There is an island in the south of France that seems to be much further away than Europe. Its turquoise waters and warm climate feel like being a part of the Caribbean. Only the ancient olive trees and the singing cicadas will remind you that you are still in the French Riviera. Just off the shores of Hyères Peninsula, Porquerolles is far from the VIP parties of St Tropez and Cannes, it is an authentic piece of Provence in the Mediterranean Sea. I just can’t believe I had hardly heard of it before going to the south of France on a regular basis. Now I know Porquerolles Island, I dream to spend a full week of holidays there one day.
Exploring Porquerolles above the water
For a year, I dived all around Porquerolles Island but never had the opportunity to see the Island as we would to Port-Cros for lunch. Finally, during my Bastille Day holidays mid-Jul, I joined a 14 km guided hike to explore some of its most beautiful spots. The island might be only 7 km by 3 km, we focused only on the north coast from 11 am to 5 pm.
At the arrival of our boat, we made a short stop in the village of Porquerolles to buy water. It was more than 30°C that day, so walking so much makes you really thirsty. It’s important to note that in summertime Porquerolles is usually facing a critical drought situation so you won’t find any freshwater fountain in the village, so you need to bring or buy water.
We started the tour with St Agathe Fortress which is also the highest point of the island. The view on the beach of La Courtade is stunning. The colours made me think I was in the Carribean and not in Europe anymore. This ancient fort from the 16th Century shows how much strategy place Porquerolles is since a very long time. We took the time to visit the exhibition inside about the history of the island and the creation of the first marine national park in France.
The walk took us from a windmill on a hill to the rocky shores of the Langoustier Peninsula, while crossing pine tree forests, olive tree fields and vineyards. The landscapes were breathtaking, and I was surprised to see how easy it was to get away from the crowd which mainly stays on the Silver Beach (Plage d’Argent), the only one with a restaurant nearby. For sure our guide knew perfectly the side pathway to show its secret spots. This is how we got a beautiful tiny creek just for ourselves for our picnic lunch.
The protection of the island is taken extremely seriously in Porquerolles. Beyond the water restrictions, it is entirely forbidden to smoke outside of the centre of the village, the risk of fire is way too high on the island. You will barely see a vehicle on the island, everyone is either walking or riding a bicycle (you can easily rent one at the village for 15€ a day, don’t bother bringing one, renting is the same price as bringing one on the boat). Overall, while wandering around Porquerolles, you can appreciate a clean environment with only the sounds of the wind and your steps.
Exploring Porquerolles underwater
For French scuba divers, the National Marine Park of Port-Cros has been a long time favourite as its rich marine fauna has been protected since 1967. 75% of Porquerolles was managed by the national park organisation since 1971, but it is only in 2012 that the maritime area around the island was added to the national park. While most of the local divers only talk about Port-Cros Island and its famous dive site “La Gabinière” thanks to its many groupers, for me it was love at first sight with Porquerolles and its colourful dive sites. This is why I added Porquerolles to my list of the best diving in Europe.
Best dive sites around Porquerolles Island
- “Le Grec” & “Le Donator” shipwrecks: the twin ships may be the most famous dive sites of the Var region. With a max depth of 52 m, the Donator will be only for the tech or French-trained divers (who can go down to 60m on air). The Grec shipwreck is accessible to recreational divers with a deep speciality, as you can stay within the 40 m limit to explore the shipwreck (max depth is 45 m), but still you will need to be an advanced diver. These two shipwrecks are just fully covered in colourful red and yellow gorgonians, a huge school of sargo fish is usually swimming along the wreck. They are world-class wreck dive sites without being challenging, you have a few large swim through inside.
- “Le Rocher des Mèdes“: This rock located at the northeast tip of Porquerolles Island is actually two dive sites, a shallow one use for try dives and open water training, called the pool of the Mèdes, and a deeper site on the opposite site. Thanks to the shape of the rock above the surface, there is always an interesting light during the dive. Make sure you look the different holes of the wall carefully to find many nudibranchs and tiny hermit crab hiding in sponges. The wall is going very deep, but there is no point to go deeper than 25 m. It is an excellent dive site for both beginners and advanced divers.
- “Le sec de la Jeaune Garde“: This pinnacle located near the lighthouse of the same name at the north-west tip of Porquerolles Island, is my favourite for underwater photography. In the cracks of the rocks or between the red gorgonians, there is always plenty of life to find: groupers, moray eels, nudibranchs, octopus, and schools of barracudas. This is also where I found my first slipper lobster (called a sea cicada in French, “cigale de mer“) and an egg of a catshark! The depth of this dive site ranges between 15 and 25 m. It is an excellent dive site for both beginners and advanced divers.
- “Le Cimentier“: I often heard that this site was not worth a dive. I have to disagree. It might be only 10 to 12 m deep and hence a perfect dive site for beginners, I love the atmosphere of this small shipwreck in the middle of the Posidonia seagrass. You can easily enter the wreck, there is absolutely no danger, to check if some fish are hiding inside (usually they are). The Posidonia grass-wrack is also the home of many Doris and Flabellina nudibranchs. It is a great dive site for beginners who prefer shallower depths to build confidence.
How to go to Porquerolles Island?
You can take the boat to Porquerolles Island from Hyères Peninsula, at the Tour-Fondue Port, or from the main port of Toulon. The boat ride from Toulon with Bateliers de la Côte d’ Azur takes about an hour and is a bit more expensive, but considering the crazy traffic on the roads around Hyères in peak season, this is by far the most relaxing option, and you get a tour in Toulon Bay at the same time. Make sure to arrive 15 minutes before departure time to choose the best seats at the front of the boat to enjoy the best view!
- Return trip from Toulon with Batelier de la Côte d’ Azur is 28€
- Return trip from La Tour-Fondue in Hyères with TLV is 19,50€ (take into account 10€ for car parking for the day)
Regarding scuba diving, while there is a dive centre on the island itself, usually scuba divers use the services of scuba diving centres of Hyères. In my case, I always go with PlongeeO from Ayguade Harbour whose owner organises fun 2-tank day trips including lunch on Porquerolles or Port-Cros Island for about 80€. In this case, you simply go to the island with a semi-rigid boat and it takes about 50 minutes to reach Porquerolles Island.
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