While chartering a yacht on the Cote d’Azur, YACHTS INVEST shares with its customers all of the secret spots to remind you why renting a yacht or superyacht to the Cote d’Azur has been a love story forever.
Besides Corsica, which is the largest and most gorgeous island while visiting whether on a private yacht or enjoying a luxury yacht charter on the South of France, and for which we’ve written a separate and dedicated special article in this BLOG, we’d also like to encourage yacht charterers to discover the following 12 beautiful islands of the South of France on a cruising trip or boating vacation.
While celebrities spot at Pampelonne beach nearby Saint-Tropez, the discreet elite drop anchor at these South of France island gems. In truth, the French have been actively dissuading the hoi polloi from descending upon their lesser-known isles for centuries. Several were military forts, where retired captains could sip pastis in peace. Others were placed under national park protection, with the proviso that those wealthy enough could moor alongside at night. Only five of these island jewels can be reached by public ferry, and even then, the service is patchy at best. The rest can only be reached by yacht – or helicopter, and cars are banned on all.
Departing from our spectacular and world-famous seaside resort of Cannes, specifically from our home-port Canto, YACHTS INVEST offers the most stunning luxury day-charters or weekly charters on the Cote d’Azur to discover 12 beautiful islands of the south of France.
This article does not classify these 12 beautiful islands to discover in the South of France by order of beauty, size or importance, simply by their proximity to our home-port of Cannes.
1 – SAINTE-MARGUERITE ISLAND
Location: The Sainte-Marguerite island is the largest of the Lérins Islands, about half a mile off shore from the most famous Cote d’Azur resort: Cannes. The island is approximately 3 kilometres (1.9 miles) in length (East to West) and 900 metres (3,000 feet) across.
The island is most famous for its fortress prison (the Fort Royal), in which the so-called “Man in the Iron Mask” was held in the 17th century during the time of Louis XIV. The fort also houses the Royal Musee de la Mer where you can see the cells and old Roman cisterns; artefacts from Roman and Saracen shipwrecks. There’s also a small soldier cemetery.
Covered with pine and eucalyptus forest and edged with beautiful coves, this is an island to enjoy nature and birdwatching on the lagoon. The waters are crystal clear, with stunning views back to the Riviera coastline. There are only about 20 houses on the island in a small village near the ferry dock; the rest of the island is covered in forest.
With a mix of sandy stretches and private rocky coves, the beaches on this small island are well worth the trip over alone.
You can either just settle on the beach for a day of relaxing, snorkelling and picnics, or reserve a fine culinary menu at “La Guerite”, Sainte-Marguerite’s most famous restaurant.
2 – SAINT-HONORAT ISLAND
Location: A 10-minute RIB blast from Cannes.
You know that island opposite the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc that you glide over when flying to Nice? It has a fabulously secluded backstory. Hermit monk Saint Honorat arrived in 410 AD, his sole wish to meditate in peace under the Aleppo pines. Within 20 years, dozens of disciples moved there to share Saint-Honorat’s unparalleled sea view. The monks now share a symbiotic relationship with Hollywood’s elite, who sail across for stuffed octopus and burrata at alfresco restaurant “La Tonnelle”. The monks provide a succulent wine from their eight-hectare vineyard, while the stars pay handsomely for the privilege of not being papped (thank God, the brothers are prevented from talking to the press by a vow of silence). After the last shuttle boat to Cannes departs at 6pm, boaters who are at anchor between Saint-Honorat and fellow island gem Sainte-Marguerite will find nirvana strictly for themselves while staring at the breath-taking sunset.
3 – GOLDEN ISLAND (ÎLE D’OR)
Location: Within paddle-boarding distance of Port du Poussai, near Saint-Raphael.
The smallest of our secret islands, Île d’Or was named for its tiny castle that glows gold in the setting sun. In 1897, architect Léon Sergent purchased it from the French government for the princely sum of 280 Francs – that’s only about €36 today. Or less than the price of a sun lounger at Club 55, an hour’s sail down the coast. Alas, Sergent gambled the island away during a round of high-stakes cards with Doctor Auguste Lutaud. The doctor had delusions of grandeur (and who wouldn’t, with their very own island surrounded by coastal drop-offs and stocks of giant grouper and striped bass). He declared himself king of the island, built a mock Saracen castle and hosted wild parties under the pseudonym Auguste 1st. The true story inspired the tale of Tintin and the Black Island. Today, landing by boat on Île d’Or is forbidden, but kayaking the 500 metres from the mainland’s Estérel county park is warmly encouraged.
4 – FORT OF BRÉGANÇON
Location: Linked by the causeway from Cap Blanc.
