride through a typical Mediterranean countryside under clear-blue skies, pushed by a breeze filled with the scents of the garrigue. In summer, the cicadas sing to their hearts content… reminding you that you are indeed in Provence.
Where to eat on Porquerolles:
Traditional cuisine with fish specialties
Place d’Armes, 5mn from the harbor
Tél /Fax 00 33 4 94 58 31 73
Le Mas du Langoustier
An oasis of pines facing the ocean. One Michelin star.
83400 Ile de Poquerolles
L’Arche de Noé
Known for its bouillabaisse and assortment of grilled fish.
Where to drop your suitcase:
L’Auberge des Glycines, recommended by the Guide Michelin
By the village’s square.
Le Mas du Langoustier****
83400 Ile de Poquerolles
Hôtel Residence les Mèdes ***
On the seaside.
How to get to Porquerolles:
From the port of Hyeres, ferries will take you to the island. You can access Hyeres by train (regional or high-speed), airplane and boat.
Wriitten by Brigitte Aflalo-Calderon for EuropeUpClose.com