Just a mile from the Cannes harbor lies the beautiful little island of Saint-Honorat (1.5 km long by 400 meters wide). Inhabited by monks since 427 AD, the Lérins Abbey still attracts men seeking the tranquility of the monastic life on this idyllic island. The monastery you see today was built in 1073 AD. Surrounded by pine forests and rocky inlets, the building itself is beautiful and visitors are encouraged to explore the ruins nearby as well as the cloister which includes a shop selling wine (you can also do a tasting) and honey produced by the monks.
The monastery originated after Saint Honoratus moved to the island in 410 AD to follow the life of a hermit. He was joined by others who were inspired by his teachings and a monastery was established by 427. Many monks, including, according to legend, St. Patrick of Ireland, came to study here in the 5th century.
The island didn’t only appeal to monks. It was attacked by Saracens who, in 732, massacred many of those living in the monastery. The island became a site of pilgrimage during the Middle Ages and was again attacked and taken over by the Spanish in 1635. They forced the monks to abandon the monastery but they returned when the French re-conquered the island in 1637.
Following further attacks over the years, the monks living on the island were reduced to only four and the monastery was finally abandoned in 1787. It belonged to the state after the French Revolution and was sold to Mademoiselle De Sainval, a famous French actress, who lived there for 20 years.
In 1859 Bishop of Fréjus purchased the island and re-established the religious community. In 1869, the monastery became a Cistercian community and it has remained that to this day. At present there are 21 monks living on the island.
Other than the monastery the island is a delight to explore. Walking along its many paths, you can admire the flowering plants, explore the various abandoned chapels, and relax on the rugged, rocky beaches where you can swim or picnic. In respect for the monks’ way of life, you are expected to enjoy and explore the island quietly, as the many signs will remind you.
It’s easy to get to Saint-Honorat. You can purchase a ticket for one of the ferries that cross several times a day beginning at 9 AM (10 AM in January and February). The last ferry to leave the island is at 6:30 PM in July and August, 5:30 PM from April to mid-October, and 4:30 PM from mid-October to March. Though there is a restaurant and café on the island, many prefer to take a picnic as there are plenty of places where you can enjoy bread, cheese and the proverbial bottle of wine while contemplating the natural beauty of the island.
Photos by Zoya Stafienko for A.M.A Selections. All images © A.M.A Selections