A true natural museum with a wide variety of Mediterranean landscapes
With the other Golden Isles and the Giens Peninsula, Porquerolles is an extension of the Moors and was originally, in the Tertiary era 40 million years ago, part of the same geological block as Corsica and Sardinia. It was isolated due to rising sea levels following ice melting, some 20,000 years ago. With its massive granite and crystalline rocks emerging in the middle of calcareous soils, Porquerolles displays its ties with the mountains of the continent. The present name of Porquerolles is derived from a Gallo-Roman word, Olla (pottery). It would refer to the existence of ancient factories established on these clay soils prone for ceramic. Port-Olles has hence over the years, been transformed into Porquerolles.
A unique mosaic of landscapes
The northern part of the island facing the coast stretches along smoothly carved white sandy beaches, protected from prevailing winds. The south coast, pointing towards the sea, is wilder with its steep cliffs plunging into the turquoise waters. The western tip of Porquerolles is exceptionally charming with an islet, its lighthouse and fort overlooking a beautiful cove sheltered from prevailing winds. The beach at the end of the bay is within walking distance from the center of Porquerolles using small footpaths running through the scrubs. A preserved wildlife abounds on land and under water where one can come across a wide variety of fish : Sars, Salema, Girelles, Moray eels, Sea bream and Dentis. Three quarters of the island are still entirely planted, especially in cork oaks and maritime pines. A real Paradise in spring with its flowering scrubs, Porquerolles exhale unparalleled scents, a subtle blend of cistus, lavender, heather, thyme, rosemary, eucalyptus, pine and pistachio lentiscus.
Vineyards in the sea
Right in the middle of the island, the plains accommodates 150 hectares of vineyards namely « La Courtade », « Le domaine de l’Ile » and « Le domaine Persenski » that produce an excellent renowned wine « La Londe Côtes de Provence » which bears the designation « Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée » (AOC). Franz Joseph Fournier, who bought the island in 1911, decided to create a firewall by planting 170 hectares of vineyards. The soil made up of metamorphic schist associated with a sunny microclimate is quite favorable for vine growing without the use of herbicide, chemical fertilizers or insecticides. A particular care is also applied in wine making that reveals its unique island character and local flavour. The tenants work also in close collaboration with the National Botanical Conservatory of Porquerolles to help in preventing fires and in protecting the natural heritage of the island.
A Mediterranean climate ideal for health and plant conservation
Located 5 Km from the mainland in the middle of the sea, Porquerolles is also popular for its pure and invigorating climate. Summers are cooler than on the mainland and winters are warmer as temperatures remain mild with slight variances due to the sea breezes, which temper the temperatures both in winter and in summer.
The pure and dry air of Porquerolles is impregnated with the scent of forests and wild vegetation. It is considered healthy and beneficial and is much searched after for treating lung ailments.
Porquerolles has a Mediterranean sub-humid climate with more than 2,900 hours of sunshine and average annual rainfall of 575 mm as well as rare winter frosts, which is perfect for the conservation of plants.
Porquerolles is also integrated within an « Alarm Plan » which limits access to the forests in high winds and during drought periods.
The National Mediterranean Botanical Garden
Partly wild and half cultivated, Porquerolles is a mosaic of Provençal landscapes developed over time by several generations. These beautiful landscapes are home to an exceptional heritage: an orchard of over 700 varieties of fruit trees ! A unique collection, which includes many authentic varieties, that no longer exists on the Continent since the arrival of industrial, farming. A bastion of traditional Provençal orchard, the conservatory’s mission is to protect the Mediterranean natural flora and fruit varieties. Jean-Paul Roger heads of the academy and is continually resisting against the uniformity of the supermarket era. Since his arrival in Porquerolles in 1978, one year before the creation of the conservatory, this agricultural engineer who is in charge of managing the agricultural sector and varietal collections, is deeply involved in increasing the value of the traditional Provencal fruit trees. His team has gathered an important collection of several species: more than 154 varieties of olive trees of French, Italian and Spanish origins, 300 varieties of figs from the Mediterranean basin, 60 mulberry varieties from around the world, over 200 local varieties of peaches from Provence and the Rhone Valley, over 60 varieties of apricot and over 22 varieties of almond trees! The conservatory also leads an ex-situ conservation mission and houses a seed bank of over 2000 species of plants.
