Exotic Birds of the French Riviera


Birds can be pink (think flamingoes by Hyères or ), obnoxious (think seagulls) or lovely on the Côte d'Azur. In La Londe Les Maures, they're outright exotic.

The ornithological and botanical garden in La Londe (Jardin d'Oiseaux Tropicaux) doesn't look like much from the entrance. Step in and you'll find hundreds of colorful birds from Africa, South America, Australia, Papua New Guinea.

The most striking may be the hornbills with their enormous beaks worn like bright yellow hammers and casque on the upper mandible.



Also at the park you'll find yellow, blue or pink parrots, red and blue para keets. 

The park is definitely worth a visit after a morning at the beach or strolling around Le Lavandou, Bormes or Hyères. Plus right next door you'll find one of La Londe Les Maures' oldest winery, the Chateau Maravenne, winery estate. It opens for visits Monday to Saturday 8h00 to 12h00 and 14h00 to 19h00, Sunday: 9h00 to 12h00; during Winter, Monday to Saturday until 18h00.

Jardin D'Oiseaix Tropicaux Opening Hours:

June 1 to September 30: 9AM to 7PM.
October 1 to October 31 & February 1 to May 31: 2PM to 6PM
November 1 to January 31: 2PM to 5PM

Web site:

Jardin d'Oiseaux Tropicaux.

Jardin d'Oiseaux Tropicaux
Route de Valcros. 83250 La Londe Les Maures
Phone: 04 94 35 02 15

Interested in half-day hikes close to La Londe, Hyères but also St Tropez, Fréjus and Agay?
Check out our highly-acclaimed hiking guide below on Amazon.co.uk (and Amazon.fr, Amazon.de, Amazon.jp, Amazon.com too!)

Carla's Cap Negre

Cap Negre, from LeLavandou.eu If you're vacationing near Le Lavandou or Cavalière this August, you might find yourself snorkeling next to French President Nicolas Sarkozy. 

Sarkozy will soon head for the Western French Riviera for a 3-week vacation in Carla's Bruni-Tedeschi family residence on Cap Nègre.Cap Negre, from LeLavandou.eu

Fort Bregançon may be the traditional summer residence of French Presidents (see our post on this here), but the Sarkozy couple prefers a more cheerful and warm family spot.

After a dizzy spell that had him hospitalized last weekend (nothing serious), the prez is on strict orders to rest. Easier said that done for a man whose personal buzz and energy could replace our need for fossil fuels.

What to do in and around Cap Nègre?

PlageDeCavaliere, from LeLavandou.euThe area around Le Lavandou, Cavalière, Cap Nègre, sports a string of fine sandy beaches: the Plage du Layet by the calanques of the same name, the fairly narrow but long sandy Plage de Cavalière, Plage de Cap Nègre before the rocky cape. Stroll around and pick your favorite.

Interested in half-day hikes around the nearby Maures Mountains, St Tropez, Hyères and all over the Western Côte d'Azur?

Check out our English-language hiking guide here. It's available on Amazon.com (and Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.fr, Amazon.de too!). We detail 26 of the most spectacular hikes in the region, with each hike lasting no more than half a day.

The Riviera Times: August Hiking

AzurAlive: Hyeres Giens Peninsula Coming home last week from a short break away from the Côte d'Azur, I found The Riviera Times newspaper waiting for me at the door step.

As usual, it was short on gossip and generous on tips for urban and outdoors activities for the French Côte d'Azur, Monaco and Liguria.

And as usual, the paper ran my regular monthly hiking column. Since I can't seem to get my paws off our network of Grande Randonnées (GR), Petite Randonnées (PR), Promenades de Pays and various local trails, writing about hidden Côte d'Azur treks seems natural enough.

AzurAlive: Giens Peninsula ArticleFor the August edition of the Riviera Times' hiking column, I picked a wild coastal area that isn't all that often visited. It's the Giens Peninsula and it's a dream to those of us who long for a slice of raw nature.

It's off the coast of Hyères on the Western side of the French Côte d'Azur. It's wind-swept, rugged, unkind to flip-flops and to high heels.

It runs over moody terrain that climbs until your buttocks burn then strolls by soft sea-side views. And it faces the Golden Islands of Hyères.

Some 18,000 years ago, when the Mediterranean Sea was 125 meters below its current level, you could have walked from the Giens Peninsula to the Golden Islands. Today, you can hike around the western tip of the Giens peninsula and discover cliffs that plunge precipitously into the sea, a trickle of small spiny islands and rocks that appear hand-painted as they display their geologic torments through layers and folds.

To the walker who isn't afraid to get those legs moving, this hike is one of the most rewarding short hikes this side of the French Riviera.

You begin the hike just west of the port de la Madrague and make your way along the coastal path to the Darboussières beach for a 6.5 km (4 miles) round-trip hike. You can sort of see the map from the article above. If not, drop us a line or check out our hiking guide to the western French Riviera on Amazon.

