Hetty Lintell visits Île de Porquerolles

Hetty Lintell, Luxury Editor of Country Life visits Île de Porquerolles and wistfully longs to return.

Time stands still on this little cluster of Golden Isles (or îles d'Or), a short ferry trip over from the tip of France's southern point. No time for coffee on board, as, before we know it, there on the horizon is Porquerolles, the largest of the three islands stretching just seven by three kilometres. Our ferry is brimming with tourists, jolly families all seeking the tranquility promised by local guidebooks. Nearby are the other (day trip only) islands; Port-Cros (the most beautiful for hiking and nature) and Le Levant (naturist paradise).

We dock at the port and hop towards the little village, like the local grasshoppers ourselves, jumping from one shady spot to the next in search of cool-it is August, and 10am is already pushing 30 degrees.

Charmingly there are no cars on the island (and patchy roaming signal), so we head to the bike hire establishments along the port front. Electric bikes are the way to go (the tandem on offer might well have ended in disaster-or divorce) and since spotting some undulating hills the more costly decision made cycling a pleasure, and the best way to see the island gliding from beach to beach.

The main village was established in 1820, and the lighthouse has been a guiding beacon since 1837, the church since 1850. In 1912, Monsieur Fournier acquired the island, presenting it as an original wedding present to his wife. Under his stewardship, two hundred hectares of vineyards flourished, yielding top-quality wine that earned acclaim as one of the pioneering 'vins des Cotes de Provence.'

The Vineyards

Today, three vineyards continue this legacy, their wines enjoying a well-deserved reputation. Partnered with the Conservatoire Botanique National de Porquerolles, they safeguard the island's natural heritage and environment. Domaine de l'Ile was recently acquired by Chanel, surprising until you hear that since 2002, the luxury maison has curated a collection of small artisan enterprises-suppliers of feathers for exquisite hats, highly skilled glove-makers, meticulous embroiderers, and a master of precision pleating. So now, the small but excellent wine producer proudly stands as a distinguished member of the Maisons d'Art collective.

Home to a mere 500 people (100 in winter, which does sound rather bleak), population swells to thousands over the summer months-August was an optimistic time to visit, but blissfully the tourists all but disappeared at the end of the day, when the whole island changes and becomes our own, returning to its gentle pace, with lapping waves and the heady sound of cicadas until sunset.

The main beaches, such as the 800m sandy Notre Dame, could be from the pages of a Caribbean honeymoon brochure. Sardined with sunbathers from around 11am, each morning before breakfast we snuck out on our bikes and had the whole beach to ourselves, sharing the water with just a few sailors, enjoying their morning exercise.

Les Mas du Langoustiers

With few places to stay overnight on the island (enforced by the conservation trust and no build rules) booking early is key, we stayed at Les Mas du Langoustiers, which is typically chic, in the most understated way-how very French. The setting is magical, rustic outside and in, but with an old-world charm which must have been here forever. They have one or two weddings a year, a sensational spot for a party, and everyone could stay. Dining was a highlight, and juicy courgette flowers were crispy outside and stuffed with oozing ricotta then decorated with pretty little edible flowers, each dish was light but decadent in its simplicity. Each course was washed down with Domaine de I'lle white-delicately pale and lively, with fresh notes of pear and peach then hints of citrus and herb. A creaminess too, this is a beautifully round and consummate wine with a saline tang-from the soil of course. Perfect sipping against the soundtrack of the sea.

Each evening we walked from the hotel's veranda to emerse ourselves in the sound of cicadas, and later to bask in the moonlight, envious of the sailers mooring their modest boats in the little coves for the evening, ready for more gentle action in the morning.

We left with salty skin and crunchy hair vowing to return next year for more of the same, which is, in fact, nothing very much, and what a much needed rest for both body and soul.

Ferries and shuttles to Porquerolles from Hyeres, Toulon, La Londe, La Seyne and Le Lavandou.

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