For a Weekend: Just Off the Côte D'Azur
Porquerolles, bought as a wedding present in 1912 by Belgian adventurer François Joseph Fournier for his third wife, still feels like a gift to nature lovers: breathtaking cliffs, crystalline coves, and powdery beaches unspoiled by high-rise resorts and traffic jams. Only a few square miles each, Porquerolles and its sister island, Port Cros, are government-protected marine-wildlife reserves a few miles from France. (In fact, they're less than an hour by boat from St. Tropez or Cannes.) Both islands have countless botanical trails and more than 100 species of birds. Cars, camping, and smoking (except in the village) are banned, along with anything with wheels, except for bikes. There is no scene here (cocktail hour at L'Escale, on Porquerolles' main square, barely qualifies). The reason to go is to trek, snorkel, dive, sit on the beach (Plage de Notre-Dame is the best), or rent a motorboat to explore hidden coves in the rocky coastline.
It's best to use Porquerolles as a base and take a day trip to Port Cros, which is the wilder and less inhabited of the two islands. Le Mas du Langoustier, at the western palm-shaded tip of Porquerolles, is a gracious, sprawling terra-cotta Provençal manor and easily the best place to stay. It has 50 rooms, many recently redone in warm orange and yellow with marble bathrooms. Ask for a room in the back wing with a private terrace (rooms, $240-$375; 33-4-94-58-30-09). The hotel also has a private beach and access to one with black sand, as well as a restaurant where heads of state and glitterati drop in by yacht or helicopter for lunch. One-Michelin-star chef Joël Guillet dishes up Mediterranean specialties using island-grown herbs, vegetables, wild mushrooms, and fresh fish. We recommend the lobster tails with caramelized ginger and coriander, and the stuffed tomatoes with citrus soufflé (dinner, $200).
Porquerolles also has two excellent wine cellars. Domaine de l'Ile (33-4-94-04-62-30) produces a deliciously fruity rosé; Domaine de la Courtade (33-4-94-58-31-44) has France's only underwater wine cellar, sunk 66 feet below the surface.
Skip the ferry to Porquerolles. The smart set arrive by yacht or helicopter. To travel between the islands, the best service is Le Pelican water taxi. 33-6-09-52-3119.