The Lérins Islands, located just outside of Cannes on the French Riveria, are a group of 4 separate islands, located close to each other.
Lérins islands pronounced [lɛz‿il də leʁɛ̃]) is a popular place for both tourists and locals, taking you away from the high pace of the large towns on the Riviera.
The two largest islands of the four are Île Sainte-Marguerite and Île Saint-Honorat, which unsurprisingly are the islands that attract the most visitors.
Apart from Île Sainte-Marguerite and Île Saint-Honorat, we have the other two, smaller islands, which bears the names Îlot Saint-Ferréol and Îlot de la Tradelière. Both of which are uninhabited.
All four Lérins islands belong to the commune of Cannes and are therefore managed by the Cannes municipality. The most common way to get to the Lérins islands is to take one of the many ferries that frequent the waters between Cannes and the Lérins islands.
During summer, the Lérins islands also attract many boat owners, as the only way to reach the islands is to travel by boat. If you visit during summer, the boats will be crowding the surrounding waters around the islands, and some might even have the Lérins islands as their destination for the day to enjoy a nice relaxed lunch. In fact, due to the close distance between Cannes, you’ll be able to see the boats crowding the waters around the Lérins islands from the mainland.The Lérins islands outside of Cannes are known to have been first inhabitants by the Romans during the Roman times, and a lot of history can be found on the Lérins Islands.
There have been many battles about the Lérins islands due to their strategic locations. In 1963, a battle was fought on the Lérins Islands as part of the Thirty Years’ War between the Spanish Catholic Monarchy and the Kingdom of France.
The war of the Lérins Islands was fought with great artillery and resources.
In fact, the war mobilized 39 ships, 11 galleys, 6 fire ships, 12 flutes, and much more.
In 1707 the Lérins islands were captivated and occupied by the English navy, under the command of Sir Cloudesley Shovell. But this occupation was not done because the English wanted a nice place to spend their vacation.
Instead, the occupation was done to block the military port of Toulon and to aid Victor Amadeus II Duke of Savoy and his cousin Eugene to invade the city on the French Riveria.
You might believe that the Lérins islands, with the two largest by the name of Île Sainte-Marguerite and the Île Saint-Honorat, have always had that name.
But that’s not the case.
In fact, During the French Revolution, Ile Sainte-Marguerite was named Ile Marat, and Île Saint-Honorat was named Île Lepeletier, given name after martyrs.
All the way from the eleventh to the fourteenth century, the Lérins islands were home to a monastery that was built between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries. However, in 1047 the islands were raided by Muslim Andalusia pirates, and now, the monks that live on the Île Saint-Honorat live in a monastery that was built during the nineteenth century, much more recently than the initial monastery.
The Islands of Lérins are estimated to get an average of 300 days of sun a year.
None of the islands allows cars or bike, nor are there any hotels located on the Lérins islands. However, tourists and visitors can explore the islands until 6 pm when the last ferry departs – unless you have your own boat, of course.
Île Saint-Honorat (Saint Honorat Island)
The saint Honorat island is the second largest island among the L’erins islands.
Saint Honorat is located to the south-east of La Croisette.
The name Saint Honorat comes from the founder of the monastery of Lérins, a man by the name of Saint Honoratus. The island was previously uninhabited until Saint Honoratus founded a monastery on the island around the year of 410, thus granting the island the name its name that it still bears today, over 1500 years later.
The monastery was built around the year of 410. The monastery of Saint Honorat was also the monastery where Saint Porcarius lived, as well as with the highest likelihood was killed during an invasion by Saracens.
What’s more, Saint Patrick, patron of Ireland, is also believed to have studied on Saint Honorat in the fifth century.
The saint Honorat island is located roughly a mile offshore from the French Riviera and the closest point, which is Cannes.
Saint Honorat is approximately 1.5 kilometers in length (Measured from East to West) and the island is also 400 meters wide.
For quite some time, since the fifth century, the island of Saint Honorat has been home to a community of monks, and today, the Saint-Honorat Island is a private island belonging to the monks of Lérins Abbey, yet one where tourists are allowed.
For most people, Cannes on the French Rivera is not the first place that comes to mind when you want to get out in nature and to somewhere calm. But what’s so amazing is that just 15 minutes away from the hectic and high-paced city of Cannes, the island St Honorat is located, that offers just that – and a lot more of what the outdoors has to offer.
With no bicycles or cars allowed, you have an amazing, unspoiled nature that surrounds you with a comfortable calm.
