The Lerins Islands Travel Guide
The beautiful and unspoiled Lerins Islands (Îles de Lérins) combine leisure and relaxation to pull many tourists out of Cannes and other major towns of French Riviera. They are rich with a unique history matched with historical sites, beautiful panoramas, and natural features. Only a 15-minute ferry ride from Cannes, but seemingly another world away from the hustle and bustle of the partyish French Riviera towns, this pair of islands is a perfect tourist escape.
The hustle and bustle are what make the French Riviera much alive. The influx of tourists, the nightlife, the events… everything is lively and partyish. But sometimes, you may look for a place to escape the buzz and fuss of the beautiful Côte d’Azur. Just off the coast of Cannes is a group of islands where the surrounding is serene and tranquil: the Lerins Islands.
Discover the wonderful set of islands through this travel guide so you can have a relaxing and enjoyable journey:
Lerins Islands: just off the coast of Cannes
|The Lerins Islands are around 5 kilometers away from La Croisette, Cannes, from port to port. It takes around 15 minutes to visit the islands via ferry boats coming from Antibes, Cannes, and Nice. You can also take a private boat or kayak.|
There are four islands, namely, Île Ste-Marguerite, Île St-Honorat, Île St-Férréol, and Îlot de la Tradelière. The islands of Ste-Marguerite and St-Honorat are the largest and the most visited. The other smaller two are both uninhabited.
Note: No cars or hotels are present in the islands, and day trips are until only 6pm, when the last ferry departs. There is also no ferry service between the Islands of Ste-Marguerite and St-Honorat, but you can kayak or charter to those islands. It is also good to bring a stainless-steel water container with you when doing day trips.
Like the rest of the French Riviera, the islands have the perfect Mediterranean climate and 300+ sunny days per year.
This island is the largest among the four. It has a span of roughly 150 hectares, 3 kilometers in length and 900 meters across. It is basically a forest with a number of tourist hubs.
One of the two Lérins Islands mentioned above, Saint-Marguerite Island is an almost paradisaical retreat. Full of eucalyptus and pine trees, you can smell the change the moment you set food on the island. As opposed to the bustling city of Cannes, Saint-Marguerite is a calm and quiet space where nature and relaxation come together in harmony. Various marked trails can be followed to explore the island, which hosts a significant number of migratory birds and unique plant species.
The island got its name from Ste Marguerite, and a sister of St Honorat. She was a nun who founded a nunnery and her own religious order here. The island is named in her honor.
Here are some of the features to enjoy on the island:
Saint-Marguerite is perhaps best known for its Fort Royal, a fortress prison famous for housing the so-called “Man in the Iron Mask” (who actually wore a mask made of black velvet). Many legends and theories exist about this prisoner and the reasons why he was held for decades until his death, and both older children and adults alike enjoy learning more about this fascinating part of French history.
The fort gives a superb view of Cannes, Antibes, and the surrounding hills. The fort holds a barrack-style hostel used by youth groups and schools.
The artist Jean Le Gac also decorated some of the walls with murals. It is located near the port for ferries to and from Cannes. The fort is in the list of important heritage sites.
Museé de la Mer (Sea / Shipwreck Museum)
There is a maritime museum housed within the walls of Fort Royal . It is home to many artifacts from shipwrecks and items from Roman times. The collection also has some ceramics from Arab vessels from the 10th century.
There are also aquariums, exhibits, and educational workshops to educate visitors about the ecological life of the islands.
Remains of Ste-Marguerite
There are remains of houses that date back from the 3rd century, which have been excavated near the fort. They have mosaics, wall paintings, and ceramics.
The main village is a hub of twenty buildings that are home to fishermen, with a small boatyard.
From April to October, the restaurant La Guérite welcomes you on Sainte Marguerite Island. There was a time when La Guérite was an old Fisherman’s cabin. Didn’t wait long before becoming locals, friends and family’s favorite place to be on a beautiful summer day.
Relaxing, sunbathing and socializing around a cheerful pétanque game, this convivial and authentic Mediterranean lifestyle heritage has been passed on and cultivated since 1902, to become one of the most sought after and glamorous restaurant on the Côte d’Azur.
