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.
Frankly, I could do with a flare going up.
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
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
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.
Here Hyeres here: Queen Victoria famously holidayed in Hyeres for three weeks in 1892. Pictured is the historical old town
The old town features a square that’s a perfect spot for sipping a glass or two of rose
Rose is taken very seriously in Provence, as this picture from a supermarket in Hyeres shows
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 beer in the beautiful harbour at Port-Cros comes highly recommended
The waters surrounding the islands off the coast of Hyeres are perfect for snorkeling
Boats gather off the coast of Porquerolles, which is just a short ferry ride from Hyeres. Driving is banned there and on the neighbouring islands
Ferries wait to take visitors back from Porquerolles to the mainland. There are also ferry services from Hyeres to the islands of Port-Cros and Le Levant
Porquerolles is ringed by stunning beaches, which can be reached by foot or bicycle
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)
One of the best options for lunch in these parts is on the peninsula of Giens – at Pradeau Plage (pictured)
NERVOUS ABOUT FLYING WITH A NEWBORN? HOW IT CAN BE A DREAM
We board our Marseille-bound BA flight at Heathrow in a state of absolute terror – not because we’re nervous fliers, but because we have our eight-week-old daughter with us and we have no idea whether or not she’s going to let the packed cabin feel the power of her tiny lungs.
Beforehand I’d asked for advice about flying with a newborn from every parent-friend I could think of and everyone assured me that she would be fine and probably just sleep.
Still, she can be a bit of a diva and we pack a Gro Hush white noise device just in case she needs to be calmed down. It emits the sounds of a heart-beat, ocean waves or rain falling, which apparently babies love.
In the end, we don’t need it.
The cabin crew are really helpful and reassuring and advise my girlfriend to deploy a breast-feed on take-off and landing – the sucking action, they say, will help to equalise the pressure in her ears.
It works a treat.
What’s more, the feed on take-off puts her straight to sleep – for the rest of the flight.
We linger and gaze at scuba divers heading out to sea and a group of hikers striding across the sand.
Giens is popular with all manner of sight-seer, it turns out, 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.
Walkers, meanwhile, enjoy the coastal path, which runs past creeks, caves and dramatic rocky outcrops, as well as the Pradeau Plage and its fine fishy fodder.
Hyeres itself is charming, especially the historical old town.
Hyeres is one of the original Cote d’Azur hotspots. It lies between Marseille and Saint-Tropez
We stroll along its shiny flagstones, stopping to buy garlic and figs at market stalls and to drink rose (Provence is big on rose) in the sunshine in the central square.
In the evenings, back at the villa, the general strategy is to sip wine and champagne on the terrace next to the pool as the last of the sun’s rays caress the palm leaves.
BA flies regularly from London Heathrow to Marseille, where regular train services run directly to Hyeres.
Flights from £73, visit ba.com.
The villa Ted and his family stayed in costs £219 per night. Click here for more information.
It’s far from the only Airbnb option in the area though – there are lots of fantastic rentals to be found. Visit airbnb.com.
Visit www.addisonlee.com to arrive at the airport stress-free.