A ten-minute boat ride away from Île Sainte-Marguerite, Île Saint-Honorat is a unique and singularly fascinating island in its own right among the four major islands of Les Îles de Lérin. Sainte-Marguerite tends to be busier and more active while Saint Honorat is gentler, more contemplative.
What to see on Ile Saint-Honorat
My ferry boat from Cannes docked at the steel-and-concrete dock. Along the rough, rocky coast, several dozen white sailboats were at anchor and snorkelers explored the calm, crystal-clear, blue water, while picknickers relaxed on the shore.
I walked up a short path to a well-traveled dirt road, pausing to examine several varieties of wildflowers growing on the side of the road. Strategically placed stopping points give you the chance to view the primitive rocky coastline. There are no automobiles, no loud noises, only the serenity of the natural world.
I passed several stone chappelles, most of which were crumbling away in time. A few showed signs of restorations efforts, with new mortar and stones. As I turned around a gentle curve a sandstone Fort came into view, an intimidating sight, it dominated the narrow beach. Solid and powerful, the dark stone image was a clear threat to any invader approaching the shore. To the right a road lead upward to a monastère (monastery) a hundred yards away. Its famous tower dominated the top of the small hill. I walked slowly in the rising heat and humidity.
Beyond a slight bend at the top, there is a formal garden, containing assorted flowers, cacti, and towering Aleppo pines leading to the Lérins Abbey, a Cistercian monastery, its tower rising majestically above. Founded by Saint-Honorat in the fifth century, the Cistercians have owned the surrounding land, the fort below and the monastery for almost several centuries. When you enter the Chappelle of Sainte-Croix you must remain silent, and photos are not allowed though you can take photos in the cloisters. After I finished photographing the monastery and its surrounds, I sat on a stone bench inside the Cloisters and revelled in those quiet moments. The Cloisters were covered, cool in the shade. There are dormitories for the 30 or so moines (brothers) and all is tranquil.
Inside the Chappelle are deep shadows and a cool interior. Colored light from stained glass windows covers the simple altar: elegant, powerful and eternal.
There is a small shop and the moines are noted for producing various wines and lerina, a digestif distilled from island grapes. While contemplative and largely silent, the monks cultivate and tend to the vineyards, picking and processing the grapes by hand, and creating and bottling the wines.
It’s a fascinating place to visit and very different from the city of Cannes though it’s just minutes away…
By John Pekich producer, director, actor and writer, especially of original Sherlock Holmes and Victorian Mysteries in Cape May, New Jersey, USA