Saturday, April 30, 2016

Hyères-Sailing, Salt flats, and Island Hikes

After two days of training, we handed Pete off to the coach and Camille and I set out to see what else Hyères had to offer.  The answer....a lot!  

We enjoyed a wonderful Sunday afternoon in a centre ville that was clean and devoid of any souvenirs, soap shops, lavender merchants.  Then, with help from a sweet lady and yet another public transportation system, we made it to the Route de Sel.  This system of salt flats was a major producer of salt in France from the 1100s until the 1970s when the more commercialized Camargue salt took over.  Today, the flats have been turned into a bird sanctuary full of flocks of flamingos!(I did not see that coming in France!) One side of the sandy road is the sanctuary, the other a sandy beach facing west on the peninsula with a beach bar and windsurfers.  We joined local families out for a stroll or a bike ride on this 5 mile stretch then took the 2 mile sidewalk back to the Port in time to hear about Pete's day on the water.

Camille had been intrigued by the barrier islands around Hyères, La Lavande, Port Cros, and Porquerolle.  With minimum internet connection and some scouting around the harbor, we figured out that Port Cros has been made a National Park, the ferry goes there once a day and returns in the afternoon, less than 100 people live on the island.  So on Monday, we sent Pete to the yacht club and hopped the ferry along with vacationers and their groceries headed to beach homes on La Lavande and shopkeepers headed to work on Port Cros.  The ferry was a much more local experience than I expected.  One guy got on with 5 baguettes and a dog.

Camille and I walked through town to the tourist office to get a trail map and actually beat the lady to work- she had been on the ferry with us.  She sold us a map and then pulled out a topographical model to show us that the four hour hike we were choosing was a cliff hike with a challenging uphill at the beginning. So we were prepared for the monte up the center of the island.  It paid off with more breathtaking views- we saw less than 10 other people, and two snakes, on the entire hike.

Just before returning to the village, we stopped at a small beach with water so clear and cold you could hardly believe it.  In the summer, there is a snorkeling "nature trail" underwater.

Back in the village waiting for the ferry, we watched the few villagers get ready for summer.  Sidewalks are being repaired, fresh paint, unpacking shipments from the ferry.  One little boy rode his bike from one end of the village to the other, back and forth along the hard packed clay for over an hour.  A group of hikers played boule next to the water.  And at 5:30, we all got on the ferry to head back to the mainland.  The little bike rider and his bike were with us and he cried to be leaving his family that stayed on the island.  The few hikers that were staying the night had to check in at the dock so that the captain had everyone accounted for and as we pulled out, Camille and I counted less than 20 people staying for the night.

I am sure both the Route de Sel and Port Cros become more congested in the summer months but we are thankful for our time here, sharing both the amazing international sailing and the simple local places.

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