The Lerins Islands: emerald Eden of French Riviera
The hustle and bustle are what makes the French Riviera much alive. The influx of tourists, the nightlife, the events… everything is lively and partyish. But sometimes, one 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. It is rich with a unique history matched with historical sites, beautiful panoramas, and natural features. The Lerins Islands, or Îles de Lérins, combines leisure and relaxation to pull many tourists out of the major towns of French Riviera. Discover the wonderful set of islands through this travel guide to give you an idea for a relaxing and enjoyable journey.
The Islands just off the coast of Cannes
The Lerins Islands is around 5 kilometers away from La Croisette, Cannes, from port to port. It has 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. It takes around 15 minutes to visit the islands via ferry boats coming from Antibes, Cannes, and Nice. The Lerins islands belong to the commune of Cannes. As like the rest of French Riviera, it has the perfect Mediterranean climate. The 300 days of sunny days year-round is then certain. The Lerins Islands are also rich in exotic fauna and flora. There are no cars and not even a bicycle on the island.
Note: No hotels are present in the islands, and day trips are until only 6:00 pm as the last ferry departs. There is also no ferry service between the Islands of Ste-Marguerite and St-Honorat. It is also good to bring water with you when doing day trips.
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. The island got its name from Ste Marguerite, possibly a non-existent person, and a sister of St Honorat. Some say she was a nun. She founded a nunnery and her own religious order here. The island is named after her in her honor. Here are some of the features that visitors should really look at to enjoy the visit on the island.
- Fort Royal: Also, Fort Ste-Margurite. It is built to prevent the Spanish in occupying the area during the Thirty-years War. But it failed its purpose and the Spanish occupied the islands from 1633 to 1637. It is famous for being the prison of the mysterious “Man in the Iron Mask“. The identity of the prisoner is still hotly disputed. Later findings even said that he wore a velvet cloth, not an iron for a mask. The history is ever intriguing. 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: A maritime museum inside Fort Royal. It houses amphorae and artifacts from shipwrecks. It includes items from Roman times. The collection also has some ceramics from Arab vessels from the 10th century. There are aquariums, exhibits, and educational workshops to educate visitors about the ecological life of the islands.
- Remains of Ste-Marguerite: Houses that dates back from the 3rd century before our era are excavated near the fort. They have mosaics, wall paintings, and ceramics.
- The village: A hub of twenty buildings that are home to fishermen. A small boatyard is there for some vessels. There are one or two establishments that offer refreshments for tourist.
OTHER SIGHTS TO SEE
- The Nature Trails: Enjoy the thick woods of Aleppo pines, evergreen oaks, and groves of eucalyptus. There are a small beach west of the harbor and rocky inlets for bathing with clear waters. Picnic parts are also scattered everywhere.
- Etang du Batéguier: A protected nature reserve and a sanctuary for migratory birds. There are terns, gulls, wood ducks, kestrel, and grey herons to spot in this lagoon on the island’s western tip.
- Route de la Convention: There are interconnectivity of paths in both islands that leads to the coast as well as in the woodlands inward.
- Plateau de Milieu: On summer months, a large number of boat anchor here. It is a shallow spot between the islands. This turquoise channel that separates Ste-Marguerite and St-Honorat is pleasing and enticing. 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. La Guérite is the most known among tourists. It 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. It is situated in the beachfront with a Club Mediterranean style setting. L’Escale is in 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, its a perfect retreat for tourists who seeks peace, spirituality, and tranquility.
- Monastère Fortifé: It is built to protect the monks from pirates. It has a stunning view that extends up to Esterel. This square, battlemented chateau is actually a fortified dungeon.
- Abbaye de Lérins: It is home to the Cistercian monks. The monks who lived here in the past are renowned for their theological contributions. St Patrick, Ireland’s patron trained here. 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. One 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 are 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.
OTHER SITES TO SEE
- The churches and chapel: They serve as retreats for the spirituals. They are, 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 cannon balls production; 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, lavenders, herbs, olive trees, poppies, and daisies are nature’s alluring attractions that entice every guest. It mingles with the scents of rosemary, thyme, and honeysuckle. Pine and eucalyptus serve as shades alongside the shore.
- Restaurant and café: The Tonnelle is 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. Les Canisses is a café that 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.
Ferries to take going to and out of the Lerins Islands
- Cannes: Horizon (Phone: 04 92 98 71 36), Riviera lines (Phone: 04 92 98 71 36) , Trans Côte d’Azur (Phone: 04 92 98 71 30);
- Nice: Trans Côte d’Azur;
- Antibes-Juan-les-Pins: Trans Côte d’Azur;
- Cannes: Compagnie Planaria (Phone: 04 92 98 71 38);
The Lérins Islands may seem to be a backwater side at first in comparison to the chic French Riviera mainland. But the ones stated above are more than enough reasons to visit and love the peaceful, tranquil, and even spiritual emerald paradise of the Lerins Islands.
Please visit the page from Cannes Tourist Office for additional information about the Lerins Islands.