Islands of the French Riviera
France is the most visited country in the world, within which Paris and the French Riviera are the most popular destinations. Though many travelers are lured to the most touristic landmarks, the lesser known islands of the French Riviera are some of the region's true gems. Located in the southeast of France and surrounded by the Mediterranean sea, these islands are reminiscent of the Caribbean or Indonesian islands with their paradisal beaches, intimate ambience and unique legends. Exotic and charming, still today they're waiting to be rediscovered...
Lérins Islands: Sainte-Marguerite and Saint-Honorat (Cannes)
Sainte-Marguerite Island is located a little under two kilometers from the Cap de la Croisette in Cannes. The island's name originates from an old chapel built by the crusaders to honor Saint Margaret of Antioch.
The first thing you will see as you near the island is Fort Royal, whose construction was begun under King Louis XIII's orders in the 16th century. The fort was expanded by the Spanish during their occupation of the island in the Thirty Years' War with the French. When the island once again came under French control, military engineer and Marshal of France Vauban made further improvements to the fort. Around the same time, near the end of the 17th century, the fort held the famous Man in the Iron Mask captive for more than eleven years. The prisoner's identity has brought about much speculation over the years. Some hypothesis include a man named Eustache Dauger, the brother of King Louis XIV, the father of King Louis XIV, a Marshal of France, and an Italian diplomatic, among others. The star-shaped Fort Royal is currently home to the Sea Museum, which shows the Man in the Iron Mask's prison cell as well as the island's Roman ruins and the remains of nearby shipwrecks.
Sainte-Marguerite offers a lovely nature walk through its many paths that traverse a thick forest of eucalyptus and pine trees. From the paths, look for hidden beaches and views of the Bay of Cannes and Saint-Honorat island. There are several places to picnic, as well as three restaurants near Fort Royal that are open to the public from April to October. The island has also a water-sports shop to the west near Bateguier pond, where it's popular to go kayaking. The beautiful pond serves as a refuge to many bird species that stop there on their way south during migration.
Boat transport company for travel between Cannes and Sainte-Marguerite:
Saint-Honorat is the second of the Lérins islands, extending a little under a mile in length. The island is named after Saint-Honorat d'Arles, the leader of a small community of monks who founded an abbey here almost 1600 years ago. The abbey is currently occupied by the 21 monks of the Cistercian order, who produce many artisan liquors and wines that can be purchased on the island.
Boats from Cannes arrive at a small dock on the northern part of the island. Near the dock there's a small touristic complex with a restaurant, bar and a small grocery store. Seven of the island's chapels can be visited by tourists. The famous Lérins Abbey is located on the southern part of the island, where a fortified monastery was built a thousand years ago to defend the monks against pirate attacks.
Boat transport company for travel between Cannes and Saint-Honorat:
This small islet of red rock is located to the east of Saint-Raphael and to the south of Le Dramont. Its large tower, which can be seen from a distance, was built in the 19th century by Doctor Auguste Lutaud, who won ownership of the island in a poker game. The island supports a small number of desert and Mediterranean plants, and is said to have inspired the episode L'Ile Noire of the popular French cartoon Tin Tin. The island remains private property to this day.
Hyères Islands or Golden Islands
Levant Island, with an area of six miles, is one of the largest islands on the French Riviera. The island is most well-known for its naturist tradition: nudism is permitted everywhere except at the port and the main square. In fact, nudism is mandatory at the island's two accessible beaches: Plage des Grottes (the sandy beach) and Le Bain de Diane (the rocky beach). Levant Island doesn't have electricity, so having a flashlight handy in the evenings is recommended. The southeast part of the island has a port and a small village named Héliopolis. Beyond the village, the rest of the island is property of the military and is used for missile testing. It is forbidden to enter this area of the island.
The islands of Port-Cros and Bagaud are classified as a natural reserve and belong to the Port-Cros and Porquerolles National Park, the first marine national park in France. The island of Bagaud is not accessible to the public, but Port-Cros offers numerous activities. Port-Cros is home to many rare animal and plant species as well as endangered species that can be observed on the botanical trail. The submarine trail also offers a chance for divers to see some rare marine species. The historical patrimony of the island consists of five forts: Fort l'Estissac, Fort l'Éminence, Fort du Port Man, Fort de la Vigie and Fort Moulin.
The island's nicest beach is located near Pointe de la Malalongue, but beware of jellyfish and horseflies. Water supply is limited and the only potable water is available at Fort l'Estissac, so it's better to carry a water bottle with you. The few restaurants on the island open only from mid-March to mid-November.
Porquerolles Island, located on the coast of Hyéres, belongs to the Port-Cros and Porquerolles National Park. This is the largest and most urban island of the Hyéres islands, with about a dozen restaurants as well as several bike-rental shops to easily traverse the island's 13 square kilometers. The northern part of the island is the most visited and where the beaches and the port are located. The main beaches are La Courtade and Notre Dame. Water sports are some of the most popular activities on the island. Scuba diving enthusiasts enjoy crystal clear water to explore Porquerolles' beautiful marine life.
Porquerolles' several forts were built in the Napoleonic era to defend the island from British attacks. These include Fort du Langostier to the west, Fort Sainte-Agathe near the port, and Fort Alycastre near Notre Dame beach.
Boat transport company for traveling to the islands of Levant, Port-Cros and Porquerolles: TLV-TVM
Embiez Archipelago (southwest of Six-Fours-les-Plages near Toulon)
Embiez island has a long-standing tradition of salt and wine making. The island is also home to the Paul Ricard Oceanographic Institute, whose goal is to raise awareness of the fragile state of the oceans and to promote oceanic sustainability. The Institute was founded by entrepreneur and French tycoon Paul Ricard, who bought the island in 1958. He ran businesses in several fields including liquor production (of Pastis of Marseille), film production and car racing. Embiez also has a large marina that can hold many yachts and boats. The island is part of the Natural Parks system Natura 2000, and functions as an oasis for many bird species and Mediterranean plants. The island's tourist industry has sprouted about a dozen restaurants, a hotel spa, holiday rentals and a food truck.