The Nature Trails
Enjoy the thick woods of Aleppo pines, evergreen oaks, and groves of eucalyptus, like in Pointe de la Convention . There is a small beach west of the harbor and rocky inlets for bathing with clear waters. Picnic parks are also scattered everywhere.
Etang du Batéguier
Route de la Convention
Plateau de Milieu
There are water skiing, parascending, and other water activities here. This is a spot many visitors love to swim to. There are picnic tables in the water’s edge.
Restaurants and snack bars
Close to the ferry docks are some summer-only snack stalls that sell pan bagnat. The one on the beachfront with the Mediterranean setting offers salade Niçoise, grilled lobster, and seabass ceviche.
It serves a la carté lunch and dinner on schedules. Lunch is available during late April, June, September, and October. Lunch and dinner are available in July and August.
Another one is between the pier and Fort Royal. Mostly serving lunch in this seafood spot in the waterside. Dinner is sometimes in July and August. They have bouillabaisse and grilled fish.
Le Grande Jardin
A unique piece of a luxury estate owned by businessman Vijay Mallya, owner of Formula 1 team Force India.
It is the second-largest island of the Lérins. It is approximately 1.5 kilometers in length and 400 meters wide (around 40 hectares).
The abbey/monastery is established by St Honorat (Honoratus) in the 5th century. It is once a foothold of a powerful group of monks that owned most of the area and even extended their influence in Cannes.
The immense power and wealth eventually led to their downfall. The Cistercian monks now own the island who bought the island in 1861.
They are famous for their Lérins wine and liqueurs. Covered with pines, roses, and lavender, eucalyptus, and cypresses, it is a perfect retreat for tourists who seeks peace, spirituality, and tranquility.
Abbaye de Lérins
The monks of today now have their own vineyard to cultivate. They do the planting, growing, and harvesting with their own hands.
It produces a high-quality wine highly-regarded by professionals. They also have an apiary for honey production. You can buy their products in the abbey’s two shops.
An icon of St Honorat and other Lérins saints are in the abbey. Most of the buildings date back from the 19th century.
The church and the cloister are the reminders of the medieval era. The monks’ residence is not open to tourists.
The austere church is open for visits. The monks allow pilgrims to join them in their retreat and contemplation ranging from two days to one week.
The wines and liqueurs
The monks produce highly-prized wine. They manually harvest, press, age, and bottle them. There are plant-based liqueurs, fruit-based liqueurs, and pomace brandy.
The churches and chapel
They serve as retreats for the spirituals. One of them is Chapelle St-Caprais . St Caprais is a monk who joined St Honorat in his retreat and with him built the order. It is also the site of a furnace where Napoleonic cannon battery and cannonballs production.
Others are La Chapelle de la Trinité, a monastery; Chapelle St-Michel; St-Cyprien; St-Pierre; and St-Sauveur. More or less the churches remain untouched.
The vines, lavender, herbs, olive trees, poppies, and daisies mingle with the scents of rosemary, thyme, and honeysuckle. Pine and eucalyptus give shade alongside the shore.
Restaurant and café
There are a restaurant and a wine bar. It serves grilled meats, seafood, shellfish, foie gras, and salads. It also serves the monastic wine, which is a bit pricey.
Another café offers snacks like panini, sandwiches, ice cream, coffee and cakes such as lemon tart and chocolate cake for tea. It has a lounge bar, too.
How to get to the Lerins Islands
An adult return ticket on a ferry costs about €15.
Ferries from St-Marguerite:
- To/From Cannes: Horizon (Phone: +33492987136), Riviera lines (Phone: +33492987136), Trans Côte d’Azur (Phone: +33492987130)
- To/From Nice: Trans Côte d’Azur (Phone: +33492004230)
Ferries from St-Honorat:
- To/From Cannes: Compagnie Planaria (Phone: +33492987138)
Kayaking from cannes:
From Cannes you can kayak to the Lérins Islands on double kayaks with the help of an instructor who will give you tips on how to paddle most efficiently and which spots are best for taking in your surroundings. You can either rent the kayaks for independent use or you can book a guided tour with a certified instructor, who will take you to the different islands and show you hidden spots you wouldn’t easily reach by yourself. Sessions are available for a day, half-day, or at sunset, so you can choose which slot fits best into your day.