The ultimate goal of the Conservatory and of Jean-Paul Roger is to restore the orchard of Provence as it was 200 years ago. The diversity of fruit varieties at the time provided a natural tolerance to diseases and parasites, while the orchards are today all planted with the same varieties.
A Natura 2000 classified site to preserve the natural beauty of the island
Three-quarters of the island as well a 500 m wide sea-belt was bought by the French state in 1971 and declared a classified zone, integrated within the Natura 2000 Network under the Birds and Habitats Directives of 1988.
The team of the National Park of Port Cros managing this classified zone is actively involved in enhancing and preserving this unique natural site while allowing visitors to take advantage of its heritage.
Finding a balance between man and nature
Inspired by Franz Joseph Fournier, the former owner of Porquerolles more than a century ago, the head of sector of the island, Serge Moreau and his team are everyday striving to meet the challenge of striking the right balance between protection of the environment and tourism. The island owes its agricultural success whilst maintaining at the same time a responsible tourism, to Franz Joseph Fournier, a real pioneer in sustainable development. Finding the right balance between man and nature is a lengthy process based on advocacy and dialogue amongst all stakeholders: residents, merchants, service providers, farmers, fishermen, scientists and tourists. The park’s team, whose ultimate goal is to preserve the natural beauty and fragility of the island, brilliantly accomplishes this delicate and crucial task. Don’t forget that you can visit Porquerolles only on foot or by bicycle and traffic is regulated.
An overflow of tourists in summer
Despite its small size – 7 Km long and 3 Km wide – Porquerolles is one of the most popular sights of the Riviera and attracts as many as one million visitors each year. Its closeness to the mainland and its topography, besides its attractive landscape, partly explain this incredible popularity. Thousands of shuttles transfer each year visitors from the mainland in 20 minutes. The other 50% of the traffic comes from pleasure boats. The island is an idyllic mooring site which accommodates up to 1,300 boats at a time in summer! While tourism has become the main driver of economic development, the island is overcrowded in summer with undue pressure on water supply, waste management and on the overall environment. For several years now, the Mediterranean National Botanical Conservatory has been conducting a pilot lagoon-based system for wastewater treatment. This system works without any chemical products and wastewater is recycled naturally by the lagoon and reused for watering the orchards. It can however supply only 4,500 inhabitants per day. In order to manage the inflow of visitors in a sustainable manner, dry toilets have been installed in different places on the island.
Serge Moreau considers that the priority is to reduce the number of tourists in summer and to spread the number of visitors throughout the year.
A pilot site for the Natura 2000 network
Porquerolles and its periphery – a 500 m water-strip – as well as the island of Port Cros, form part of a pilot site and are protected by the European Natura 2000 network.
Among the habitat of common interest to be protected in priority, is the Posidonia, an endemic Mediterranean plant that is home to many endangered species including the « Grande Nacre » (Great Mother of Pearl), a large and scarce shell. To protect them from silting and being uprooted by anchors or fishing gear, a new regulation has been implemented following lengthy negotiations with boaters. Today, areas of moorings are regulated. A charter was also signed with the divers whereas browsing speed has been limited and moorings have been installed on the most important sites. A number of diving and recreational fishing areas have also been closed.
The islets of « Saranier » or the « Cap des Médès » have become complete nature reserves. Access and circulation by boats have also been banned in several small coves on the south coast in order to preserve the biodiversity and ensure the tranquility of these places.
