Staying in the Côte d’Azur? I recommend taking a day to explore îles de Lérins, a pair of islands a mere a stone’s throw from Cannes and Golfe-Juan. Set amidst the transparent waters of the Mediterranean, Sainte Marguerite and Saint Honorat are as beautiful as they are distinct, boasting an array of Mediterranean plant life in all its diversity.
Getting there ?
A ferry service is in operation all year round, departing from le Quai des Iles (at the end of Vieux Port de Cannes) and Golfe Juan (Port de Golf Juan) in Cannes. You can visit either island or both. Adult return ticket as of October 2022: €16
Sainte Marguerite: the natural fragrance of the South
Sainte Marguerite, the larger of the two islands is also the closest, just opposite the Bay of Cannes. It’s a haven of conservation for native Mediterranean species, including the beautiful sculpture-like tree called the umbrella pine. Other varieties of pine, such as the Aleppo, as well as countless eucalyptus trees fill the air with a fresh, tantalising fragrance.
First up, a tour of the island: a walk out in nature, along the botanical trail, the perfect way to explore the island and get lost in your thoughts.
- Then, a spot of lunch: choose between two restaurants, l’Escale and la Guérite, both of which have stellar reputations and are open throughout the season, right up until October. Both offer breathtaking sea views.
- Finally, explore the Fort Royal de l’Ile which, during the reign of Louis XIV, housed the Man in the Iron Mask, the mysterious prisoner later rumoured to be the Sun King’s twin. The discovery of an iron age settlement dating from the first century BC offers a glimpse into the long and fascinating history of the fort and of the island itself.
- A visit to le Musée de la Mer is a must. The museum’s collections contain major archaeological finds from underwater sites as well as a wide variety of aquatic plants.
An unforgettable experience for visitors of all ages.
Saint Honorat, a heavenly soul in a natural haven.
The island’s gem is its abbey, which dates from around 410 CE. Its local patron saint, Saint-Honoratus, was said to have struck a rock with his staff, thereby ridding the island of the snakes that plagued it and creating a fresh water source.
Subsequently this fortified abbey was destroyed before being rebuilt in a less militaristic style. Turn a corner and, amidst the vegetation, you will be met with the awe-inspiring and thought-provoking sight of its typically Italianate architecture.
- Entry to the ancient abbey, its fortified tower and the various chapels around the island is free of charge. A guided tour of the Saint Honorat winery is also highly recommended Saint Honorat.
- Indeed, there are more reasons to visit Saint Honorat than the magnificent plant life or the chance to encounter a pheasant on one of its trails. The island is also the site of vineyards and olive groves, tended by the 21 Cisterican monks who still live in the abbey. It’s a unique privilege to be able to taste and (take home) a bottle of their delicate olive oil or one of their reds, whites or rosés. The whole production process takes place on the island using sustainable techniques.
- Finally, the island offers stunning panoramic views of the Mediterranean coast with the option of stopping for lunch at the little local restaurant or at one of the natural picnic spots for rest and reflection.
Sainte Marguerite or Saint Honorat? It would be a shame to miss out on these natural treasures when staying in the Côte d’Azur. Both of these unspoiled islands offer an idyllic glimpse into the pre-urban Côte d’Azur of the past.
Looking to rent a villa or apartment as a base from which to explore the Côte d’Azur? Head to : Riviera Holiday Homes
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