At Essential Sailing, we love the history, culture and cuisine of the places we visit almost as much as the sailing to get there. Our Captain’s Blog brings you a taste of what to expect from our luxury crewed sailing holidays around the French and Italian Riviera. In this blog we explore the original aristocratic French Riviera of Hyeres.
Sit back and be inspired.
Located between Marseille and Nice, Hyeres is considered the original French Riviera, with the aristocracy regularly retreating to its winter warmth in the 18th century, followed by the artistic (Leo Tolstoy, Rudyard Kipling, DH Lawrence) not to mention royalty (Queen Victoria). Today the French have been largely keeping it to themselves. Not surprising, given the picturesque panoramas, award-winning beaches, exquisite food, gardens and maritime national park. But their secret is now out as here’s our guide to the perfect day to Hyeres.
Amble up to Hyeres medieval Vielle Ville (Old Town) to get your bearings. Then admire the architectural grandeur of the Knights Templar Tower and the three concentric city walls. Weave your way in and out of the narrow streets, stopping for sustenance at delis, biscuiteries – try Délices Lamarque – and wine bars. A good spot for local Provençal produce, particularly the addictive lemon-artichoke compote with truffle oil, is Cave Massillon. It would be wrong not to indulge in a cheeky glass of the palest pink rosé, after all Hyères boasts 17 wineries.
Pick up a taxi as apart from Hyeres many attractions lying atop steep inclines, they’re also relatively widespread. First stop – the bustling farmers market on Ave Gambetta. Mingle with locals picking up the best seasonal produce from the region, whether that be pretty pink peonies (Hyères is France’s capital of cut flowers), the best cherries you’ll ever taste, honey, succulent ‘petit violet’ artichokes or peaches.
Take your market supplies to picnic among the palm trees in Olbius Riquier Park, one of Hyeres four ‘Remarkable Gardens’ – this one features 7 hectares of landscaped gardens. There’s also lots of activities for children, such as pony and train rides.
Art and architecture lovers will adore Villa Noailles, located in Parc St-Bernard. This modernist house of palatial proportions (15 bedrooms, an indoor swimming pool, squash court) was built in the 1920s for Charles de Noailles and his wife Marie-Laure, art patrons and friends/supporters of Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Man Ray and Salvador Dalí, to name a few. It’s now a gallery telling the story of the Noailles, and also hosts international fashion, photography, music, architecture and art events.
In the evening whether you head beach-side or stay in the atmospheric Old Town, there are plenty of happening bars and excellent dinner options. For contemporary Provençal food with a healthy emphasis, try Michelin-guide-listed Joy in the centre of town: don’t miss the Pissaldiere or the lavender crème brûlée if they’re on the menu. Further down the peninsula, the locals’ not-so-well-kept secret, Le Pradeau Plage, hidden down a dusty, bumpy, bamboo-lined road off Ave des Arbanais, offers superb seafood by the sea. The salad of scallops, prawn, tuna tataki, crab and langoustines with citrus salsa could well be the perfect finish to your day.