My own private island in the Med
ole nough d w
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