Discovering the hidden gems of the Cote d’Azur – Hyeres

Frankly, I could do with a flare going up.

I’m in Provence with my baby daughter and girlfriend to explore one of the hidden gems of the Cote d’Azur – Hyeres and its incredible islands – but the hidden theme is materialising early on in a way that’s proving a tad frustrating.

And alarming.

We can’t find our Airbnb villa, which we know is lurking somewhere in the hypnotically palm-tree-peppered hillside above Hyeres, but the GPS on our phones won’t sync properly with our location and I’m floundering slightly on some steep and tight hairpins in a heavily-laden hire car with a jumpy clutch, with said baby daughter screaming behind me.

The jewels in Hyeres' crown are undoubtedly the three islands lying short ferry rides away, the Iles d'Or, or the Islands of Gold ¿ Porquerolles, Port-Cros and Le Levant. Pictured is the Notre Dame beach on Porquerolles, surely one of Europe's best

The jewels in Hyeres’ crown are undoubtedly the three islands lying short ferry rides away, the Iles d’Or, or the Islands of Gold – Porquerolles, Port-Cros and Le Levant. Pictured is the Notre Dame beach on Porquerolles, surely one of Europe’s best

Wow factor: Notre Dame beach (pictured) lies about two miles from the main port at Porquerolles

Wow factor: Notre Dame beach (pictured) lies about two miles from the main port at Porquerolles

Ted and his friends and family stayed in a stunning Airbnb (pictured) with an infinity pool and views to the sea

Ted and his friends and family stayed in a stunning Airbnb (pictured) with an infinity pool and views to the sea

Eventually, after consulting a couple of locals, we locate it – and the stress and struggle melt away in double-quick time once we pull up, unpack and take in our digs.

We’re spending the week in a mod-con-laden, spacious villa with an infinity pool and scintillating views through the trees to the sparkling Mediterranean below.

The number of occupants expands two days later to include friends and their two sons, aged four weeks and two years, and my dear mother – and there’s plenty of room for all.

The villa has three bedrooms upstairs and a bedroom, living room and en-suite downstairs.

In visiting Hyeres we’re following in the footsteps of royalty.

Queen Victoria famously holidayed in the town for three weeks in 1892.

This was before the rise of Nice, Marseille and Saint-Tropez as Cote d’Azur hotspots, but Hyeres still has a lot going for it. For starters, because it’s out of the spotlight, there are unspoiled beaches and forests galore to explore.

Around 70 per cent of the tourists here are French – and it’s rare to meet anyone from the UK or U.S.

Apologies for letting the secret out, France.

The jewels in Hyeres’ crown are undoubtedly the three islands lying short ferry rides away, the Iles d’Or, or the Islands of Gold – Porquerolles, Port-Cros and Le Levant.

Driving is largely banned on all three, so they’re pristine.

Porquerolles is the largest, measuring 4.3 by 1.8 miles, and boasts one of the finest beaches that I’ve ever thrown down my towel on.

Called Notre Dame – and about two miles east of the port – its crescent-shaped form wraps around beautiful, shallow, turquoise waters.

It must be one of the best beaches in Europe.

We picnic there after an amble through pine-scented woodland.

Those without babies, however, might like to cycle around the island – there are lots of hire shops at the port.

Port-Cros – a national park – is snorkelling heaven.

The waters here are jaw-droppingly clear and patrolled by dazzling fish.

Sipping a cold beer in a bar in the port as sunlight dances off the water is also recommended.

We didn’t visit Le Levant – it’s home to an army camp and nudist colony – but the locals say the beaches there are great.

One of the best options for lunch in these parts is back on the mainland on the peninsula of Giens, hidden down a dusty track among trees near the ferry port for Porquerolles (the departure point for Port-Cros and Le Levant is further along the coast).

It’s called Le Pradeau Plage and specialises in superb fish mains (the waiter will bring out the fish on a platter for approval before it’s cooked) and dreamy views along a beach just below and the rocky shoreline beyond.

Giens is popular with all manner of sight-seer because it's something of a geographical marvel. Sun-seekers flock to the golden beaches that encircle it and bird watchers flock to see the flamingos and herons that inhabit the unique central wetland area (pictured)

Giens is popular with all manner of sight-seer because it’s something of a geographical marvel. Sun-seekers flock to the golden beaches that encircle it and bird watchers flock to see the flamingos and herons that inhabit the unique central wetland area (pictured)

Read more: 11 beautiful but dangerous tourist destinations around the world (Part 2)

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