Îles de Lérins - St-Honorât

Exploring St-Honorât Island in bay of Cannes. Taking a break away from the coast's noise and crowd and discovering history one step at a time.

Îles de Lérins - St-Honorât
Fortified Monastery of Abbey Lérins, St-Honorat (Îles de Lérins), Côte d'Azur, France, Leica M (Typ 240), Summilux-M 50mm, f1.4 ASPH, 1/1500 sec., f8, ISO 200

Îles de Lérins, a two-course meal

Just over a year from now, on February 23rd 2013, I told you about a day I spent on Îles de Lérins (Sainte-Marguerite). From there I could see the other island (St-Honorât) from the distance, but it was not possible to visit both of them on the same day because we really wanted to take our time on Sainte-Marguerite and see as much as we could for the time available. While we had a great time there, I felt I had to go back to the area and devote some time to St-Honorât.

We decided to leave Cagnes early enough to avoid traffic on our way to Cannes, which proved to be a wise decision. We easily reached port of Cannes more than a half hour before counters open to purchase our tickets. There are quite a few shuttles going to Ste-Marguerite, but only one provider for St-Honorât because they prefer to have less people on the island at the same time. All that in respect for the monks living silently on the island. The boats for this segment are also own by the monks. Great service, and on time. They provide shuttle service almost every hour, starting at 9h in the morning. The last boat getting out of the island is usually 18h. Don’t miss it! You reach destination in about 20 minutes.

A Bit Of History

I always prefer to have an overview knowledge of the place I’m going to visit (remember my post on Hanbury Botanical Garden?) and this time is no exception. I spent some time on the web looking specifically for historical events that marked this area for the last centuries. I was quite surprised to see how far back things go for this little island. I strongly believe that knowing these things will change your perception and experience of a location, either for what you see or what you photograph. I tend to be humble and very respectful when I find myself in places loaded with important events, thinking of the people being there centuries ago, their lives, conflicts, etc. Life is fairly easy today, everything is almost given and automatic. Looking at St-Honorât’s fortification makes you wonder how it was to live there always thinking you could be attacked, slaved or killed at any moment. Despite all the problems we could have in our lives todays, things are much simpler than before.

History goes back to the year 410 when St-Honorât built a home on the island to live as an hermit. But he was followed by disciples and they finally formed a monastic community. They had peaceful lives for a few centuries and even St-Patrick (Patron of Ireland) studied on the island. That was until 732 when raids from the Saracens started to happen and many monks were killed and slaved. This was followed by centuries of more quite times and the island was very popular for pilgrimage.

In 1635, the island is invaded by the Spanish, and all the monks were expelled. They returned from exile in Vallauris two years later when the island was retaken by the French. Spanish and Genoese continuously attacked the monastery and the number of monks was going lower and lower until it reached only four, and the community was disestablished in 1787. During the Revolution period, the island became the property of the state, and was sold to Mademoiselle de Sainval (an actress), who lived there for twenty years.

In 1859, the island was acquired by the Bishop of Fréjus. He wanted to re-establish a religious community there. It took him ten years to establish a Cistercian community, which is still living on the island today. The community is comprised of 30 Cistercian monks. Information contained in the “A Bit of History” section of this post were taken from wikipedia

Walk, Don't Run

It doesn’t take too long to visit the island, it’s four times smaller than Saint-Marguerite. So why not take your time and really explore every single portion of it? There are lots of things to discover and learn about the past. Anyways, anyone getting there will appreciate the quietness (silence is requested in many areas) and peaceful settings. Vestiges of chapels, bullet ovens, bunkers, fortress and submerged foundations are among the most amazing things to see. There is also the “nature” aspect of the island that provides an amazing view on the Mediterranean Sea, sail boats and cruisers, turquoise water, rocks and vegetation. It’s a beautiful place and it’s obvious that everything possible is done to keep it clean and easy to visit. If you turn around after visiting everything and go back in the other direction you will see the same things but from a different angle and also with a different light. Very interesting for photography. I think it’s important to take your time, enjoy the peace of mind, think about whatever you want, absorb everything around you, smell and SEE (Looking is not enough).

Due to the fact that there are less shuttles going to the island, there are less people and you can really feel the difference. Going off-season is certainly even better, but even now I felt is was pretty quiet. That’s a good thing because I don’t like to have my photos crowded.. If you wait for the right moment and isolate your subject, you should have no problem at all getting some great “natural” photos that will show the spirit of the site.

I Just Can't Get Enough

Still, I felt I needed more and will probably have to go back again, maybe on a rainy day or in the Fall when the light, vegetation and Sea are different. I wonder if there are times when you could be there almost alone (low-season) and enjoy an even more quiet experience. Maybe a retreat would be a good idea if I can leave the room very very early in the morning and walk the paths to discover things differently. I’ll have to find out more about that option.

What's In The Bag?

  • Leica M (Typ 240) + spare batteries x 2
  • Summilux-M 50mm, f1.4 ASPH
  • Summilux-M 28mm, f1.2 ASPH
  • Sony RX100 + spare batteries x2
  • 64GB Sandisk Extreme Pro SD cards x 3
  • Lens cloth & blower
  • Glasses
  • Apple iPhone 5
  • Water bottle (500ml)

From a gear perspective, I have only one regret. In the morning before leaving home I put my amazing Steiner 8X24 binoculars in my shoulder bag. Just before I left, always trying to keep my bag as light as possible, I removed them from the bag. You know, I had them with me on so many occasions but didn’t used them, so why would I need them now, right? Well, that was a mistake because I could have made good use of the Steiner.

How To Get There

For more information on Îles de Lérins, visit this website

The photograph above was taken right beside the abbey complex, near the wall fountain next to the shop. We were mostly done with our visit, preparing to go back to the shuttle boat for Cannes. The light had changed since our first passage in the morning (The first time we were there was around 11h15. The second time it was around 15h45). I couldn’t resist taking a few more shots and thinking about how quiet and obscure the place must be at night when we’re all gone.. I’m contemplating the idea of a short retreat there for a few days, I’m sure it would be a very positive experience. I’ll let you know when/if I do it.

You can find the whole picture set on my website at www.normandprimeauphoto.com

Good Light!


© Normand Primeau