And if you decide to stay on the Giens Peninsula, consider the Hotel Lido Beach. We're not affiliated with them in any way, just fans. It has a private beach with a view over the Golden Islands or Iles d'Or (islands of Porquerolles, Port-Cros, Le Levant -- see our articles on these islands under the "By Hyères" category). Best of all, it's reasonably priced given the location.

Happy trails!

Beach by Hyères: L'Almanarre


The Plage de l'Almanarre Beach, on the western neck of the Giens Peninsula by the town of Hyères, is a hot bed of windsurfing and kite-surfing. The beach is long, sandy and wild. Behind it, pink flamingoes stroll in the Etangs de Pesquiers. It's also exposed to side and onshore winds and with a sea bed that drops fast. This draws wind players to l'Almanarre.

If you do not like to play with the wind, l'Almanarre is still a fun visit where sportsy locals come to sail, jog or just hike along its flat boardwalk-like sandy path. For pure immobile beaching, the more protected beaches on the eastern side of the peninsula might be a better choice.

Today, the Grand Prix de l'Almanarre 2007 windsurfing competition took place at l'Almanarre. Junior sailors (between ten and fourteen years old slalomed around the race buoys in light winds. The race continues this weekend. See http://hwo.free.fr


On the next beach further south, going up on the Route du Sel road up the Giens Peninsula, you'll find the Plage de La Madrague. We bumped in to the yearly Ventilo Show. During this show, new windsurfing boards, sails and kayaks can be borrowed and sailed right off the beach. See: www.ventilo-show.com

If you're in the area, swing by the Etangs de Pesquiers and see if you can spot a string of ping flamingoes noodling necks in the brown waters of the old salt pans, looking for algae and little fish.

The ruins of the Hyères Castle

When I asked a man by the Place St Paul in Hyères for the most shaded path up to the castle, he looked inquisitive. Walk under the olive trees, he said. but you know, it's nothing special. The views are spectacular, yes, he continued, but the old castle is just ruins.

From the Place St Paul up the winding road, by old homes that bulge over the street, by the silver coins of olive trees, I reach the castle. It dominates the city with layers of thick stone walls that circle the hill of Castéou. First built in the eleventh century by the Lords of Fos, the castle was enhanced and expanded through the years until demolished in 1620 by order of King Louis XIII.

At the highest point, two viewing tables in painted ceramic (designed by Patrick Conzett) describe the sites from the Maures to the north to the sea, to the Giens Peninsula, the Hyères islands, the Fenouillet mountain, the limestone hills by Cuers. From the top of Castéou, there are no plush villas, no grand hotels, no exotic gardens or swaying palm trees. The city of Hyères breathes below the old stones all the way to the sea. It's worth the half hour climb from downtown to see the ruins anew.

The Provencal Cane


It weaves into baskets, knits into fish traps, turns into fishing rods that bend like bows under the weight of flapping fish. It stands around the perimeter of fields of cereals and protects cultivations from salt-laden winds. It turns into sheds, pan pipes, flutes, salt and pepper shakers and, since ancient times, into calligraphic plumes or "calame".

What is it? It's a weed.

The "Canne de Provence" (Arundo donax ), also called Giant Grass, wild cane or giant cane, grows comfortably in its favorite spots in the Var department of South Eastern France: by the marshlands of Villepey, on the St Tropez peninsula, around Hyères. There, it finds the conditions it loves best: a well-drained soil with water close by and plenty of sunshine. 

For centuries, folks have molded the tall grass into beautiful and useful artifacts. Today, small slivers of the local giant cane, delicately carved out of the best, hand-selected most-suitable canes, win international acclaim.

These precious slivers are reeds used by woodwind instruments such as saxophones and clarinets, and double reed wind instruments such as bassoons and oboes.



When placed in the mouthpiece of saxophones and clarinets, they  vibrate with the musician's blow and let out musical notes. To many wind instrument musicians, reeds are fundamental. They shape the timber or color of the musical notes produced. 

So how are reeds made?


In the Var, the best Arundo donax canes are harvested when they reach about 2 years of age. They are culled by hand, de-husked typically using a small machine, laid out to dry in the sun in conical arrangements like tipis or stretched out above fields where air circulates under them. They are then cured in dry and aerated sheds where they regain their golden shine. While a number of local Var growers manufacture their own reeds, many harvest, dry and cut the carefully-inspected canes into tubes for processing by international reed manufacturers such as Rico and others.


Why the Var reeds?

To the poet, the Var reed owes its vibrating talents to the teachings of the local Mistral wind. The regional wind, they say, shapes the Arundo donax from its time as a tender green sprouting grass and guides it to vibrate just right.

To others, the mystery of the perfect reed source lies not only with the local winds that bear on the tightness and flexibility of the cane's fibers, but with the specifics of the soil, the climate, the surrounding hills, the water, the manual care taken in its harvest.

