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10 Secret islands of the Côte d'Azur



Location: Off Sardinia, blessedly far from the Riviera rush


While mere mortals celebrity spot at Plage Pampelonne, the discreet elite drop anchor at these Côte d’Azur island gems. In truth, the French have been actively dissuading the hoi polloi from descending upon their lesser-known isles for centuries. Several were military forts, where retired captains could sip pastis in peace. Others were placed under national park protection, with the proviso that those wealthy enough could moor alongside at night. Only four of these island jewels can be reached by public ferry, and even then the service is patchy at best. The rest require a seaborne assault by yacht – or chopper. Cars are banned on all. But don’t think a boastful Champagne selfie will win you any friends. Carrying anything as unseemly as an iPhone on Cavallo Island will see you relegated to the Prosecco league.

1. Cavallo
Hideaway Rating: ****

The Romans chose Cavallo as a penal colony. It’s remote, has minimal harbour facilities and is nigh impossible to find on a map: the perfect conditions for today’s A-list habitués. The secret spilled out in the 1970s when Catherine Deneuve and Petula Clark would beach up by speedboat. Roberto Cavalli is part owner of the tiny marina that opened on the private island’s southern tip a decade or so ago. He and his beloved dog Lupo regularly stroll the silken sands, greeting guests such as Paris Hilton and Alicia Keys. Island transport is by mountain bike, Mustique-style “mule” (otherwise known as a golf buggy) or on one of the horses kept by discreet island hotel Les Pêcheurs. The hotel can also provide passing yachts with anything from a sushi platter to a full-blown beach party catered by a private chef. Intrigued? Sailors can take a leisurely cruise across from Corsica. Alternatively, Les Pêcheurs can organise a €500 four-person chopper from Arzachena airstrip near Porto Cervo.

Picture courtesy of Age Fotostock

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Île Degaby

Location: So close to the Marseille 
mainland that you can semaphore for more ice


Hideaway Rating: ****

Drop the private island of Degaby into conversation to send fellow yachters scrambling for their maps. Louis XIV turned this sea-ringed speck into an island fortress in 1703. Its modern history began in the 1960s, when businessman Monsieur Boursier tried to create an island nightclub linked by a 200 metre funicular to the mainland. After decades of abandonment, hip Marseille hotel C2 has created France’s most under-the-counter beach club. Day guests can pull up by kayak or RIB for Mimosas or French 75s.

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Île d’Or

Location: Within paddleboarding distance
 of Port du Poussai, near St Raphael


Hideaway Rating: *****

The smallest of our secret islands, Île d’Or was named for its tiny castle that glows gold in the setting sun. In 1897, architect Léon Sergent purchased it from the French government for the princely sum of 280 Francs. That’s about €36. Or less than the price of a sunlounger at Club 55, an hour’s sail down the coast. Alas, Sergent gambled the island away during a round of high-stakes cards with Doctor Auguste Lutaud. The doctor had delusions of grandeur (and who wouldn’t, with their very own island surrounded by coastal drop-offs and stocks of giant grouper and striped bass). He declared himself king of the island, built a mock Saracen castle and hosted wild parties under the pseudonym Auguste 1st. The true story inspired the tale of Tintin and the Black Island. Today, landing by boat on Île d’Or is forbidden, but kayaking the 500 metres from the mainland’s Estérel county park is warmly encouraged.

Picture courtesy of Alamy.com

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