The beauty of Provence is not just limited to the mainland, the surrounding islands also provides visitors with stunning architecture and outdoor fun. One island in particular that I enjoy visiting is the Ile de Bendor. It’s located just off of the coast of the village of Bandol. In fact, you get a really great view of it from anywhere along the coast of the village, and it is accessible by ferry in just 7 short minutes.
Getting to the Ile de Bendor
To get to the ferry you must first go to the port of Bandol. There you will find a large sign above the ferry indicating Ile de Bendor. For 2017, the prices for tickets are here . The hours of departure and return are here, and are situated on the right hand side of the PDF.
You may visit the island all year around, 7 days a week, but it actually doesn’t “come alive” until summer time, namely July and August when tourist season is at its peak.
I always visit in early spring and although the restaurants, cafes, hotels and little shops are closed, I still thoroughly enjoy myself. The weather is spectacular and there is hardly anyone else on the island which means I am free to roam around and feel like I owned the place. Depending on when you come, or what you fancy, the island is a great place to escape to for the day.
The history of the Ile de Bendor
The first account of the Ile de Bendor that I could find was when it was invaded by the Saracens, a name given to Muslims during the medieval period in Europe. At an unknown time after this, it became the property of someone called Count Robert (there are many and I have not been able to pinpoint exactly who he was), who, by lighting fires on the shore, caused boats to be stranded, which he then plundered.
Over the course of the centuries, the island was many times owned, inhabited and abandoned. It was finally purchased in 1950 by Paul Ricard, famously known for the creation of the Ricard pastis in 1932, an anise and licorice flavored aperitif that every French person knows (and probably drinks) as well as world renown in this genre of alcohol. Mr. Ricard was also famous for his love of nature and the arts. He was not only an inventor, but also a developer and humanist and wanted to share his passions with the world. When Mr. Ricard purchased the island, it was deserted and uninhabitable. He set about turning it into a habitable paradise with little, multicolored houses where he could invite friends and family to enjoy the quietness, develop and share their artistic talents, and relax surrounded by the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean.
During the 1960’s this transformed, 7 hectare, island paradise, became host to a number of artists from all realms of the artistic world including Dali, Fernandel, and Josephine Baker. There was even a zoo on the island, but it was closed for good in 1974.
Today, the island is owned by Paul’s son Patrick.
Visiting the Ile de Bendor during fall, winter, and early spring
Personally, I’m a nature sort of girl and I enjoy visiting the island during low time. My main objective is hiking around the trails in peace and quiet and being able to take photos without too many people photo-bombing the gorgeous scenery! Unfortunately, during my favorite time to go, nothing is open. I do, however, get to relax in a magnificent place and freely walk the gardens, the periphery of the island, and photograph the quaint, Provence-style buildings.
The art garden is one of my favorite places to sit and relax. It houses numerous, fantastically made sculptures and beautifully trimmed and maintained plants. Additionally, there are many sculptures all around the island.
No matter where you go on the island, the views are spectacular!
This is the time of year to come for meditation, reading, photos, enjoying the warm, fresh air and having serenity for the day. If crowds and shopping are not your thing, then I’d recommend a tour of the island during off season.
Visiting the Ile de Bendor during July and August
With peak tourist season, the Provencal people and those owning second homes in Provence, rush to the island. This is the time of year when the tiny “village” near the port of the island comes alive. The tiny, colorful houses have become workshops for the artisans and it’s where they show off their skills and sell their items. You will see everything from glass blowers, to basket makers, to ceramists, to jewelry makers. The “village of the artisans” is a summer long shopping extravaganza. The island attracts a slew of artists due to its history during the time of Paul Ricard and what art and artists meant to him. It is also, simply put, due the incredible beauty that surrounds you when you are there. It is definitely an artist’s paradise.
During this high season you will find the one and only hotel on the island, called Delos, which also rents little villas and apartments, can fill up quite quickly. If you do want to stay on the island, then I would recommend booking very early in advance.
There are plenty of restaurants and little cafes, but they also become crowded during high season.
Bonus points for the island, even during the touristy months, there are no cars allowed! I love that rule.
Summer fun on the Ile de Bendor
In addition to the artisan village, the art garden and walking around the island for its stunning views, the summer months also afford the visitors a chance to go to three museums:
- The Art Gallery, which pays tribute to Paul Ricard who was also a talented painter
- The Ricard Museum of Advertising Objects, which houses a collection of items owned by Paul Ricard
- Last, but absolutely not least, the Museum of Wine and Spirits, which houses a collection of said drinks from all over the world.
Unfortunately, I have not been to any of these since they’ve always been closed during my trips to the island, so I cannot give any advice or suggestions about them. I have had numerous conversations with friends and acquaintances who’ve all had good things to say about each museum and have told me that I must go and visit them at least once in my life. I have ardently promised to do so and then I promise to tell you about them in a future post!
Besides the usually touristy stuff to do, the Ile de Bendor also offers up a nautical club, an international center for diving, tennis courts, pétanque, and two, beautiful, white sand beaches to hang out on. What more could you want?
All in all, it’s a wonderful way to spend the day off of the mainland of Provence, while still being in Provence!
As always, I would love to hear from you so please leave me a comment below! If you’ve been to the island, I would love to know what you liked most about your visit, especially if you’ve been to the museums!