On St Honorat in Cannes, you can find plenty of beaches, making St Honorat the ultimate place for a day at the beach, if you want to get away from the large amount people who crowd the beaches along the Croisette.
And for the person who just wants to explore, St Honorat is an island that has a lot to explore.
What attracts most tourists is the vineyard where the monks grow their grapes to make wine.
On St Honorat, you can also go on wine tastings, where you get to taste the wine produced by the Cistercian monks, which are also the only inhabitants of St Honorat.
This is an island that has a world full of opportunities, and activities that suit everyone – no matter if you’re here on a family trip, or for a business seminar.
The island was under attack many times over the following centuries, and therefore, monastic life wasn’t as peaceful as you might think. For example, around 732, many of the monks, including the abbot Saint Porcarius, were massacred on the island by invaders.
But the ones that were massacred were the ones that didn’t have time to escape.
Because according to the legend, many of the monks successfully escaped since allegedly, Porcarius had been warned of the attack by an angel and had sent them to safety.
During the medieval times, the St Honorat island became immensely popular because of pilgrimage, which was encouraged by the writings of Raymond Feraud – the monk who compiled a book about saint Honoratus
The Spanish captured the island in 1635, and when that happened, the monks were expelled from St Honorat but returned from exile in Vallauris two years later when the island was retaken by the French.
In 1859, something interesting happened. In fact, the island was bought by the Bishop of Frejus, who aspired to re-establish a religious community on St Honorat. And ten years later, a Cistercian community was established, and the community has remained ever since.
You can circumnavigate the island in two to three hours, but during summer, it might not be a good idea in the gazing sun. Instead, you might want to take a stroll through the eight-acre vineyard and olive groves that the monks of the island administer.
Monuments of St Honorat
Due to its age, and being an island of monks, St Honorat has a lot of old and beautiful buildings you can admire.
In fact, Saint Honorat Island even has various listed Monument de France monuments.
The first monument of St Honorat that is worth visiting is the fortified monastery or Monastery Tower.
This tower was built over more than three centuries and in the three periods.
The tower is made up of numerous parts, including its cloisters and chapels.
In the 14th century, this fortress became the central tenet of monastic life, as shown by the transfer of the relics of St-Honorat to the Chapelle Ste Croix in 1391. In the following century, a first cloister was built around the same tower, then a second in 1477.
Thus, at the end of the 15th century, the monumental center of the abbey shifted to this Monastery Tower. From the 17th century, the upper floors were set aside for soldiers who came on the orders of the king to defend the coastline: a garrison hall, chambers and terraces with walkway used as a lookout.
Saint-Honorat Island has seven chapels the most well-known being the Chapelle de la Trinité at the Eastern tip of the island.
Something that attracts a lot of history-interested individuals is the fact that the island has two of the last remaining Napoleonic hotshot furnaces.
These were built in 1794, by orders from Napoleon Bonaparte himself.
The Napoleonic hotshot furnaces were used to warm up cannon balls to extremely high temperatures.
The furnaces have been listed as historic monuments since 1908, and they can be found at the Eastern and Western ends of the island.
You can visit plenty of monuments free of charge, and since 1941, it has five historic monuments, which are:
- the monastery tower
- the Chapelle Saint-Sauveur
- the Chapelle de la Trinité
- and, as mentioned, two Napoleonic hot shot furnaces
The monks of the island invited you to attend a mass, and Masses are usually held Monday to Saturday at 11.25 a.m. and Sunday at 9.50 a.m. Remember, however, that the times of the masses depends on different festivals and ceremonies. For an up-to-date list with specific time calendar, you can visit http://www.cannes-ilesdelerins.com/en/saint-honorat/horaires-des-messes/
St Honorat and its wine
The island St Honorat is probably most known for its production of wine.
And it’s not that surprising, considering the fact that there are not many places where monks produce wine
Today, the Cistercian brothers and brotherhood produce award-winning wines on the island, growing grapes on 8 hectares on the island, using ancient methods.
The grapes grown on the island are:
- Clairette (Saint Pierre)
- Chardonnay (Saint Césaire)
- Viognier (Saint Cyprien)
Moreover, Syrah (Saint-Honorat & Saint Sauveur), Mourvèdre (Saint-Lambert) and Pinot Noir (Saint Salonius) are also grown there.
The monks of the Lerins abbey carry out all stages of production, including manual harvest, wine-making, aging, maturation, bottling etc.
The island is very well controlled, with no bicycles, motorcycles, cars, etc. allowed, and out of respect for the environmental balance of the island, the community has opted for a sustainable approach when it comes to producing the wine.
