My own pri­vate is­land in the Med

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e c d too, she told me. And June (when I was there)? “Su­perbe.”

I have only ever vis­ited the fivesquare-mile wooded is­land, with its corn­flower-blue seas and rocky coves, out of season. I have been lucky. But I have seen the pho­tos. In Au­gust, a thou­sand boats lay siege, an­chor­ing to the is­land like Lil­liputians ty­ing down Gul­liver. Hordes of the out­ward bound, in soft hats and shorts with turn-up turn-ups, tramp about the woods. The beaches look like ant heaps.

But n now, an early sum­mer rain­storm had clea cleared. I had taken the ferry from La Tour Fon­due on the main­land with only a h hand­ful of lo­cals. The har­bour was mor more de­vel­oped than I re­called. There w were more boats in the ma­rina. There w was a big­ger pon­toon thing but the fr front was still prac­ti­cal and reas re­as­sur­ing. There were a cou­ple of rou rough bars op­po­site the quay. Th This land­ing stage is no out-ofse season tourist trap. Like all good isl is­land ports, it is a hub. There we were solid hard­ware sup­ply sho shops, a bank and a cou­ple of cha chan­dlers. There was a ticket offic of­fice and an in­for­ma­tion point.

M Madame Clar­in­court ca­su­ally comm com­man­deered a pass­ing golf bug buggy from some nearby ho­tel to take my bag. We were not go­ing far. We couldn’t. Shuf­fle up to the right and you will dis­cover the sandy main square, more of a pa­rade ground than a park, with the church at the top, two or three straight­for­ward ho­tels, a shop and a few res­tau­rants down one side. There was no one much there on a damp Wed­nes­day. There were fruit stalls, too (I loaded a bag for €15/£13). But the point is that if you walk a lit­tle bit far­ther on, apart from a bar­rack­slike ter­race (where we found my two-bed­room flat) and a few vil­las hid­den in the trees, that’s it. There is no more habi­ta­tion. Take the other route up be­hind the café and you are among the tow­er­ing pines on a rough track, with views of the glis­ten­ing bay and the moun­tains on the main­land and the vil­lage al­ready be­hind you.

The thing to do is get a bike. Three sep­a­rately dis­tin­guished ranges of hills of­fer dif­fi­cult by­ways and lonely rocky out­crops pok­ing up from the flat­ter, sweet-scented ravines. And at this time of year, it is de­serted. You are on the coast. In the south of France. And there aren’t any blocks of flats. There aren’t even any proper roads. And, in June, what roads there are lead out to pine-tree cathe­drals, floored with clumps of wild flow­ers. You can eas­ily get to sandy beaches along the north­ern side, look­ing over a wide en­closed slab of water used in the past to mount Olympic sail­ing com­pe­ti­tions. Head south and you climb higher up to a rocky coast. And ev­ery­where, at this time of year, the pines scent the air like na­ture’s air-fresh­ener.

I used to be­lieve that the place was pro­tected for mil­i­tary pur­poses. There were at least two con­verted old tor­pedo launches in the har­bour. On shore, they were busy do­ing up what is called the “Com­man­derie’s res­i­dence”. All seem­ing clues. But I dis­cov­ered I was wrong. Por­querolles, one of the three is­lands of Hyères, ap­par­ently dou­bles up as a nud­ist re­sort and a mil­i­tary train­ing ground – a mind­bog­gling com­bi­na­tion of ac­ci­dents

Por­querolles, left and main; the calm­ing Fon­da­tion Carmignac, be­low right

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