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Porquerolles, France

From: Wind Surf Cruise Review

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ABOVE: A bike-rental shop in Le Village on the Īle de Porquerolles.

L'Īle de Porquerolles isn't a typical cruise port: The small island, which lies at the extreme southern tip of the Provençal coast, is the largest of the three "Golden Islands." Its 3,000 acres are spread across a curving, irregularly-shaped patch of rock and Mediterranean forest that is just 7 km long, 3 km wide, and 142 meters high. Porquerolles has been the object of invasions since Etruscan times, but today the invaders are mostly French tourists and sailing enthusiasts who come to swim, walk, cycle, on a island that has been protected by the French national parks system since 1988. (See island map.)

photoWind Surf spent only seven hours in Porquerolles, but that was enough time to get the lay of the land. I took an early tender into the Village on the northern side of the island, where the local tourist office had set up a help-yourself table laden with brochures, maps, and souvenir goodie bags wrapped in Provençal fabric.

photoArmed with a map, I headed for Fort Sainte Agathe, a 16th Century fortress on a hill above the village. (The walk was less than 10 minutes from the Place d'Armes in the center of the village and perhaps 15 minutes from the boat landing.) The fort, which is open daily from May to September, offers great coastal views and is well worth the easy uphill walk. (There's no charge for admission; you just walk in and look around. In the summer, you can also visit a museum within the fort.)

photoAfter leaving Fort Sainte Agathe, I returned to the village and struck out across the island towards the Phare, or lighthouse, which requires 2.5 km or about 1-1/2 miles of easy walking on on an imperceptibly uphill grade. The road was unpaved but smooth, and I encountered only cyclists and a handful of walkers as I crossed the island. (There are few cars on the island, which is served only by passenger ferries.) Eventually, a yellow sign directed me toward a footpath to the lighthouse, which stands atop the cliffs on the southern coast of Porquerolles.

photoThe Phare is a working lighthouse, but don't let that keep you from going inside, where two short winding staircases will take you to an observation deck just beneath the lamp. (Watch your head near the top of the stairs, or you might get a nasty whack, as I nearly did.) The views from the observation platform are wonderful, but hang onto the railing if it's a windy day. You might also want to leave a euro or two in the donation basket on your way out; proceeds are used for the building's upkeep.

It's only a short walk from the Phare to Gorge du Loup, a dramatically-situated cove just around the cape. If you're intrepid and steady on your feet, you can climb down a rocky path to the water. I didn't; I was more interested in exploring the rest of the island, so I wandered down a path that left me lost in the woods until, by good fortune, I encountered a road that led to the Cemetery for dead soldiers from France's colonial wars. (Porquerolles was a convalescent center for colonial soldiers in the 19th century, and the village--the island's only settlement of any size--was created by the Engineer Corps around 1820.)

After peeking over the walls and through the locked gates of the cemetery, I followed an unpaved forest road past the National Mediterranean Botanic Conservatory to the Plage d'Argent, a.k.a. the "Beach of Gold," a sand beach with a restaurant and snack bar. From there, it was a short walk back to the pleasant little village, which was well-equipped with restaurants, sandwich shops, ice-cream stands, foodstores, souvenir shops, and other services (including bike rentals) for summer residents and tourists.

For more information on the island, visit the Porquerolles Information Office Web site.

Next page: Alghero, Sardinia





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