Travel – Porquerolles – Unveiling the Myth and Magic of an Enchanting Island Gem

Porquerolles, a captivating island steeped in myth and magic, is a well-guarded secret cherished by its proud and possessive locals. Arriving by boat, the picture-perfect port emerges from the morning mist. Fishermen secure their tackle, while barefoot lovers tuck croissants into backpacks, heading towards the beach with snorkels askew.

Though we’ve come close to this many times, the southernmost tip of the Côte d’Azur has always remained elusive, with candyfloss cliffs fading into the clouds. Porquerolles, the largest of the four Îles d’Hyères in the Parc National de Port-Cros, has been a natural wonderland under strict state protection since the 1970s. It has long been a muse for artists and writers, attracting luminaries like Jean-Luc Godard and Edith Wharton, who observed the distant island from her château in Hyères while writing her poem, “Mistral in the Maquis.”

Legends abound on Porquerolles, none more famous than its true love story. In 1912, the Belgian explorer François Fournier purchased the island for his new wife, Sylvia. During their honeymoon explorations, he asked her, “Do you want it…?” Their subsequent family life at the Castle of Saint-Pré would fit an epic movie. It’s hard to imagine that, at the time of their move, there were no telephones, and boats were summoned through smoke signals. Their dream of self-sufficiency and conservation, known as “la belle aventure,” outlived them, as did their nurturing of the island’s precious vines.

In 2019, a new chapter quietly unfolded on the island when Chanel acquired the family’s Domaine de l’Île vineyards. This collaboration was made possible by a shared expertise and passion for traditional winemaking, as well as a deep respect for the island’s heritage and unique conditions. Chanel had previously embraced winemaking with its acquisitions of Château Rauzan-Ségla in Bordeaux in 1994, followed by Canon in 1996 and Berliquet in 2017. Just as the fashion house supports and showcases artisans through its Métiers d’Art patronage, the collaboration with Porquerolles reflects a long-term investment in the island, its people, and world-renowned experts.

Porquerolles has been aptly described as a “floating forest.” A canopy of towering pine trees provides shade over cliffs, valleys, secret beaches, and the bustling village square called Place d’Armes. Here, locals gather for twilight games of pétanque as the last boat departs for the day. This landscape is both savage and flirtatious, slowly revealing its treasures—a shifting mirage caressed by salt winds and gentle heat. Pierre Etcheberry, the leader of the Domaine de l’Île estate wine project, works tirelessly to protect the vines from potential storm damage while juggling local politics and the art of balancing notes in the latest vintage white.

Cars are not allowed on the island, and most visitors choose to explore by bike or foot. However, the luxury of traversing the island in a beaten-up Land Rover becomes a rare indulgence. It transports visitors through dense shrubbery to the majestic Fort Sainte Agathe, with a detour leading us to Fondation Carmignac—an underground museum and sculpture garden. Stepping (shoes obediently removed) amidst masterpieces from Basquiat and Frankenthaler to Doig and Rodin feels surreal. The current exhibition, “The Inner Island,” explores the concept of an island, both real and abstract.

Porquerolles is not for the faint-hearted. It is far from a riviera catwalk or a gathering of the wealthy elite. Here, agriculture is born from hard graft rather than romantic poetry. I’m tempted to dissuade you from visiting, cautioning that the roads are challenging, the few hotels lack opulent grandeur, the WiFi can be unreliable, and you won’t find a manicure readily available. But perhaps luxury is a matter of perspective—a place where your idea of luxury aligns with authenticity, simplicity, and the untouched beauty of a hidden paradise