Ginger and Nutmeg were invited to join some friends for a day of “easy” cycling on L’Île de Porquerolles. This is the biggest of three small islands that make up the Îles d’Hyères or Les Îles d’Or (Golden Islands), located just off the coast from Hyères. This is the rougher, wilder, “native” side of the Cote D’Azur. The ferry leaves from a couple locations; you can check the schedule on the official site.
Scheduled departure for the ferry was 10:30am, a bit of extra traffic congestion through Toulon, and a slight wrong turn made for a VERY tight connection. G&N were absolutely the last to board the boat, but they made it! This late February day was certainly not one for bathing suits or t-shirts, fleece and puffy jackets were in order. The temperature hovered around ten degrees Celsius, with gusting winds and a constant threat of rain. Nutmeg is absolutely not a boat person, so the short choppy crossing from the mainland was just the right length of time (approximately 20 minutes).
The Île de Porquerolles port is home to some pleasure craft and boats that can be rented as dockside accommodation. There are some decent size cruisers but nothing like the mammoths that can be found in the more exclusive Cote d’Azur harbors. Upon arrival it is obvious that this island not the home of high-end retail outlets, exclusive hotels or fancy dining. There is a variety of limited accommodation from guesthouses, self-catered and small hotels. Restaurants are small and few. There are several locations to rent bikes, and if you are not too fussy about your “ride” it is actually about the same price as the ferry ticket for a bike.
The island is small at 7km long and 3km wide. There has been a small village on the island since 1820 and a lighthouse since 1837. In 1912, Francois Fournier purchased the island and planted 200 hectares of vineyards (some of the first wine to be classified Cotes de Provence). In an effort to preserve the natural beauty of the island, the French State purchased 80% of the land in 1971. Today development is fairly strictly controlled, vehicle traffic is limited and the number of permanent inhabitants remains low. The Île de Porquerolles is part of the national park “Port-Cros Parc National”.
Our trusty “bike guide” was also the lady with the map, and the only one in our group who had ever been to the island. We all headed off for a wild tour of the western side of the island. The roads are generally speaking, unpaved, uneven, rocky and muddy. It is really a lot of fun to ride the trails on mountain bikes or hybrids. Just minutes from the main village you are into the vineyards, olive groves and working farms. There were a couple wrong turns on our route, including a small “portage” along a cliff edge. We shared a picnic lunch (baguette, cheese, rillettes de canard, fruit and chocolate) on a secluded rocky beach, watching seagulls and the surf. A bit more touring on our bikes, a few steep hills and then back to the village for a well deserved “apero” at a cafe. We caught the ferry back to the mainland with a big crowd, as the weather had turned a bit uglier. It was a lovely day.