Porquerelles, Iles d’Hyere: A Pristine Place for Pleasure
Porquerolles, part of the Iles d’Hyere in Provence is about the same size as Nantucket, but that’s where the similarity ends. In fact, while we were mountain biking all around the trails and roads here, there were a lot of things that I wish someone could do to make our New England island a little more like this one here in the south of France.
There is the same familiar ferry boat ride—it takes about 20 minutes to get from Hyeres to Porquerolles, and there are 22 ferry boats during the season who ply this route. This island gets a staggering 1.2 million visitors a year, with half of them coming over by private boat, tying up at buoys 300 meters off shore. During the beach season, beaches like Silver and Notre Dame beach end up with people side by side, crammed into the small slivers of sand.
Like Nantucket, it’s a seasonal destination, only about 250 people remain here after the season ends in mid October.
They come here to enjoy an island that’s nearly totally preserved, and is in fact, itself a National Park, the smallest in France. With neighboring Port-Cros island, and the surrounding seacoast, everything here except for the main village is within the park. What that means is that there are very, very few cars. The small number of families who live here are allowed one car each—but there is no gas station. And you can’t build anything nor pick many of the plants.
So as a result, the main street of the village is filled with bicycle rentals, and quiet little electric vehicles zip up and down the streets making that whirring noise familiar to anyone who plays golf. You can rent kayaks, or jetskis, and instead of being jammed with Nantucket’s SUVs and cars, it’s a pleasant mix of bikes, people and the silent carts.
Our trip here was a familiarization for developing low-impact tourism to places in National Parks like Porquerolle being developed by MEET. From the fort built here in 1531, we could see the sweep of undeveloped and pristine land all around. In the middle of Porquerolles is an agricultural area where dozens of varieties of figs, almonds, olives and blackberries are grown, developing the best strains and saving seeds. Only one elderly woman is allowed to pick the fruits and make jam on the island.
In the village, the Auberge des Glycines stays open all year ‘round and the friendly director Florence Sanchez welcomes guests with authentic Provencal cuisine and comfortable old fashioned rooms. This is a fantastic destination that is managing to balance a huge number of yearly visitors and retain its pristine beauty.