A Provencal town to climb the steep slopes of Colin du Castillo, Hyères is pretty much anywhere you want.
For summer fun such as water sports and seaside laziness, there are heavenly sandy beaches and unparalleled sailing and diving conditions.
Culturally, there is a beautiful old town that winds its way up, and Hyères is also a muse for many artists.
Picasso, Giacometti and Jean Cocteau all spent time in a habitat in the small town of Villa Noyer.
We haven’t even mentioned the Giens peninsula and the sensational Îles d’Hyères, natural wonders not to be missed.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Hyères:
1. Old Town
Many people rush to the beaches and islands while ignoring the town’s historic center, which is a mistake because wandering around is a dream.
It’s picture book Provence, with bougainvillea, wooden shutters, street markets and restaurant terraces.
The village-like vibe and lack of cars has a lot to do with the steepness of the terrain, which results in dimly curvy streets that wrap around the contours of the hills.
These are crossed by the Rue Portalet, which leads up the hill and takes you to the Place Massillon.
The restaurant terrace here is surrounded by the ochre walls of the old apartment building and the fortified chapel built by the Knights Templar.
2. Îles d’Hyères
Descend to the ferry terminal in Giens and you can embark on an island hopping tour to the beautiful archipelago to the south and east of this peninsula.
The islands have a strange population of inhabitants, from nobles and monks to soldiers and pirates.
The largest is Porquerolles, which is 7 x 3 km away and it is a pleasure to climb over on foot.
There are dense pine forests, hills, cliffs in the south and stunning beaches in the north.
Further east is the rugged and peaceful Port-Cros, which was donated to the state in the 60’s and is a national park and important bird sanctuary.
Finally there is the Levant, the most remote island, shared by nudists and the French army.
3. Hyeres Castle
The oldest neighbourhood of Hyères is located on the slopes of the Colline du Castéou, which are steep and almost 200 meters above sea level.
At the top are the ghostly ruins of the town’s medieval castle, dating back to around the 1000s.
The lords of Foss and the counts of Provence control the fortress, which was visited by the French royal family in the 16th century: Francis I stayed in 1530, Charles IX in 1564. The castle has been in ruins since the French Wars of Religion, following a five-month siege by Henry IV.
Needless to say, the scenery here is breathtaking and there are special platforms from which you can look out onto the wooded hills of Maurettes to the north.
4. Plage de l’Almanarre
Plage de l’Almanarre is easily one of the best beaches in France, located 5 km west of the Giens peninsula.
The beach has soft, pale sand in the shallows and is paradise in summer.
Bathing is off the agenda on days when the northwesterly winds of early winter and spring are blowing.
Instead, the sea has dramatic white waves dotted with the sails of yachts and windsurfers.
However, things tend to be much calmer from June to September, when you’ll be shielded from Levante’s easterly winds and be able to wander around in search of a desolate place of your own.
5. Villa Noaye
Villa Noyer is a seminal work of modernist architecture, created in the 1920s by Robert Mallet-Stevens for wealthy art patrons Charles and Mary-Laure de Noyer Laure de Noailles).
The couple commissioned paintings and funded various projects, so many of the stars of the 20th century art world, such as Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso and Man Ray, have walked through these doors.
With its stark right angles and concrete walls, it caused some fuss when it was built.
This mansion is in a beautiful setting, close to the highest point in town, with great views.
Visit the Cubist Garden by Gabriel Guevrekian and take part in an exhibition or one of the many annual design events such as the July Fashion and Photography Festival.
6. Ancient Olbia
In the 4th century BC, Greek colonists from Phocaea established this ancient settlement near the top of Plage de l’Almanarre.
Olbia would become a trading and defensive outpost for the larger colony of Marseilles today.
You can study the archaeological site on your own or take a guided tour to learn about all the different civilizations that have taken root in this land.
Archaeologists here have made exciting discoveries about how the Phossians organized their towns, and you’ll see fortifications, dwellings, wells, religious shrines, and even sewage infrastructure.
The Gines Peninsula is the southernmost point of Provis, and the southern end is the same latitude as northern Corsica.
At the bottom, Jeans has pine-covered hills and is connected to the mainland by long, parallel spits flanked by large ponds and saltwater marshes.
These wetlands are important bird sanctuaries and resting points for many migratory species.
