43° 0'.5 N 06° 22'.8 E, Port Cros, Isles D'or, France
Oh Port Cros you have my heart. You smell like pine needles & sea salt & eucalyptus. You are splendid and, in mediterranean terms, unspoilt.
Port Cros is one of a small collection of islands, Isles D'Or (Islands of Gold), which sit just off the coast of southern France. A National Park, its all about clean water and green land. Take nothing but photos, leave only footprints.
Port Cros has a long and tussled history, however prior to 1963 all 650 hectares of Port Cros was privately owned by Madame Henry who bequeathed the island in her will (with the exception of Hotel Le Manoir which she left to her great-nephew) to the french government on the understanding it was to be given National Park status. As such the island is a prime example of how lush mediterranean forest, and it's surrounding waters, can be when given the chance to thrive.
The pier is tiny and full. Mooring boys are available on a 'first one to it wins' basis. We've never been anywhere like it. If there isn't a buoy free, and if your here in the August summertime like we are then there won't be, then anchor up in the designated area outside the bay and decide if you want to play the mooring game. We wanted the shelter of the mooring buoy overnight, so game on! We had lunch and scoped out the rules, which transpired to be a blend of...
* Spot someone preparing to leave.
* Pay someone to give you a heads-up when they are leaving
* Float around and around and around until you get lucky
* Get in a tender or paddle board and baggsie the buoy by holding onto it whilst another brings the boat around.
Walkie talkies in hand I glided the tender around the boats, slowly scoping everyone out for signs of departure. Third lap and I was granted my snitch, there it was in front of me, a glowing orb just waiting to be seized, so claim it I did, sliding the tender painter through the loop I proudly radioed Captain to announce I had completed my quest and he could pull anchor and bring Silver Paws around. I silenced the outboard and lay back, basking in my success.
With a secure line for Silver we went exploring, taking the tender to the tiny tender jetty. We went for a rum at the little rum shack. Wandered the main (#Only) street - a collection of restaurants in a short, dusty row. Then headed up to the fort on the hill for sunset.
We were granted a fairly decent nights sleep on the mooring & were up bright and early to walk the islands trails before the blazing Riviera sun got too achingly hot. There are numerous tracks of varying height, length and popularity. We chose unpopular tracks, not intentionally but perhaps unconsciously, starting our walk heading south on the valley trail which starts at the esteemed Le Manoir Hotel and mainly follows a dry valley bed, slowly climbing a track which varied between a dusty single lane drive and a steep rocky shambolic path which almost definitely runs as a stormwater stream during the wetter months.
We intended to loop the island, but ended up cutting the island in two, as the morning heat intensified we had got higher with less tree cover and we just wanted to dive in the cool blue. Some of the paths were not as well trodden as we expected them to be, I expect the families largely stick to the main couple of paths between the most popular beaches, which brings me to La Palud beach which is an entertaining place to take the rugrats due to an underwater snorkel trail. Thus it was teeming, not a scrap of sand to lay down on. My suggestion is if you don't have little people to entertain go swim anywhere else.
I thoroughly loved our couple of days on Port Cros. Its an uncompromising way to enjoy a national park, no internet, sparkling waters, bird life and sea creatures, hiking trails and views. Remote enough to awaken the senses to the fresh air, the scent of the Med on the breeze, the flora & fauna, the sounds of the birds... But at the end of the day there's a nice restaurant and camping isn't an option. This isn't 'roughing it' but it is an easy and rewarding nature experience. I'd go back in a heartbeat.
P.S You'll want decent walking shoes. Take cash for the rum bar and dinner, no ATM. Take plenty of water, there isn't any available beyond the village. Smoking is also prohibited beyond the village and don't be a dick... take all rubbish home with you. Littering is for smudges at all times anyway.