Île de Riou is an uninhabited and protected island to the south of Marseille. About 2 km in length and 500 metres wide, it’s the main hub of the Riou archipelago and is part of the Calanques National Park, providing a natural habitat for an array of plants and animals.

    Riou Island is also known as “the island of birds”. Its steep cliffs provide a fantastic habitat for seabirds, including some protected species. In fact, some of the birds you might encounter only ever breed on this and a couple of nearby islands. Aside from the wildlife, the views, beaches and amazing scuba diving sites also make this an exceptional spot to visit.

    What are the highlights of Île de Riou?

    Île de Riou is surrounded by vibrantly blue, crystal-clear waters, making it especially good for diving and swimming. There are many little coves to discover along the north coast. You can find boat trips that will take you and a small group out to explore some of them, allowing you to relax on the beach and generally feel like you’ve got a little slice of paradise all to yourself. The Anse de Monasterio is among the best such spots, but there are others.

    The south shore of the island is mostly made up of sheer white limestone cliffs, which are a paradise for seabirds. Among the species that you’ll see flying from here are Cory’s shearwater, the Mediterranean shearwater and the European storm petrel, all of which are protected. This is also the only breeding site for the European shag cormorant in France. It’s not only birds to see, either – there are ocellated lizards, common wall lizards as well as 320 plant species, 18 of which are protected. You might have the chance to see some of them by walking the 2 hiking trails around the island.

    There are more than 40 diving sites around the island, including wrecks and caves. The wreck of Le Chaouen, a Moroccan cargo ship that sank in February 1970, comes with the added bonus of a World War II-era German fighter plane wreck just 30 metres away. Much further afield are the remains of the P-38 Lightning fighter plane flown by famous poet Antoine de St Exupéry. He disappeared in July 1944 while on a reconnaissance mission and his aircraft was only rediscovered near Riou Island in May 2000. Between parts recovered and placed in museums and damage from fishing boats, there’s little left of the wreck, so this is not a particularly popular dive site.

    The star dive sites around Riou Island are The Imperials or The Pharillons, which have stunning drop-offs and rock arches respectively. They’re considered among the best sites around Marseille and even the whole of France and are best explored between June and October.

    Good to know about Île de Riou

    As it is such an important natural habitat, access to Riou Island is somewhat limited. For starters, the main island is the only one in the archipelago that you can land on, though you can admire the others from a boat.

    In summer, there are regular boat trips to the island from Marseille’s Old Port, Cassis and La Ciotat, but these generally only stop for a short time in one of the bays as part of a busy itinerary that also takes in the mainland coastline of the Calanques. If you want to focus more on just Île de Riou, you will need to find an appropriate tour or maybe even charter a boat. In theory, you can kayak to the island. Even so, it’s over 3.2 km south of the mainland, making this a journey best left to those with plenty of experience and upper body strength.

    Île de Riou near Marseille

    Ben Reeves | Traveler Kompulsif

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