Île de Porquerolles is the nicest place you’ve never heard of. Or, if you have: thank you for keeping quiet about it. The island is small—about five square miles, much of it protected nature reserve—very green, mostly carless and untrammeled by the kind of buildup and crowds that worldly attention would bring. You can almost hear the champagne corks popping in St.-Tropez, less than 40 miles to the east, but this is a serene island redolent of pine forests and olive trees. To be honest I don’t know how this mini Nantucket on the Med has not been ruined. It is almost too perfect to believe. You step off the ferry and feel immediately calmed by the place. There is one square with a church and a group of rosé-nursing locals playing an endless game of pétanque. There are bicycle-rental shops and ice cream stands and soft white-sand beaches. There are a few small inns in the village and one clubby resort at the western end of the island, with fluffy pink bathrobes and red tennis courts and a slightly shabby old-world charm. The hotel, Le Mas du Langoustier, is reached by the Porquerolles’s lone bus over mostly dirt roads. Gentlemen wear jackets to dinner.
The next day I rode my rented bike over knobby, sandy paths to visit Domaine de la Courtade, one of the isle’s three small wineries. Laurent Vidal, the ruddy life force behind the place, explained that many tourists come by boat for an afternoon. “We call them hemoglobins because they arrive white and go back red,” Vidal said of the sun-soaking day-trippers.
Vidal is an engineer by training and a Parisian by birth. When his father passed away he moved here to look after the business. “We are building something new every time—it’s the alchemy of the salty air and the soil.” Courtade makes an excellent, crisp, citrusy rosé. I asked him about the blue-and-white buggy parked nearby. “Plastique est fantastique!” he said. No metal, no rust. The car is a 1970’s Citroën Méhari, a funky utility vehicle made for the desert. Pedaling away, I had the feeling I’d stumbled onto a kind of fantasy island of rosé, pristine and beautiful and just a little odd.
It did not surprise me that evening when at sunset the sky turned a most perfect pink. After dinner I bicycled under moonlight over a path of pine needles, dropped the bike in the sand, took off my clothes on the empty beach, and ran into the warm water. It seemed like the thing to do. Like the only thing to do. Maybe it was the full moon or the bottle of Courtade I’d drunk with dinner. Or maybe, just maybe, the unfortunate image of your wine-seeking correspondent frolicking naked in the sea will turn enough people off to keep this perfect place a secret. Then, I will have done my job.
Adam Sachs is a T+L contributing editor.