The group of monks that take care of the wine production is 21 individuals, who all make up the community of the monastery of the Cistercian Congregation.
On the island St Honorat, wines have been produced since the middle ages, and the techniques have been carried on to generation after generation.
The monks of St Honorat don’t only produce wine, though.
In fact, from a top secret recipe, they also create liqueurs, one of which is produced using lemons from the town on the Riviera that is infamous for its lemons: Menton. The lemon liqueur which is produced on St Honorat is not named limoncello, as it is mainly called on the French Rivera, but is instead, jokingly named Lérincello.
If you want to purchase the wines of the St Honorat monks, you can order them at excellencedelerins.com
St Honorat, Cannes today
On St Honorat, you can enjoy an amazing lunch at the LA TONNELLE RESTAURANT.
The restaurant offers a gourmet break, both for family or business lunches.
La Tonnelle has both indoor and outdoor spaces, and if you decide to sit outside, you can enjoy your lunch together with an amazing scenery. The outdoor tables are located just opposite to the Bay of Cannes.
The restaurant is open every day (!), and on the menu, you can find lots of amazingly fresh Mediterranean cuisine, as you’d expect on an island like St Honorat. On the restaurant, you can also taste the wines produced by the monks of the Lerins abbey.
Today, more than a thousand years after its first inhabitants, the island retains a monastery, which is quite incredible. For the tourists of Cannes who want to explore more, as well as plenty of other tourists from the Rivera, St Honorat is a popular attraction.
It offers amazing nature and impeccable vineyards.
For the people who love history and architecture, St Honorat is an island that offers a lot of it. From old monasteries to beautiful towers.
If you’re a wine lover, you can get a tour of the vineyard, as well as attend a wine tasting
If you want to buy souvenirs before you leave, you can do so in the monastery shop that sells various monastic goods, for example, wine and honey, that has been produced on the island.
The island can be visited all year round by ferry, but if you have your own boat, you can, of course, visit it that way.
The island of Saint Marguerite is the largest among the Lérins islands, covering more than 160 hectares. It is also the island that is closest to Cannes mainland, located a mere 700 meters from Palm-Beach.
The name St Marguerite comes from a chapel located on the island which was built in honor of the martyr of Antioch during the first centuries of Christianity.
Something that the Saint Marguerite island is most known for is its fortress prison, in which the infamous man in the Iron Mask was held captive for a time during the 17th century.
From East to west, the island is approximately 3 kilometers, which translates to 1.9 miles. Across, the island, it is 900 meters, which translates to 3,000 feet.
St Marguerite’s history stretches far back to the Roman times when it was inhabited by the Romans. Back then, the island was known by the name Lero. But today, it is known by the name of St Marguerite, or in French Île Sainte-Marguerite, and most likely, the island was renamed in medieval times by crusaders, who are known to have built a chapel dedicated to Saint Margaret of Antioch.
Furthermore, in the 14th century, the island eventually became associated with ”fictional Sainte Marguerite, who was sister to Saint Honoratus”. And now that you know about the island St Honorat, you know that it is the neighboring island, located close to the island of St Marguerite. It is said that Sainte Marguerite led a community of nuns on the island, and therefore, the island was named St Marguerite because of her.
St Marguerite changed ownership in 1612, from previously being owned by the monks of Saint-Honorat to being owned by Claude de Lorraine who was the Duke of Chevreuse.
Following, a fort was begun being constructed on the island, which eventually became the Fort Royal, but in 1635, the island was captured by the Spanish (which also happened to St Honorat), but two years later, it was recaptured by the French two years later.
The isles of Lérins, including the largest St Marguerite and Saint Honorat, has been attacked many times over the course of history due to its strategic location.
Accordingly, at the end of the 17th century, the Fort Royal became a state prison – the prison in which the Man In The Iron Mask was held captivated during that century. Later, the prison also held other famous prisoners, such as Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza’iri Marquis Jouffroy d’Abbans, and Marshal Bazaine
During the 18th century, the island began developing into what you can see on the island today.
How do you get to the Lérins Islands?
As mentioned earlier, the most popular option is taking the ferry that departs every hour or half hour that depart from Cannes’ Quai Laubeuf, at the Cannes Vieux Port (The old port of Cannes), all year round.
If you want to travel to Île Saint-Honorat by ferry, you can take the monks’ ferry. The travel time is quite pleasant. In fact, the travel time is a mere 15 to 20 minutes, and when the weather is nice, the ride is very pleasant.
The boats start departing from 8 a.m every morning, and they leave the island every half hour.
The prices vary, but you’ll have to pay around 14 to 17 euros.