As summer creeps in so crowds of icecream-licking tourists, caravans, coach parties (and signs stating that cafés specialise in ‘English Breakfasts’) start to fill our coastlines. Time to get off the beaten track.
One great escape lies 12 k’s south of Hyères — just a 20 minute boat-trip away from La Tour Fondue. The Isle de Porquerolles is a beautiful national park, with wide sandy beaches, clear blue water and no cars — let alone caravans etc. It is only a small island, 7 k’s long and 3 k’s wide, so the best way to get around is by bicycle. After several uncomfortable essays, we reckon L’Indien — 04 94 58 30 72 - offers the most modern suspension and safest brakes on their mountain bikes and tandems — they also hire out jet skis.
So, when the boat docks at the pretty little harbour, festooned with cafés and hire shops, the first stop is to saddle up, and, after a quick practice on the few, tarmac roads within the village, you can venture off onto the sandy, tree-root-ribbed tracks leading to tiny deserted coves and white swathes of sand, framed by gnarled olives and the odd lonesome pine.
With all the pedal-pushing, it doesn’t take long to work up an appetite, but if you haven’t come armed with a picnic to consume on some quiet clifftop you have the choice of numerous restaurants in every price range.
20 minutes from the village, on the Chemin du Langoustier, is the Plage d’Argent, and its eponymous restaurant, where unpretentious tables are lined up on shaded decking overlooking the sweeping beach. The food is simple and good — fish-based, topped and tailed by cooling gaspacho’s, salads and desserts. Service is laid-back and friendly, and it’s all so relaxing and attractive that it’s hard to drag yourself back to that ever-beckoning bicycle seat. I’ve been told that moonlit dinners here on the beach (Friday and Saturday only, and booking essential) are pure magic, followed by a starry trip back to port, either by bike or pre-arranged taxi-boat.
The village itself is the most crowded and touristy part of the island, but at the top of the Place d’Armes a delicious oasis of peace whispers a welcome to those in the know. The forget-me-not blue and peach colours of the walls and shutters of the Auberge Les Glycines surround an enchanting walled courtyard, shaded by fig and lemon trees. Provençal fish cuisine is the order of the day — swordfish, tuna, fennel and aïoli. Wines come from one of the three vineyards on the island. And, if you want to stay overnight, this would be the ideal, romantic place.
Porquerolles is at its best in June and September, but if you decide to go July/August leave extra time for that single, slow road down from Hyères to the ferry port — it’ll be caravans and coaches bumper to bumper.