Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lérins Islands (Iles de Lérins)

I love getaways, big or little getaways from it all, especially if it is to try something different.  Whether it’s for a couple of days or even just an afternoon.

For years when I had been on the beach in Cannes or even taking the train back to Nice I had always seen these islands just off the coast a short distance away.  I always wondered about them, never sure if they were inhabited or not, and I naively presumed they were part of some fishing project.  Wrong!

Turns out, when I finally starting asking friends some questions about them, I was told they are part of the Cannes commune and are called the Lérins Islands.  It is said that the presence of a settlement on the islands go back to the end of the 6th century BC!  And yes, anyone can visit them.

It just so happened when I decided to finally visit the islands that the Cannes Boat Show was taking place in the port area at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès.  A friend from Montenegro was promoting his company ventures within that area, so after visiting with him and looking over all the magnificent boats throughout the port, I decided to go to the islands.

On the far southwest corner of the Cannes harbor is the ferry terminal to get to the Lérins Islands.  Make your way around the port opposite of the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès along Quai St. Pierre, and at the edge of the port where the ferry terminal is located will be a large parking lot, walk through there and follow the signage to find the ticketing booth.

You just have to decide which island you would like to discover first.  There is a ferry for the Cannes-Saint Honorat Island and a separate ferry for the Cannes-Sainte Marguerite Island.  Keep in mind there is no ferry that goes between the two islands because of landing rights.  A round trip, adult ticket is about 12 euros.

It should also be noted that excursions also leave from Nice, Antibes, La Napoule and Golfe-Juan.

Transit Cote d'Azur 

The schedules for the ferry change throughout the year, but they run about every hour to every half hour from either side.  And depending on which island you were going too, it is about a 15-minute one-way trip to Sainte Marguerite Island (the bigger island) and about 30-minutes one-way to Saint Honorat Island.  Coming or going, it is such a leisurely, beautiful trip, I never felt like I was waiting forever either way.

My only serious suggestion is to make sure you do not miss the last ferry back from the islands, which, again depending on time of the year can be at 7pm.  The people working at the ferry terminals are very helpful and have plenty of information about scheduling, the islands, etc.  One thing I wasn’t told was hot the ferry captains are, totally gorgeous!  I was wondering if it was a job requirement or something?  I couldn’t stop checking them out!

One of my friends was telling me before I went on the trip how the Lérins Islands were so different from the rest of the Cote d’Azur.  How it was like a peaceful journey, a wonderful getaway.

I’ve been to islands around the world before, l listened to what I was being told but I wondered what could be so different about these islands?

Let me tell you right now, the Lérins Islands are like entering a whole other world compared to any type of city life.  Make a day of it.  Bring a camera, have a picnic! Prepare to explore but also plan to relax and take it all in.

You can feel the energy change as the ferry is heading towards the islands, passing by the massive yachts on the sea with Cannes and the stunning outlying area not far away. And even as the ferry is slowing down to dock at the pier on the islands, you will feel a calm energy enveloping you.  Life is different here.  There is no need to rush, it almost seemed like there were no rules.  The Lérins Islands are inviting and quiet, yet also interesting and itching to be explored.

My first stop was to Sainte Marguerite Island.  I was expecting to see more people around after everyone got off the ferry and made their way down the short pier, people just seemed to splinter off though, knowing exactly where they were heading.  Since I could see Fort Royal to the east as the ferry was approaching the island, I headed in that direction along one of the trails.  Fort Royal is where it is said the Man in the Iron Mask was kept for 11 years and here you can see the cell in which he was detained.


My initial feelings walking to Fort Royal were how charming everything seemed to be and how nice it was to be surrounded by the natural beauty of the island.  If you were hungry, there are two small restaurants and two snack bars quietly nestled in areas.

Approaching Fort Royal, I was taken back by how much bigger it was than I imagined, and especially for an island the size of this one, which I’m told is three kms in length and approximately 900 meters across at most points.

To get inside Fort Royal you have to pay a small fee, worth it though as it has some interesting buildings inside and provided some excellent vantage points.  I’m always up for a history lesson and was intrigued by the architecture of the fortress so I stayed for a while.

Afterwards I took the time to walk around the outside of the fortress, which again, there seemed to be no people around.  At times it was creepy and even freaky to be next to the fort’s outer grand walls surrounded by the absolute quiet of nature.

I enjoyed wandering along the many trails on the island, surrounded by Aleppo Pine-trees and exotic Eucalyptus trees.  It was lovely to have some quiet time and you didn’t feel like you would be interrupted by anything.

There are no big, real beaches surrounding the island, in areas you might be able to find very small stretches of sand here and there but it was mostly areas with flat rocks.

I was told that there is a gay, nude beach facing Saint Honorat Island called, “Pierres Plates” or the “beach of flat stones” but I did not find it on this particular journey.  Perhaps the next time I visit.  Overall, Sainte Marguerite Island is a great place to explore and gain some time to yourself if you so desire.

Saint Honorat is the next of the Lérins Islands I got to visit.  This island is the furthest away from Cannes, and it also brings it’s own unique qualities.

Saint Honorat has a working Abbey on the island that has been held by the Cistercian order of Sénanque since 1869.  Here you will find there is a small gift shop where you can buy some of the local produced products on the island and they even have their own winery and restaurant!

I loved this whole island!  I am fascinated how some people can live their whole lives with such strict devotion.  I am told people can even come to the Abbey for week long retreats where they are not allowed everyday conveniences like television and the internet; there is also a code of silence in areas.  I can actually see myself doing a retreat at some point in my life.  It is so peaceful and beautiful on the island; the monks do an extremely good job of taking care of everything.  

You also won’t be able to miss the fortified monastery on the southern tip of the island of which you are allowed to discover throughout, I loved how it stands out, practically on the water.

So don’t do what I had done for years and just dismissed what was in the distance.  I've certainly learned my lesson and have starting asking more questions if something peaks my interest.

I’m very glad I’ve finally had the chance to take a look around the Lérins Islands off Cannes and I know these will not be the last of my visits, even if it’s just for a quick getaway.

No comments: