Surprisingly little known, the Mediterranean islands of France are some of the most beautiful and romantic destinations in the world. Some make for good day trips, others are places to spend an entire vacation, but all five are fabulous. And for those who want to travel with next to no luggage, a sixth island may be of interest: Ile du Levant, a beautiful Mediterranean island that’s home to a nudist colony.
5 Secret Islands in the South of France
By Andrew Harper
The Harper Way | December 7, 2017
Just a few hundred yards off the coast near Bandol in the Var, the tiny island of Bendor was bought by the Pastis millionaire Paul Ricard in the ’50s. He built several casually chic hotels here that turned Bendor into one of the most fashionable destinations in the south of France, a place that attracted everyone from Salvador Dalí and Josephine Baker to actor Jean-Paul Belmondo. It may be a little less jet-setty today — it’s a favorite with the French bourgeoisie — but it’s palmy Mediterranean charm survives intact. There are two hotels on the island, along with artist studios and apartments for rent, plus tennis and water sports.
Ile des Embiez
Not far from the pretty fishing port of Sanary-sur-Mer, Ile des Embiez, also originally owned and developed by Ricard, is Bendor’s much larger and busier twin. This half-square-mile-size island has the 60-room Hotel Helios, which features superb sea views, an indoor pool and gym; 150 apartments; a pleasure boat port; and the Paul Ricard Oceanographic Institute. Along with seven beaches, a pine forest and a nature trail, Embiez also boasts a 25-acre vineyard that produces white, rosé and red wines. Strict environmental policies mean the island is remarkably unspoiled and will remain so forever, which is perhaps why Paul Ricard chose to be buried facing out to sea on the highest point of the island he loved so much.
Miraculously enough, the island of Porquerolles remains one of the Mediterranean’s best-kept secrets. Reached via a short ferry ride from the stunningly beautiful Hyères, which inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel “Treasure Island,” is mostly owned by the French government. However, at its westernmost tip, lies the 50-room Mas du Langoustier hotel, a genteel sort of place with a pool and tennis court tucked into a private setting of forests and garrigue, low-growing shrubs that perfume the air with pine, eucalyptus and herbs. It still belongs to the descendants of the wealthy Belgian businessman whose private residence it once was, and this family connection assures its pleasantly retro tone and good manners. Enjoy excellent locally caught fish in the restaurants, too, but because this hotel has a devoted following of regulars, advance booking is advised.
Located between Sardinia and Corsica and often called the Mustique of the Mediterranean, this tiny island has a nonchalant aura of exclusivity that delivers serious privacy, along with stunning beauty. This is why Cavallo attracts bold-faced names like actress Catherine Deneuve and singer Alicia Keys, plus a gaggle of Italian and French industrialists, movie and fashion people and old money. You get here by ferry or helicopter, but only if you’re renting a villa or staying at the Hôtel & Spa des Pêcheurs. There’s not much of a scene on this Robinson Crusoe type of island, where the main attractions are the magnificent white sand beaches that you’ll often have all to yourself. There are also no cars, so be sure to book a golf cart at the same time you make your hotel or villa reservation.
Just a mile offshore from Cannes, Ile Saint-Honorat, the smaller of the Lérins Islands, is a forested beauty that’s almost a mile long and a quarter mile wide. This delightfully quiet place with a long, rich history is an ideal day trip from Cannes, since during the high summer season, the crowds are lighter here than they are on neighboring Ile Sainte-Marguerite. The island has been a popular place of pilgrimage since the Middle Ages, and today it is the site of a Cistercian monastery that is home to some 30 monks. The monks tend vineyards that produce some excellent wines as well, and these may be sampled at the charming restaurant La Tonnelle, which overlooks the sea and serves dishes like fish soup, petit farci provençaux (stuffed baby vegetables) and sea bass with sautéed zucchini and sauce vierge (chopped tomato and basil in olive oil).
Become an Explorer
Sample member-exclusive content, newly recommended hideaway hotels and more. Register below for FREE!