24 Jan Port-CrosTug of Var
FRANCE 43° 0’ 18” N
TUG OF VAR
By Dominique Anger
24 January, 2017
In the past few decades, it has received a large number of artists and writers attracted by the locale’s serenity. Recently, the talented photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand rented the Port-Man Fort there for 30 years. Despite the years and governments that pass, the island of Port-Cros, a 7 km2 piece of land, indeed maintains the same charm and authenticity as 50 years ago.
A In the early 1960s, its owner, Marceline Henry, donated it to the State with the promise of converting it to a national park. What an amazing figure this Marceline! She debarked on the island in 1918 with her lover, Jean Picart, sub-prefect of Orange and poet in his own time, who came to cure his tuberculosis. Having completely fallen in love with the place, she asked her husband, a notary in Avignon, to join them. Marcel, also attracted to the island, sold all of his property and settled on Port-Cros with her. He purchased the island, and the couple transformed the existing inn into a modern establishment that became the Hostellerie Provençale, as well as the hotel Le Manoir. They stayed at Fort du Moulin, which dominated the small village of fishermen and influenced the Ministry of Culture’s classification of Port-Cros as an ‘artistic site’.
After a process of 15 years, the sale of Port-Cros was rescinded in 1937, and the island was put up for auction. The Henrys, not having the necessary amount of money, proposed to Madame Desmarais, heiress of the Desmarais oil and a faithful Hostellerie client, to acquire a part, coveted by an avid sponsor who intended to parcel out a huge estate there. Following this transaction, the island was split between the Henrys and Madame Desmarais. In 1963, André Malraux, friend of the Henrys, classified Port-Cros as a national park. Upon the death of Marceline in 1966, management of the island amounted entirely to it.
Every morning, when the boat approaches the entrance to the Port-Cros bay, one first notices the calm and the light. Aside from one or two park maintenance vehicles, there are no cars on the island, and the only sounds one hears are the cries of the seagulls and the song of the cicadas that were awoken. Miles of paths and deserted roads, lined with garrigues and pines, open before you. A feast for walkers! The light reveals outstanding in this place exempt from pollution, bathing the small village of ocher and pink houses with an incomparable softness.
The path along the coast leads straight to Le Manoir, a colonial-style hotel nested in the greenery. This charming path passes by the small, lovely church that witnesses the joys and sorrows of the few islanders who live on Port-Cros year-round and then unfolds on South Beach, where fish without fear or reproach come to tickle swimmers’ toes. Continuing the walk, after some magnificent views of the craggy coast, one arrives at the highest summit of Port-Cros, Mount Vinaigre, which offers a gorgeous panorama of the island and the shores of Var in the distance.
Divers are also very spoiled. Port-Cros is one of Var’s most prized diving sites, with wrecks to visit and some of the richest underwater fauna of the Côte d’Azur.
Whether you come for the day or for a while, you will be moved by this petite Eden at the heart of the Îles d’Hyères.
Details of the walks, including their lengths and difficulties, as well as the boat schedule, can be found by consulting the Port-Cros National Park website:
To stay or dine (April to October):
To dive on Port-Cros: