The Hyéres Islands, or Golden Isles (Iles d'Or), are three islands off the coast of the Var department, east of Toulon. The name "golden" is said to have been bestowed on them during the Renaissance, because of the light reflected from the golden-brown mica shale.
The central of the three islands was called Mesè (Middle Island) by the Greeks. It's 4 by 2.5 km (2.5 by 1.5 miles), and is higher and wilder than Porquerolles. Port-Cros, which gets its name from the deep, hollowed-out shape (creux) of its harbor, is thickly forested, and the entire area is a National Park (Parc National de Port-Cros).
This island is a long, narrow rocky ridge, 8 by 1.2 km (5 miles by 1300 yds). Almost completely protected by steep cliffs around the shoreline, there are only two points of access: Avis inlet, on the north shore near the center, and Aiguade, at the western end where the ferry docks. The small village includes a post office, school, some shops, lodging and restaurants, but no bank.
Forts Ste-Agathe and Le Moulin were built on Porquerolles island in 1530. A hundred years later, Richelieu built the forts L'Eminence, L'Estissac and Port-Man on Port-Cros, and L'Alycastre, Le Grand-Langoustier and Le Petit-Langoustier on Porquerolles to resist the Spanish fleet. In the 19th century, seven additional forts were built. Napoleon built a fort on Levant Island in 1812.
The Ligurians lived on the islands, possibly a couple of centuries before the Greeks arrived. The Romans eventually replaced the Greeks as rulers of the islands, along with the rest of Provence. Under Roman rule, the islands attracted hermits, and in the 5th century, long after the Roman rule waned, the Monks of Lérins [see Lerins Islands] moved onto the islands.
Medieval: Pirates. From the 9th century on, the islands were attacked regularly by pirates. In the 16th century, King François I [Kings] raised Port-Cros and Levant islands to the status of the Marquisate des Isles d'Or, and the Marquis had the responsibility to keep protect the islands from pirates and to keep the islands under cultivation. In an effort to get the people necessary to work the islands, the Marquis first abolished taxes. That wasn't enough, so a right of asylum was established for criminals, as long as they remained on the island. That worked! Hordes of criminals arrived, and eventually turned to piracy themselves.
Transportation Hyères Islands
Our Travel-Sea page lists the passenger ferry schedules.
IGN (1/25,000) #3446 ET "Le Lavandou, Parc Nat. Port-Cros, Corniche Maures"
IGN (1/25,000) #3446 OT "Hyères, Porquerolles"
Didier Richard (1/50,000) #25 "Maures Haut-Pays Varois"