Other species have been listed for protection such as the Mediterranean Shearwaters as 90% of its French population lives on the islands of Hyères. The Ash Shearwater is also present in this region. The Park’s team members are monitoring the situation and conducting educational actions to protect and sustain these species in the archipelago.
Let’s hope that the island’s classification, as « Heart of the Park » within the National Park of Port-Cros will enable it to strike the right balance between tourism and the preservation of the environment.
This nautical race founded in 1998 is held in early June each year. It is organised by the International Yacht Club of Hyères in collaboration with the Yacht Club of Porquerolles and has become a must of the Mediterranean Championship circuit. The best teams from the Meditteranean region, amateurs, regular participants in the America’s Cup and other ocean racers are all attracted by this paradise-like water body. The windward-leeward and coastal courses follow on from each other for a week in the port of Hyères, Porquerolles and around the Golden isles. Over 70 boats and between 650 and 750 seamen compete in a friendly atmosphere. This week also have a festive side with the organisation of various events and parties.
An ideal site for water sports and tourism
In summer, an average of 800 boats use the moorings of Porquerolles every day, with peaks up to 1,300. Pleasure crafts account for around 50% of tourist arrivals. Located three nautical miles off the Giens Peninsula, Porquerolles offers enchanting and sheltered anchorages sites at « La plage D’argent », in the North at « Bon Renaud » cove or in the nook of « Pointe Prime » whilst leaving the port. The marina has a capacity of 600 berths, including 200 reserved for visiting boats (maximum length of 30 metres), with a draught limited to 3 metres. 90 buoys with a maximum draught of to 13 metres are also available.
With its powder-soft beaches, the northern part of the island is ideal for lovers of « farniente » while the south will certainly appeal to snorkelling aficionados. The latter can explore the multicolored fauna, beautiful little coves and numerous rocksin the shallow waters.
Divers are not left behind as the island provides a diversity of sites, which are accessible to all levels. Near the Bay of Hyères, divers may move above the continental shelf, around 50 m deep whilst in the South, the deep descends towards the ocean’s abysses.
On the northern tip, the « Cap de Médès » is a superb exploration site namely « Le sec du Gendarme », which also acts as a fall back position in case of strong winds. The small pass between the Giens Peninsula and « Jaume Guarde » includes many playful rocky landscapes teeming with wildlife. Off the south coast, the aquanauts can choose from many underwater hills and the rocky inlet of « l’Oustaou de Diou ». Moreover, two famous wrecks, the Donator (35 to 52 m) and the Greek (35 to 47 m), both sunk in 1945 sleep in the small passes between Porquerolles and Port-Cros. They are still well preserved and unveil to the divers the magical atmosphere of an abundant wildlife, home to the impressive red gorgonians and other large species.
Bicycle rental is one of the fastest growing businesses on the island. Around 2,000 bicycles are provided by ten rental companies! Cyclists can explore the island along some 60 km of beautiful trails and paths. A cycle-guide is available to sensitise users about the fragility of the island’s environment via four different routes.
A rich history
Celts, Ligurians and Etruscans first inhabited Porquerolles before fishermen and sailors, who found a safe haven against the bad weather, visited it in antiquity. Relics of the Gallo-Roman times have been recently discovered confirming the presence at the time, of a port. In the fifth century, the monks of the Monastery of Lérins settled in the island to cultivate the soil but the incessant invasions of pirates and corsairs ended up scaring people who all flee from the island.
Vestiges of military architecture dating from the old regime are also still visible. In the 18th century, Napoleon fortified the islands to fight against the British presence in the Mediterranean, and one can still admire the military works such as the Forts of the « Petit » and « Grand » Langoustier, which today belong to the Coastal Conservatory, as well as the Forts of « Alycastre » and of « Repentance ». Built around 1531 by François the 1st, Fort Saint-Agathe has been restored and entrusted to the National Park of Port Cros, which holds public exhibitions during summer.
The past can also be revisited in the deep waters of the island where ships, which were blown up by mines during the Second World War, lie and which are now spectacular diving sites.