The Isle of Saint Honorat off the coast of Cannes
This tiny island is so close to Cannes and the Cote d’Azur and yet it’s another world away…
Just in time to catch the 11.00am sailing from the Old Port of Cannes, I take a short but picturesque boat ride across the Bay of Cannes to the Islands of Lerins. The larger of the two islands is Ste. Margeurite where the ‘Man in the Iron Mask’ was said to be imprisoned in the fort that still stands. Its smaller neighbour is St. Honorat, and the boat docks in the narrow channel between the islands where a fleet of small craft idle in the crystal blue shallows. As I set foot on the cushion of pine needles onshore, I am greeted by a chorus of cicadas chirping in the canopy overhead.
St. Honorat is a mere 1.5km x 4km and currently home to twenty-one Cistercian monks of the ‘Abbaye de Lerins’, who live and work in silent prayer and have been cultivating their vines and skill since the middle ages. I venture along a shaded path and discover an ancient chapel – la Chapelle de St. Pierre – and in the hush of the dimly-lit room with simple stone altar below a crucifix, I admire an exhibit portraying the daily life of the monks.
I stroll past giant cacti and rock pools along the shore where visitors enjoy a refreshing swim. To one side lie the vineyards, stretching the length and breadth of the island, and to the other the sea. It is an oasis of calm, and as the midday sun beats down on the vivid bougainvillea and church bells peel, I arrive at the Abbey, its cobbled entrance beckoning. The cloister, draped in cascading plant life with old stone baths in the gardens opposite, leads me through a series of arches heralding the service to God and a calling to the Light. Inside, the Abbey is bare without frescos, stained glass windows or adornment, its plain wooden pews offering a cool and humble place of prayer. I sit in contemplation for a while savouring the cool. A tall, lone Monk walks by.
Next to the Abbey is a boutique selling ‘les Products Monestiques’ – honey, soaps and most significantly wines, which are produced by the monks on an eight-hectare vineyard consisting of five micro-terroirs planted with red and white grape varieties. The grapes, the terroir and the climate magically blend together and the grapes are painstakingly harvested by hand, producing high quality wines (around 35,000 bottles a year), as well as liqueurs like ‘Lerincello’, for the past 150 years.
Outside, the heat is omni-present and I drink from an old well, turning the brass tap and filling my cupped hands. A dragonfly pauses in flight nearby and giant orange geraniums burst from wooden barrels along the sandy trails. Angelica flowers sway on long stems like huge dandelions. Yellow butterflies flutter in pairs among the foliage and white olive trees. As I peer over the sea wall, past the reconstruction of the Abbey’s Fort Tower, I look out across the Mediterranean sea towards North Africa and marvel at the giant expanse before me from this tiny, sacred isle.
For lunch, I wander back past more chapels and ancient statues to the ‘La Tonnelle Restaurant” near the wharf and am seated at a table on the terrace overlooking the yachts. Thankfully, there is shade and a gentle sea breeze. I sip a cold beer and study the menu which offers either ‘Entree/Plat’ or ‘Plat/Dessert’ for 30 Euros. I choose the ‘Filet de Dorade’ (Sea Bream) with roasted new potatoes, cherry tomatoes and a puree of sweet potatoes followed by a delicious, fresh fig tart with glazed strawberry on top and a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, accompanied by a ‘Coup de Prosecco’! A perfect lunch to end a perfect day – so close to Cannes and the Cote d’Azur and yet another world away.
How to Get to Île Saint-Honorat
Shuttles from Cannes (Old Port):
Monday to Friday –
- Departures from Cannes: 10.00, 12.00, 14.00, 16.00
- Departures from Saint Honorat: 10.30, 12.30, 14.20, 16.30
Saturday, Sunday, Public Holidays & School Holidays –
- Departures from Cannes: 09.00, 10.00, 11.00, 12.00, 14.00, 15.00, 16.00
- Departures from Saint Honorat: 09.30, 10.30, 11.30, 12.30, 14.30, 15.30, 16.30
All Tickets are Round Trip:
Adult – 16.50 Euros
Teenager (13-18) – 15.00 Euros
Junior (8-13) – 11.00 Euros
Child (4-8) – 8.00 Euros
Under 4 years – Free
Group Rate – 15.00 Euros
Dogs are allowed on leash. Underground public parking is available in the Old Port of Cannes. It is a short walk to the boat dock from there.
It is advisable to buy tickets online before travel as this is a popular tourist attraction and queues can be long during summer months.
Further Information: [email protected]
La Tonnelle Restaurant: +126.96.36.199.54.08
(Closed from 31 October to mid April)
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