The Peculiar Past of Île de Porquerolles
I had never heard of Île de Porquerolles before I heard of the Fondation Carmignac – the primary reason I went to the Mediterranean island in the first place.
During the 7 or so hours I spent on the island, I became more and more fascinated by it.
This small island may not be well known among the English-speaking travelers, but it’s immensely popular among French and Italians.
Colloquially called “Porquerolles,” it’s the largest island among the three Îles d’Hyères, yet it’s just 4.3 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. During the high season of summer, it receives over 10,000 tourists each day, despite having a local population of just a couple hundred.
I can’t truly write a guide on the Île de Porquerolles, but I hope to share a little bit of the island’s history with you as well as a few moments from my time there.
Porquerolles can be traced back to the 1st century, when it is believed that it was occupied by residents under the Roman Empire.
Other groups which possibly occupied the island during ancient times include the Celts, Ligurians and Phoenicians, according to some archaeological excavations near Pointe de la Galère.
Sometime around the 4th or 5th century, Saint Honorat visited Porquerolles, inspiring a a monastery to be built under the convent of Thoronet.
During the 12th century, raids and looting by sea pirates became common. To defend the island against the pirates, Charles II, King of Sicily was forced to concede the island to Pierre Mègre of Toulon in 1304.
On the west coast of the island, there is a creek called “Pirate’s Hole” which is believed to have been dug in the 16th century to hide the loot that was stolen.
Henry III of France purchased Porquerolles in 1579, and took charge of defending it. Despite the increased military presence, attacks on the island remained frequent.
The island was eventually sold to François Molé, a member of Louis XIV’s court.
In 1707, Hyères was seized by the Italian Duke of Savoy, Victor Amadeus. Eventually, the Marquant family of Hyères buys Porquerolles for a total of 34,800 francs.
Toward the end of the century, the English occupied the island for a short time while Toulon did. Napoleon attempted to fortify the islands and fight against the English.
The Duke of Vicenza purchased the island in 1856 for 80,000 francs, and later it was sold to a company which installed a power station and created a water retention system.
Then in 1912, a man named François Joseph Fournier purchased the entire island for his second wife. He paid 1,000,000,010 francs, which is about $177 million USD in today’s currency. Fournier planted 450 acres of vines and hundreds of trees, but the most exciting development was his construction of Le Mas du Langoustier hotel.
The island remained in private hands until 1971, when the French state purchased the majority of the island’s land, in order to protect it against overdevelopment and designate it as a national park. Because of this, the island’s terrain has been largely left wild – with plenty of olive trees, vineyards, lavender plants, and forests.
What to Know Before Visiting Île de Porquerolles
Porquerolles Island is only reachable by boat and you cannot drive on it as a tourist. The closest port is located in Hyères, from which it takes just 20 minutes to cross over.
You can reach the island from ferries and boat taxis that depart from several ports:
- Hyères: TLV, Bateaux Taxi
- Toulon: Bateliers de la Côte d’Azur, Bateliers de la Rade
- Sanary: Croix du Sud
- Saint-Tropez & Sainte Maxime: Bateaux Verts
- Saint-Raphaël: Bateaux Saint Raphael
While there are a few restaurants located near the port, it is advisable to bring food with you from the mainland and eat on the beach. This is what most of the people I went with via ferry did! If you wish to eat in town, Le Pelagos is the most often recommended restaurant I’ve seen.
You won’t find any beachside cafes, as the land outside of the small downtown area is mostly natural.
Getting around the island is easiest with a bicycle, though I was able to explore about a quarter of it on foot with no problem. I noticed the bicycles had to weave in between those on foot, as there isn’t a clear bike path for you to use. I would say about half were on a bike, and half were walking.