If you let slip that you have been hanging out in the summer retreat of presidents de Gaulle, Chirac, and Sarkozy, acquaintances might question the friendliness of your lunch. But in 2014 François Hollande welcomed curious visitors to France’s presidential retreat – a breath-taking island mansion – for the first time in a gesture of “openness”. After all, Fort de Brégançon offers little presidential privacy against the long-lens cameras so abhorred by the current incumbent. And it costs an annual €200,000 in upkeep. But mooring too close would still invite the ire of France’s Republican Guard. Instead, visitors may disembark from a tender at nearby Plage Brégançon, before touring the fort’s inner sanctum. Just don’t expect Versailles-style marble and gilded mirrors. The fort encapsulates the barefoot bling of a Cap d’Antibes retreat: Provençal tile floors, an alfresco dining table and a private beach. Following the french head-of-state tradition, president Macron is also to spend his 2018 summer vacation in this spectacular but secluded island.
5 – PORT-CROS
Location: Sandwiched between the equally beautiful islands of Porquerolles and Levant.
Forget the car. Not even bikes are allowed on Port-Cros. Here, almost 22 miles of hiking trails lead through woods to translucent seas. As France’s first marine national park, the waters host 180 fish species including eagle rays. From Plage du Palud a five-buoy snorkel trail leads out to the teeny tiny island of Rascas Rock. Of Port-Cros’s handful of shabbily chic restaurants, “Le Manoir” does a fine line in monkfish medallions and tuna with shaved cumbawa.
6 – HYÈRES ISLANDS (PORQUEROLLES)
Location: Just a stone throw’s away from Saint-Tropez lie the Hyères Islands, one of the Jewels of the Mediterranean and a little corner of paradise on the Cote d’Azur.
Head out from the Gulf of Saint-Tropez past the Ile du Levant and Port-Cros and you come to the Porquerolles Island, the largest of the three Hyères Islands in the Hyères Gulf. Together, they are known as the Jewels of the Mediterranean, with Porquerolles in particular.
Despite its modest size (around 20 square kilometres), the island offers the Michelin-starred “Restaurant L’Olivier” serving Mediterranean and Provençal-inspired cuisine in “Le Mas du Langoustier” – a wonderfully traditional hotel of typical Provençal decor. The loveliest white sand beach, Notre Dame, is favoured by Superyachts and is usually uncrowded, being a one-hour walk from the ferry port. The other beaches of La Courtade and Plage d’Argent are equally beautiful.
The real draw of Porquerolles, which is a protected island, is the stunning colour of the sea, fading from brightest turquoise to sapphire blue. The secluded coves also offer some of the best anchorages in the Mediterranean.
This tranquil island, where cars are banned, is a relaxing step back in time. Locals play petanque in the oleander- and bougainvillea-festooned village square of Place d’Armes, while many visitors are content to sip pastis at one of the small open-air cafés.
However, this is not all the island has to offer. Although just 7 kilometres long and 3 kilometres wide, Porquerolles has a wonderfully varied landscape, with cliffs, creeks, plains and forest. Outdoor activities include hiking, horse-riding and mountain-biking, while watersports lovers can choose from diving, windsurfing or fishing.
In contrast to the gentle north coast, the south coast boasts vertical cliffs rising out of the sea, offering wonderful views of calanques, rocky points, gorges, headlands and hills. Many visitors choose to admire this wild, majestic landscape from the lighthouse, from which there is a 360-degree view of the island.
Facing the hotel is the Fort du Grand Langoustier, with its ancient stones; and on each side are the beaches of La plage blanche and La plage noire.
Porquerolles has almost year-round sunshine (it is located on the same parallel as Cap Corse). The Parc National de Port-Cros and the Conservatoire Botanique National de Porquerolles work assiduously to protect the island’s heritage and environment, ensuring that visitors will be able to enjoy its natural beauty for many years to come.
7 – BENDOR ISLAND
Location: A Champagne’s cork’s pop away from Bandol.
You may not be the most illustrious yachtsman to have moored in Bendor’s tiny north-facing marina. In 1950, pastis kingpin Paul Ricard purchased the island and hived off a harbour to service his mates, Salvador Dali and Marcel Pagnol included. Ricard dispensed with the grazing sheep and added a tennis court and an art gallery, plus a 3.7-mile-long causeway that can be covered by mountain bike or electric scooter. A dozen hip restaurants serve rosé from the region’s Bandol vineyards, while more casual eateries include an Airstream food truck that bangs out roast duck burgers with a shallot and red wine sauce. Back at the Bendor marina a monolith bears Paul Ricard’s personal motto: “nul bien sans peine” (no pain, no gain). An apt saying if you’ve overdone his firm’s Pastis 51 the night before or a few bottles of the world-famous Bandol rosé wine.
