Area: 9 km2
Location: Southeast of France, Var department
Number of inhabitants:
Yearly: 92 civilians and up to 250 servicemen
Number of visitors:
Tourists: ~1,200 to 1,500 per day in summer
Protected island: yes
Terrestrial protection status: Port-Cros National Park area of adhesion
Marine protection status: Port-Cros National Park adjacent maritime area
The Levant Island is part of the Iles d’Or archipelago with Port-Cros and Porquerolles. The island is 90% occupied by the military. The remaining 10% are private, and correspond to the village of Héliopolis (condominium) and the arbutus reserve.
As the island is less frequented than its neighbors, many birds come to nest in its cliffs and in the forest areas. We find in particular shearwaters and cormorants.
The civil part of the island is quite steep, with the arbutus reserve at 138m as the highest point. There are about 100 m of height difference between the port and the village square. The island has a few coves with sandy beaches but is mostly bordered by rocks.
The Durville brothers founded the village of Héliopolis in 1931 according to the principles of naturism in vogue at the time. The village is a private estate managed by the Association Syndicale Libre du Domaine Naturiste d’Héliopolis.
Some remarkable houses, Fort Napoleon and the chapel have been listed by the Region as the 20th century built cultural heritage of the PACA region. Visits are organized on the occasion of European Heritage Days.
In the mid-19th century, the state authorized the establishment of a penal colony for “young prisoners acquitted […] but not handed over to their parents”, based in Port Avis, in the center of the island. The residents there are required to have a severe education, basic living conditions and compulsory work, particularly of an agricultural nature. Less than twenty years after its opening, the colony is closed. Indeed, after several escape attempts of detainees and a bloody revolt controlled by the army, this penal colony shows the sad toll of 89 deaths out of around a thousand residents.
Most economic activities are linked to tourism (hotels, restaurants, room rentals, canoe rentals, small businesses).
Officially, in addition to hotel residences, the island is home to a fisherman, a postman, a municipal policeman, a mason, a plumber and electrician, a baker in the summer and a few other activities which are additional income (seasonal rental).
The Levant is only home to small fauna. There are bats (notched-eared murines and Schreibers miniopters), small reptiles (Sardinian discoglosses, European phylodactyls, Montpellier snakes and a few Hermann’s turtles).
Due to the low human presence, especially on the military part, the Levant is a refuge for birds: many shearwaters and peregrine falcons nest in the cliffs, the island is home to the only nesting place of Crested Cormorants in the National Park.
The flora of the island is made up of pine and oak forests and scrubland. We also find euphorbias in coastal areas and as short vegetation, we find several species of heritage interest such as flax-leaved broom, romulea, yellow orcanettes, tiny bedstraws, etc.
Around the island, groups of cetaceans have been observed, including bottlenose dolphins, blue and white dolphins and a few sperm whales.
The village of Heliopolis, due to its insularity, its small number of permanent inhabitants and its geographic distance from the town of Hyères, faces several challenges.
The first one is waste management. Waste sorting is gradually being implemented: since July 2017, residents have been sorting glass, plastic, paper and fine cardboard. The waste is compacted, put in skips and then evacuated by boat through the military port. A project is underway to acquire a shredder for green waste.
Each home has an individual septic tank system for sanitation. However, with the cost of sludge disposal being very high, residents do not empty as often as recommended. Measures are underway to monitor the condition of the septic tanks and gradually improve the quality of sanitation under the Bay Contract.
The village also has a landscape heritage to preserve and enhance: its gardens. The houses, on the hillside, all have terraced gardens. Each year, a visit to part of these gardens is organized during the garden festival. A project to develop the Aygade valley into Mediterranean gardens open to the public is underway, as part of the ISOS project, under the leadership of the Port Cros National Park.