Be they flat or rocky, blue or green, inhabited or deserted, from the English Channel to the Mediterranean and from the Atlantic to Corsica, France’s coast is dotted with unique and fragile islands. Often entirely pedestrian, boats are the only means of access and bad weather can disrupt travel plans – all the better to slow down and savour the more civilised pace of island life.

Islands in the English Channel

Island of Tatihou

A windswept sunny paradise surrounded by water, Tatihou Island is a top destination for nature lovers. Three gardens reveal the local and exotic flora in a variety of settings within the walls of the former quarantine hospital built in 1721 to confine epidemics. On the other side of this line, the north-east section of the island is a reserve for seabirds.

Island of Batz

Ten minutes from the continent, the houses on the Island of Batz (pronounced “ba”) are huddled in the south of the island, singularly wedged between windswept heathland to the west and lush green meadows to the east. The village, despite the boats bobbing up and down in the port, gives the impression of a country village… out at sea! True, there are more tractors than fishing boats! Beneath the clouds and salty spray that the wind whips off the waves, the soil of Batz is ideal for farming, as is the climate!

 

Islands of the Atlantic

 

Island of Ouessant

A granite fortress rising up out of the sea, Ouessant is the westernmost sentinel of Europe. Bristling with jagged rocks, often swathed in mist and battered by fierce winds znd surrounded by reefs and strong currents, the island’s unspoiled, grandiose landscapes unfold and stretch out to the delight of walkers and nature lovers.

The Glénan Islands

A divine archipelago, part Brittany, part Pacific, lies off the coast of Fouesnant. This string of islands and islets lined in white sandy beaches and emerald green lagoons is home to colonies of seabirds and also of a flower that grows nowhere else on earth – the Glénan daffodil.

Belle-Ile

Sheer cliffs and long sandy beaches, moors carpeted in golden scrub and gorse and turquoise creeks, but also valleys, woods, streams and meadows that stretch as far as the eye can see: if you have never been to Belle Ile, it’s time to cast off and set sail for this idyllic island.

Island of Yeu

The island of Yeu is one of the rare islands on this side of the Atlantic that is lucky enough to boast tiny creeks ideal for swimming. Riddled with old custom’s paths, this insular land is 10km/4mi long and 4km/2.5mi wide and thus ideal to explore on foot or by bicycle. The diverse landscape of ports, lighthouses, castles and citadels provides sanctuary for several hundred different species of birds.

 

Mediterranean islands

Islands of Lérins

Arriving at one of the two Lérins islands - Saint-Honorat or Sainte-Marguerite – is always a magical event after the frenzy of Cannes. Suddenly, silence falls and the heady scent of nature fills your nose, replacing the uproar and exhaust fumes of the continent. Alep pines, cypress, eucalyptus, vineyards (on Saint Honorat) and a pond (on Sainte Marguerite) compose the idyllic picture of these unspoiled islands.

Islands of Porquerolles and Port-Cros

France’s southernmost metropolitan islands (after Corsica) are also its biggest. Off the coast of Hyères and Lavandou lie Porquerolles and Port-Cros, each with its own distinctive identity. The first, the most “domesticated”, is ideal for mountain biking and sun bathing, while the latter, more “mountainous” is a magnificent nature reserve.

 

Corsica

Lavezzi Islands

Twelve kilometres from Sardinia, the Lavezzi archipelago, the southernmost tip of metropolitan France, is made up of a hundred isles and reefs. Boats drop anchor at what is called Lavezzi Island (66ha/163acres), the only one open to the public, in a sheltered bay on the north-east coast. The landscape of this miniature paradise of crystal clear waters and sandy creeks is strangely moonlike. The archipelago rises out of the sea, resting on massive granite boulders that have been eroded and sculpted into haunting shapes by the wind and waves.