From mediaeval monasteries to pirate invasions, these verdant little islands are full of history and excitement. Discover why the Îles des Lérins should be your top Côte d’Azur day trip on the Radisson Blu blog.
If you’re always on the hunt for quirky travel tips and offbeat finds, you’ll probably feel right at home on the Îles de Lérins. Most visitors to Cannes only spend an hour or two checking out one of the islands, but you could easily lose yourself here for a day or even a weekend. You’ll be a stone’s throw from the jetty at our Radisson Blu 1835 Hotel & Thalasso, Cannes so there’s no excuse for missing the first ferry over. Here’s what you’ll find on Sainte-Marguerite and Saint-Honorat.
Deep in the Royal Fort – now a museum – you’ll find the cell where the mysterious Man in the Iron Mask was imprisoned. To this day, no one knows who he really was. Some speculate that he was the illegitimate brother of Louis XIV, confined to a life of masked solitude lest the regal bloodline fall into question. Others claim that he was a poison supplier involved in a murderous scandal among early modern French nobles. Visit his stony prison and the fort’s huge collection of underwater archaeological finds from Roman wrecks.
On the smaller Saint-Honorat, one of the oldest active communities of monks in France continues to make award-winning wines and an herbal liqueur called Lérina. There’s no modern technology here, just traditionally robed men of the cloth wandering along ancient parapets. Pick up authentic Provençal honey and lavender oil, both produced at the monastery.
As any history buff will tell you, Napoléon Bonaparte began his military career as an artillery officer. Under his command, the “four à boulets” cannonball furnace at Sainte-Marguerite’s pointe du Dragon was built in 1793 – you’ll find two similar furnaces on Saint-Honorat. Soldiers used these furnaces to heat cannonballs for about half an hour, until they were red hot, before firing them from cannons. Don’t forget to check out the beautifully preserved 24-pound bronze gun from 1715 beside the Royal Fort.
The monastery on Saint-Honorat is heavily fortified for a reason – the island has a history of fighting off pirates. Barbary pirates invaded the islands in 1180, Genoans in 1400, and the Spanish in 1524. While hiking the trails on either island, be sure to wander down to the secluded beaches to see the sites of the invasions.
Pack a picnic and set out to discover the untamed wilderness of Sainte-Marguerite. Head southwest toward pointe du Dragon, passing natural maritime pines and exotic eucalyptus trees planted here in 1860. Beyond the brackish pond, Etang du Batéguier, you’ll reach a bunker from the Second World War and an observation platform offering stunning views.