8 – GREEN ISLAND (ÎLE VERTE)
Location: Within swimming distance of La Ciotat.
Green Island is the scene of the South of France’s best group swim: a yearly mass paddle, in May, from the nearby fishing village of La Ciotat. The scene on arrival is otherworldly. Lying midway between Bandol and Cassis, expect an uninhabited lost world of eucalyptus and holm oak. The windswept cove of Calanque Seynerolles feels more pristine Corsica than poseur Côte d’Azur. On Île Verte, owners of yachts with lots of anchor chain can party by night alongside their own private island.
9 – GABY ISLAND
Location: So close to the Marseille’s mainland that you can semaphore for more ice.
Drop the private Gaby Island into conversation to send fellow yachters scrambling for their maps. Louis XIV turned this sea-ringed speck into an island fortress in 1703. Its modern history began in the 1960s, when businessman Monsieur Boursier tried to create an island nightclub linked by a 200-metre funicular to the mainland. After decades of abandonment, hip Marseille hotel C2 has created France’s most under-the-counter beach club. Day guests can pull up by kayak or RIB for Mimosas or French 75 cocktails.
10 – RATONNEAU & POMÈGUES ISLANDS
Location: A faint shimmer off the coast of Marseille.
Since Roman times, sailors have been quarantined on Ratonneau. Lucky devils. This sun-seared granite speck has a Croatian quality: tiny beaches, jump-right-in rocks and more than 300 species of flora, including sea lilies that scent the spring breeze. The ruin of Hôpital Caroline now forms the backdrop for the yearly MIMI festival in early July, a 10-day blowout of musical avant-garde. The Romans also built a simple causeway across to Pomègues, Ratonneau’s beautiful little sister. A secluded 700-berth marina now sits between the two islands. Best of all, the entire Frioul archipelago, which includes these islands as well as the Alcatraz-style Château d’If prison to Alexandre Dumas’s famous Count of Monte-Cristo, resides within the Calanques National Park, so those teeming shoals of brown grouper and John Dory are protected forever more.
The following Islands are not geographically on our Cote d’Azur yacht charter destinations, but they do form part of the so-called South of France charter destinations. Indeed, these gorgeous islands are located off Corsica (which is also a preferred yacht charter destination in the South of France), and blessedly far from the French Riviera rush!
11 – CERBICALE ISLANDS
Location: A faint twinkle in the distance from Palombaggia beach, South-East Corsica’s finest beach nearby Porto-Vecchio.
Anyone who says the Mediterranean is dead, has obviously never visited this six-island archipelago of the Cerbicale Islands comprising a 36-hectare marine reserve, which has remained uninhabited by humans since records began. Ask your hostess to pour a tumbler of Hendrick’s as you spot peregrine falcons, puffins and storm petrels from deck. With a mask and snorkel, nature is even more vivid: think bottlenose dolphins, rock lobsters and tiny cardinal fish.
12 – CAVALLO ISLAND
Location: The Island of Cavallo is part of the Lavezzi archipelago, in the mouths of Bonifacio (the strait between Corsica and Sardinia). It is located only 2.3 km from the coast, east of Cape Sperone and the port of Piantarella.
The Romans chose Cavallo island as a penal colony. It’s remote, has minimal harbour facilities and is nigh impossible to find on a map: the perfect conditions for today’s A-list habitués. The secret spilled out in the 1970s when Catherine Deneuve and Petula Clark would beach up by speedboat. Roberto Cavalli is part owner of the tiny marina that opened on the private island’s southern tip a decade or so ago. He and his beloved dog Lupo regularly stroll the silken sands, greeting guests such as Paris Hilton and Alicia Keys. Cavallo Island transport is by mountain bike, Mustique-style “mule” (otherwise known as a golf buggy) or on one of the horses kept by discreet island hotel Les Pêcheurs. The hotel can also provide passing yachts with anything from a sushi platter to a full-blown beach party catered by a private chef. Intrigued? Boaters can take a leisurely cruise across from Corsica.
Alternatively, Les Pêcheurs can organise a €500 four-person chopper from Arzachena airstrip near Porto Cervo (in Sardinia).
YACHTS INVEST’s luxury yacht charter borkers remain at your full disposal and are looking forward to assisting you in booking your Cote d’Azur yacht charters and discover 12 beautiful islands of the South of France at the best possible rate whether you’re looking to charter a motor yacht or a sailboat with 5-star service to these spectacular cruising destinations. We will be pleased to take care of all the aspects of your stay onboard, to the last detail.