Port-Cros National Park, France

Photo: Parc National de Port-Cros

It certainly looks like the Caribbean. It feels that way, too. A rugged island. A botanical path along the coast. A history track that leads to five forts. White-sand beaches. An underwater trail for snorkelers. Roman ruins. A reconstructed shipwreck. Protected marine gardens. Colorful sea anemones. Open-air restaurants. Rocks that turn golden at sunset. Are you positive this isn’t the Caribbean?

It’s surprising, but absolutely certain, that you’re not on an island in the Caribbean Sea. You’re actually pretty far from it. This island is called Port-Cros. It’s one of the Îles d’Hyères, a small archipelago off the southeast coast of France. That puts it in the Mediterranean Sea. But don’t expect a Marseilles or Saint-Tropez vibe. This is one of the most peaceful spots in the country.

Port-Cros is home to Port-Cros National Park. In 1963, 80 percent of the island was gifted to the French government. It became France’s smallest national park and first one that protects both the land and the sea around it. There are no cars on the seven-square-mile island. Ferries depart from Hyères on the mainland; the fastest one only takes 30 minutes. A line of palm trees and the smell of grilling seafood greets you in the harbor. An elegant old hotel lies at the end of the main strip.

After that, the national park takes over. Trails head into the hills. They lead up to old forts, down to deserted beaches, and out to gorgeous lookout points. Park rangers are ready to take visitors on discovery walks. While the underwater trail begins off Plage de la Palud and heads out toward Rocher du Rascas, a smaller island offshore. Just follow the yellow buoys across the Neptune grass seabeds. Panels will explain the unique fauna and flora. You’ll probably even see large shoals of salema porgies, a couple of red starfish, and an octopus along the way. It looks like you found a new playground for the remainder of the summer.

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