A reed, as it turns out, is much like a fine wine.

An Annual Reed Celebration

The reed doesn't miss a beat and celebrates its own festival each year in May in Hyères at the "Festival de l'Anche". At the festival's Golden Reed competition (“Anche d’Or”), musicians blow their instruments and show their passion for music and a reverence for the little slice of an exceptional weed that vibrates behind the melody. 

Check it out this year's (2007) Festival de l'Anche in Hyères on May 25, 26 and 27.

For more tips on what to do while in Hyères, check out our postings on the Salins de Pesquiers and on the Golden Islands of Hyères.

Escape to Port-Cros


At Port-Cros' only port, behind the rocky ile de Bagaud, the ferry boat drops off a handful of visitors, all strapped with backpacks and hiking boots. Under the shade of palm trees, a couple of restaurants line up to face the little port's three floating decks. It's March. Not a restaurant is open.

Smaller, hillier and more rugged than its big sister Porquerolles, the Ile d'Or island of Port-Cros in the Var draws to its shores those who long for a slice of raw nature. You come here to escape, to live marooned like a Robinson Crusoe, pick sea shells, crack coconuts and sip flower dew.

OK, so Port-Cros makes us dream...

You can't pick sea shells on Port-Cros.  As of 1963, all of its 700 hectares of land (2.7 square miles) and 1600 hectares (6.8 square miles) of surrounding sea environment are protected. The island is a National Park.  No motorized vehicles, no bikes, no dogs running freely, no smoking, no fires, no camping, no picking plants, no fishing with some restrictions for the island's one professional fisherman who helps supply locals with seafood.

We all carry back-packs, and I stuffed mine with more baguettes, goat cheese and water than we could ever need. 

Beforeplagepalud2So much for roughing it.

We head for our picnic destination: the Plage de la Palud on the northern side of the island. We walk by lush bushes of rock samphire (Crithmum maritimum), silvery shrubs of Jupiter's Beards (Anthyllis barba-jovis), bright tender green Mediterranean Spurge (Euphorbe characias). We hike above cliffs of brown schists that drop into the sea.  As the paths curb, the cliffs yield a few sheltered coves and the island's main beaches: Plage du Sud, Plage de Port Cros, Plage de la Palud, Plage de Port-Man. 

Crosdowntopalud We make a gorgeous descent to Plage de la Palud. On the beach, we see no one. Where is my man Friday?

In the summer time, we can trade hiking shoes for fins and dive with mask and tuba (no need for full scuba gear) in the shallow waters between the island of Rascas and the beach of la Palud along an underwater marked trail.  The Park Office at the port sells plastic aqua guides to take along on dives.

As much as we love the now secluded beach, there is only one boat off the island this time of year, at 3:45PM.

We head inland to the heart of the island, through forests of green oaks that cover the humid and mysterious inside Vallon Noir, back by the forts of l'Estissac, to the towering Fort du Moulin above the port. 

The same crew of a half-dozen hikers awaits ship, quietly sitting by the pier, backpacks by their sides,  heads still in the salty clouds.


It's on the southern eastern side that the island runs wildest: under towering cliffs, sea and wind wrestle in a fury of crushing waves, of sea froth and of wind whips.

For now, our boat awaits at the pier. When our heads buzz at night with the screeches  of cars and the shuffle of hurried heels on pavements, we will return, looking for a day with no other sound than those of the wild.

Getting there:
Catch a ferry boat from Port d'Hyeres - the ride lasts 1 hour and runs year-round, with fewer trips outside of the busy summer season.  During the busier summer season, many other ports of the Var serve the Iles d'Or: Toulon, La Londe Les Maures, Le Lavandou, Cavalaire, St Tropez, St Raphael.

A Day In: Les Salins des Pesquiers

SouthsidepesquiersBetween the two arms of sand that form the Giens Peninsula tombolo by the city of Hyeres, as many of 600 pink flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) stroll across the shallow waters of the Pesquiers wetlands. Groups of them poke their heads under water, their long necks dangling like noodles over the pond. The birds stamp the mud with their webbed feet and stir the thick brown soupy waters.  With their bills, they filter the water to feed on seeds, larvae, algae and little fish.  Behind the flamingos, above a drape of low-lying reeds, a tiny Zitting Cisticola bird (Cisticola juncidis) tweets.

On a guided visit of the Salt Marshes of Pesquiers, you might well observe pink flamingos, but also black-winged stilts, couples of red-billed common shelducks, grey herons, egrets or any of the 200 different species of birds that have been spotted here.

Note that to keep the site as wild and undisturbed as possible, only guided visits are allowed at the Salins des Pesquiers.  The LPO (the League pour la Protection des Oiseaux) organizes regular bird-watching tours. Contact them at Tél. : 04 94 57 01 98