The “other” south of France

Everyone has read and heard about the mythical French Riviera, La Cote D’Azur. Visions of Brigitte in her bikini or perhaps these days Naomi of a mega yacht come to mind. There is however another part of the coast that is less bling and for more discerning types who wish to avoid the masses that descend on St Tropez, Cannes or Antibes, a viable choice.

The french coastline  between Ramatuelle to the east and Toulon to the west is the summer playground of established french society and families. You won’t find a Nikki Beach here with its magnums of champagne, sparklers and dancing girls , what you will find are glorious coves with good beach restaurants in between smaller coastal villages and interior country walks with superlative views.

Walks in the Parc National
Walks in the Parc National

The best airport to arrive in is Toulon, tires on the tarmac and within minutes you are in your rental car. Drive east to Hyeres and here you have your first decision to make. Drive out to the peninsula and catch a ferry to Porquerolles, one of the three main islands in the Iles d’Hyeres or continue on the coast towards Le Lavandou. Should you decide on Porquerolles there are many charming hotels to chose from, most are situated around the Place D’Armes where on summer evenings a game of petanque or two is de rigeur. In town I recommend The Auberge de Glycines Further up the island is the Mas du Langoustier  a provencal residence situated in a peaceful spot in the pines between two crescent beaches. They now have a fabulous swimming pool and spa and their restaurant awarded one michelin star is worth the detour.

The island is car free and the most popular mode of transport is a bicycle. If you chose to stay in town, after a leisurely breakfast in your hotel you can pack a picnic and bicycle through the forest to beaches further up the island and out of range of day trippers. Alternatively you can hire a boat and go fishing or go on a scuba dive to Port Cros, a nature reserve said to be one of the best diving spots in the mediterranean. The aperitif is taken back on the square followed by dinner in one of  the many restaurants in the small town.

Further along the coast before arriving at Le Lavandou, take the D42  from the main road and drive through Le Leoube, passing vineyards and truly lovely countryside. Here you feel like you are in a place that time forgot. Once in Le Lavandou there are several choices of places to sleep along  the sea front, or you can splash out and rent a stunning villa on the extremely private Cap Benat.

Villa on Cap Benat
Villa on Cap Benat

Along this stretch of coast you will discover beach after beach, some sandy and larger with more activities for children ( Le Lavandou ) and some smaller rocky coves with crystal clear water for swimming and snorkeling . The best beach restaurant we found was Le Tamaris  in Pramousquier, it had a distinctly local feel about it and on a Sunday in April the atmosphere was festive!

Les sardines grillées
Les sardines grillées

Behind this beautiful coastline are hectares of national park, drive up early in the morning to walk on the route forestiere des cretes  before the heat of the day descends, or simply drive the small roads along the “crete” between Bormes les Mimosas and  Rayol Canadel stopping of to enjoy nature here and there and take in the sweeping mediterranean views. This is a wonderful place to take a picnic too.

My last port of call would have to be in Gigaro where you can check in to the stylish and yet simple Pinede Plage with its marvelous terrace and beachside bar. They have their own beach with sun beds  and the feeling here is very much laid back luxury. A short walk along the sea front brings you to a few restaurants and other beach bars. Le Couleur Jardin is a good place for a romantic dinner overlooking the sea.

Do explore the back country.

Do have lunch at The Tamaris in Pramousquier

Do take swimsuit and binoculars for bird watching.

Do try the many local rosé’s

Vineyard by the sea
Vineyard by the sea

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