We decided to go glamping on the French Riviera during the peak summer season. Although we had embarked on this glorious adventure without a map nor reservations of any kind, I had highlighted a few destinations and a general itinerary.
I had read about the Porquerolles islands and we planned on visiting the main one. However, upon checking in at the four-star International Campsite on Hyeres, we were advised to explore Port-Cros instead.
The main Porquerolles island is quite touristy and it is a 20 minute walk to the nearest beach. Port-Cros, on the other hand, is a marine reserve natural park with few people and amazing underwater views, therefore perfect for snorkeling. We drove to numerous ports on the peninsula of Hyeres in search of a boat. We wanted to rent one so we could explore the islands freely.
There are boats that one can rent for a day even without a skipper’s license. Unfortunately, it was a windy day, so these slower boats were not available.
Oh, what a view indeed!
Our only other option was to take a ferry. Different ports have different destinations. We took the ferry from the port city of Lavandou – a city that felt more like Florida or Vegas than France.
The ferry made an eye-opening stop on the naturist Ile du Levant. We had not been previously informed so when the boat docked and we began to notice towels unwrap and garments fall, we felt as if we had sailed into the set of a porno flick. Penises, breasts and vaginae of all ages flashed before us. We saw nudity no matter where we averted our eyes – even the dogs looked naked. Although there was nothing vulgar about this nature-loving community, we were mostly surprised to experience it immediately upon docking.
If this interests you, you can book your stay at the various B&Bs located on the island.
Hiking, Snorkeling and so much to explore…
The Island of Port-Cros is a natural marine reserve. Although there is a small port with two B&Bs, some restaurants, bars and a small grocery store, the rest of the island is an uninhabited natural park. There are walking paths which lead to various desolate beaches where you can snorkel amongst the kind of fish that are rarely ever given the opportunity to grow so large.
Once we made sure we had enough water and food for the day, we headed to one of the rocky jagged edges and jumped into the glorious sea. There are some shallow beaches, but the rocks are a bit sharp and can slice your foot open if you step on the wrong one, which my boyfriend managed to do.
The moment you dive in, you are surrounded by enormous fish. We spotted more starfish in one gaze than the number of Starbucks Coffee Shops on a New York city block. Within moments we came across a two-foot-long octopus glaring at us with his meanest scowl. We chased a few giant fish around and spent the rest of our time enjoying the natural aquarium.
While several paths leading to the beaches are always open, the internal park is closed during the hot, dry, summer months, due to the high risk of forest fires. We were unaffected by this little limitation since there is so much which remains to be explored. We had been warned to pack a lunch and were very pleased with our delicious sandwich of Merguez sausage, Brie cheese and black olive tapenade on a freshly-baked crunchy baguette. Everyone we spoke to told us that there was nothing but a park on the island. We had been misinformed for there are a couple of bars and restaurants but your choice is limited and slightly over-priced. We also found a small grocery store hidden behind the main beach-front strip.
Had we known there were bed & breakfast inns on the island, we would have tried to book a stay. This island was like a paradise for us. We would have loved to explore the island’s various beaches. Although Lavandou offered the earliest and latest ferries, having wasted precious time in search of a boat rental, we were limited to only three hours on the island. The last ferry from Port-Cros left at 7pm. It left us wanting more.
UPDATE: Two years later, we returned. We tried to book a room at one of the B&Bs but found it quite overpriced at the time. Once again, we ended up taking the ferry from Lavandou. Thus time we left early and were able to explore the island a bit. We walked on one of the paths to a lovely secluded beach. The walk took about 25 minutes and there was no more than 5 people on the beach itself.
Fish, glorious fish!
Our favorite part about Port Cros is the fabulous snorkeling. Not only are the fish quite large but they join you in your exploration. It was common to find one swimming along next to you looking at you as you smiled at how amazing it felt. We took our beach tent with us, which was perfect for keeping out of the sun and keeping your food and water cool.
I highly recommend Port Cros. If you are seeking paradise, this is it.