The islands of the French Riviera that you might not have heard of

islands french riviera

Whether by private yacht, sailboat or ferry, these islands off the coast of the French Riviera all deserve a visit. 

From the historic Îles des Lérins near Cannes to the protected cluster in the Port Cros National Park, the islands of the south of France have long attracted visitors and even life-long residents, but not all are well-known. Some lie metres from the mainland and can be accessed by foot or bridge, while others glimmer and glitter on the horizon, reachable only by boat. 

Cannes’ Îles des Lérins are perhaps the most famous islands. Île Sainte-Marguerite is the largest and most visible from shore. It was once the “home” of the Man in the Iron Mask, a still unknown figure who was imprisoned on the island in the late 1600s. Today, it is a popular day-tripping destination for its beaches and restaurant, La Guérite.  


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Across a small stretch of water lies Île Saint-Honorat, which has been the site of a monastery since the fifth century. Around 20 monks still live within the walls of the Abbaye de Lérins. The island is also home to a respected vineyard that can be visited several times a year. 

A handful of small îlots are to be found in the waters around these two bigger islands, and can be circumnavigated by canoe, kayak or paddle board for the more adventurous.  

A little further down the coast and just to the east of Saint-Raphaël is the Île d’Or with its magnificent stone tower. It’s a small rocky outcrop that is privately owned, meaning you can’t climb ashore, but this emblematic symbol of the Estérel is worth cruising by.  

The Île de Galeotti can also be found in this area. It’s a popular diving spot that also goes by the name Lion de Mer and can be enjoyed by divers of all skill sets. There are two statues just below the water line that are easy to reach for amateurs.  

Although not actually an island, the Cap Taillat near Ramatuelle is an absolute must-see. It’s well removed from the pomp and glamour of Saint Tropez; the peninsular is raw and natural in its beauty, with gleaming sand and crystal-clear waters. Did you know it was the backdrop for the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang beach scene in 1968? 

The Îles d’Hyères, namely Porquerolles, Port-Cros and the Île du Levant, are the ultimate island-hopping destinations. They form part of the protected Port-Cros National Park, making them a real treat to experience for their lush native vegetation and teeming waters. Hiking, swimming, diving and even a spot of nudist sunbathing on the Île du Levant… There are countless ways to enjoy these special islands. 

The Embiez archipelago, which is made up of the Île du Petit Gaou, Île du Grand Gaou and Embiez, was developed by local businessman Paul Ricard of pastis fame. After millennia as little more than rocky outposts off the coast of Six-Fours-les-Plages, the 1950s saw Ricard snap up the collection of islands, along with nearby Bendor, and transform them into high-end holiday destinations. Today there are several great restaurants, a vineyard, an aquarium and museum, sports facilities and plenty of natural hiking and biking trails to explore.  

The final stops on our tour are the handful of islands found between La Ciotat and Marseille, starting with the Île Verte in the east, a place where trees met the sea, and continuing through to the Île Riou and its neighbours off the coast of Cassis and the Calanques, then on to the Îles du Frioul of Marseille. Boat trips frequently visit these islands, making them the ideal choice for a day out with family and friends. Much of the sea falls into a protected Natura 2000 zone and dolphins and whales are regularly spotted out to sea.  


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Photo source: Benjamin Lecomte for Unsplash