The beach on the west side is spectacular, we’ll talk about that later.
For hiking, there is a trail that wraps around the coast through deserted beaches, rocky outcrops and coves, and offers unforgettable views of islets scattered across the sea.
From the west side, you can see ferries and warships in the form of white dots on the massive Toulon embankment.
8. St. Bernard’s Park
In a town that made its fortune from palm plantations, it would be a shame not to visit the several magnificent gardens of Hyères.
On the slopes below Villa Noyer, St. Bernard Park, also by Robert Mallet-Stevens, has steep stairs leading you to stone terraces.
The plants are grown with fragrant Mediterranean varieties such as lavender, myrtle, and rosemary, as well as many exotic species, including acacia, begonia, and angel trumpet.
Come here in spring, when most of the gardens are in bloom, and linger over Hyères’ terracotta roofs and azure Mediterranean views.
9. Tour des Templiers
On Place Marsillon is a military-looking tower that once belonged to the headquarters of the Knights Templar.
So in its time there would have been a barn, cellar, mill and furnace, and this tower, which is the only surviving feature, dates back to the 1100s.
Inside are two chapels, located on different floors under the trapezoidal roof.
The tower was eventually bought by the town after the orders of the Knights Templar were suppressed.
Today, it’s a small venue for temporary art exhibitions, and you can climb the dark, narrow stairs for a unique view of the old town of Hyères and the coast.
10. Parc Olbius-Riquier
The land for this spacious park was bequeathed to the town in 1868 and was selected a few years later to help research and breed tropical species capable of growing on French soil.
The park thus became a branch of the Jardin d’Acclimatation in Paris, and the legacy of this period can be seen everywhere: with 2,000 species of trees and cacti from all over the world, even professional botanists would find it difficult to name the peculiar species here.
The park’s zoo of deer, goats, monkeys and parrots is also popular with children.
11. Plage de la Bergerie
The east coast of the Giens peninsula is a more populated area with few resort communities and campsites.
The facilities are slightly better than the Plage de l’Almanarre as there is more life on this side.
Therefore, Plage de la Bergerie may be a good choice for those who are on vacation with young people or who want to have fun on the water.
Like L’Almanarre, it’s long, winding four kilometers, but unlike its neighbors, it avoids the Mistral, which can be trouble to the east.
When you sit down, you will see Îles d’Hyères meet your eyes.
12. Water sports
Whether it’s jet skiing, wakeboarding, windsurfing, canoeing, kitesurfing or sailing, you’ll find it in Hyères.
If you’re experienced, spring and fall are an exciting time, but occasionally venture out in the waves as the northwesterly winds prevail at this time.
If you don’t like the odds, you can watch the race on land, as Hyères has participated in the ISAF Sailing World Cup circuit every year since its inception in 2008. The race is usually held on the last weekend of April and is just one of seven major sailing events and regattas held on these waters.
The dive center in Hyères is tenp a cent, and the competition is so fierce that it’s hard to know which company to choose.
So much so because Hyères has some of the best scuba diving in Europe, thanks to all the crazy things to see under the waves.
The Giens peninsula has underwater caves, while the waters around Port-Cros are in a natural park and rich in wildlife.
Add in the massive underwater drop, shipwreck, and you’ll find over 40 different stops to view.
Experienced divers will crave adventure, while novices won’t find more and better places in the world to take their first adventure.
14. Notre Dame of Consolation
There was a sublime sanctuary here until 1944, but the previous building was destroyed in the war.
Modern Alternatives, built in 1952, is notable for the participation of the avant-garde sculptor Jean Lambert-Rucki, a member of the Union des Artistes Modernes, with Robert Marley with Robert Mallet-Stevens.
Lambert-Rucki joined glass master Gabriel Loire, who made beautiful south windows that tell the story of Hyères.
As you might guess, there are also stunning views here, with information boards pointing out landmarks on the skyline.
15. Provence Coast
When you think of Provence rosé (except Pastis!), if there’s one drink that comes to mind, it’s rosé.
The good news is that around Hyères there are 17 domains to visit.
Two of them are even on the island of Porquerolles, so you can drop by Domaine Perzinsky to visit the vineyards and wineries and taste their products.
Most of these estates are boutiques run by the same family for generations.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Hyères, France
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