Discover the Lérins Islands: Sainte-Marguerite and Saint-Honorat
It is a paradise on the French Riviera, just a few minutes by boat from the Bay of Cannes, a preserved paradise where the sound of cars and city bustle has given way to peace. Saint-Honorat Island and Sainte-Marguerite Island are two wild gems, two jewels that make every summer the happiness of the yachtsmen who anchor their yacht there for a day.
From its crystalline waters to its royal fort, Sainte-Marguerite is an unmissable stopover on the French Riviera. You can easily spend a day there to discover all its charms, but half a day can be enough for those who wish to enjoy both islands in one day.
Its crystalline waters
Sainte-Marguerite, the larger of the two islands, can be discovered in a few hours. Bordered by crystalline waters, this island, bordered by creeks of fine pebbles and flat rocks, is an exceptional bathing place on the French Riviera, very popular with summer visitors. In the south of the island, the beaches along the Maison Forestière are the most authentic and offer the most beautiful view of the Esterel, but they are victims of their success in the middle of summer. Further east, the Carbonel Creeks are more exclusive, and you can laze there without the crowds of summer visitors. Favour the months of June and September to discover the assets of this wild setting fully.
Its preserved biodiversity
Nature and biodiversity enthusiasts will enjoy strolling under the song of the cicadas along the 21 km of paths that the island has. Let yourself be carried away by the sweet scent of the 150 hectares of Aleppo pine and eucalyptus forest. Further to the west, the island is home to a reservoir of biodiversity with the ornithological reserve of the Etang du Batéguier pond. Allow two to three hours of your day to really enjoy these enchanting places.
Its history and legend
A true refuge, the island is a place of unspoilt nature and benefits from an exceptional heritage. Sainte-Marguerite was indeed the scene of historical events and maintained the mystery.
In a short time, you can visit the Fort Royal, this historical monument built by Richelieu before being reinforced by Vauban. It is here that the myth of the “man in the iron mask” originated. The mysterious prisoner stayed in a cell of the Fort Royal for 11 years. Legend has it that the prisoner was none other than King Louis XIV’s half-brother. Take advantage of the discovery of the Island to walk in the footsteps of the Iron Mask by visiting his cell.
A state prison and then a military prison, the Fort Royal has become a museum of the sea, where the collection of underwater archaeological finds rubs shoulders with the ramparts and the military past of the place.
The Fort is also home to the Méditerranoscope, the “Biodiversity Info Point”, which raises visitors’ awareness by revealing the secrets of preserving the Mediterranean marine flora and fauna. Remember to immortalise the moment as the Belvedere reveals a unique view of the Bay of Cannes and its Croisette.
A treasure hunt could then take you to the eastern and western ends of the island, where ball ovens designed by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1793 are hiding and will be a good alibi to add a few kilometres of a family stroll to this discovery of the island.
If you have half an hour left on this beautiful day, make a diversion to the fishing village next to the North-East pier of the island. You can then have a coffee at the restaurant l’Escale and set off on an expedition on the island’s wilderness trails.
For a gentle transition after an authentic day on the island, the festive beach of La Guérite, an institution since 1902, and its view of the Bay of Cannes offer a lively alternative to the wild beaches of the south of the island. You will appreciate the restaurant whose dishes by Greek chef Yiannis Kioroglou take travellers’ taste buds on a journey.
Throughout your visit to the island, change of scenery and disconnection will be the keywords. Sainte-Marguerite has belonged to the monks for 1000 years, and it is this historical and spiritual link that makes her inseparable from her little sister, Saint-Honorat.
If your yacht is anchored in the “Middle Plateau”, you will be able to enjoy the pleasure of discovering both islands easily. Saint-Honorat benefits from particular fame on the French Riviera as it is both a vineyard and religious land.
Its prestigious vineyard
Here, the scents of maritime pines and umbrella pines will mingle with the sublime spectacle offered by the Abbey of the monks of Saint-Honorat and their precious vineyard.
The monks have been perpetuating their monastic life since the Middle Ages and cultivate an exceptional wine, produced in 35,000 bottles, on 8 hectares of vineyards. All stages, from pruning to harvest, are carried out by hand and make the wines of the Abbey of Lérins both exclusive and precious. Only the privileged, including the guests of the Elysée Palace, can taste this divine beverage.
A visit and tasting on the Abbaye de Lérins estate is a must if you wish to leave the island with an authentic and imperishable memory.
After this visit, head for the north coast of Saint-Honorat, where you can have lunch in the Provencal setting of La Tonnelle, to the sound of cicadas and in the shade of olive trees, facing the sea. Here you can enjoy Mediterranean cuisine and the advice of the local sommelier, who will undoubtedly recommend one of Abbey’s vintages.
Its religious heritage
Between oenological discovery and spiritual journey, there is only one step, and your exploration of the island will lead you to places full of history and mystical atmosphere. Starting with the Abbey of Lérins itself. Listed as a historical monument, this site is the residence of the monks who populate the island. To the south of the Abbey, in just a few minutes you can reach the Fortress and its endless view of the Mediterranean Sea.
Then set off to conquer the heritage sites of Saint-Honorat: its fortress and then its 7 chapels, including the remarkable Chapelle de la Trinité, at the eastern tip of the island, which is one of the oldest Christian buildings in France and is worth a stroll in the heart of the pine forest. To complete the spiritual experience, you can try the uncomfortable but no less transformative experience of an overnight stay in Abbey’s hostelry, which every year welcomes people in search of fulfilment or rejuvenation.
Finally, like its big sister Sainte-Marguerite, the island of Saint-Honorat is a treasure hunt, marked by the presence at the east and west ends of two ovens to redden the cannonballs requested by Bonaparte.
Its paradisiac waters
Saint-Honorat is also surrounded by small creeks that reveal turquoise and crystalline waters, a welcome refuge in the heart of an intense day of spiritual quest. The paradisiacal waters of the Lérins islands are an ideal paddle or snorkelling spot. Take advantage of an outing with the water-toys of your yacht to discover the exceptional biodiversity along the coasts of the two islands. Fish, starfish, sea urchins and other colourful marine species will be part of your Mediterranean outing.
The Lérins Islands reveal their mystical beauty even better from the air. A helicopter flight will provide you with a spectacular view that you will remember for a long time. Your day exploring the Lérins Islands will allow you to create authentic, moving memories. You will leave with a touch of nostalgia but full of “sacred” emotions.