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A day trip to Ile Sainte Marguerite

An island full of history and secret coves to swim in

featured in Beach reviews Author Alison Shayler, Cannes Reporter Updated

Off the coast of Cannes lies four islands; Ile Sainte Marguerite, Ile Saint Honorat, Îlot Saint-Ferréol and Îlot de la Tradelière - collectively known as the Lérins islands.

Ile Sainte Marguerite is the largest of the islands, yet still only measures just over 3km from tip to tip. Walking trails criss-cross the island and the forests are cool and fragrant with pine and eucalyptus trees.

Ferries leave daily from Cannes and it's a pleasant 15-minute ride to the island; the area round the port is quaint and pretty with two restaurants and information boards showing the hiking trails.

The main trail goes all the way around the island and there are a number of shorter ones cutting across it, so you don’t have to do all of it if you don’t want to, although the entire circumference isn’t even 10km. None of the walks are difficult, they all follow flat and easy to navigate paths that are often in the shade. They weave in and out of the shoreline so you get plenty of views of the sea and opportunities to find a good bathing spot.

A large lake in the middle is home to many different species of birds and there is a viewing deck with information panels about what you might see.

Dozens of tiny beaches fringe the island and although some get very busy in the height of summer, you can always seek out a secret cove for taking a dip in the clear blue water. Don’t be expecting soft sand though, they are mostly rock or shingle beaches with shards of driftwood washed up.

The island has an dramatic history - in 1867 the Man in the Iron Mask was held prisoner in the fort here for 11 years. The fort was actually built by the Spanish while they occupied the island during the Thirty Years War; after the Spanish had been given their marching orders the French army continued to fortify the building and it was used as a prison and military base until the twentieth century. In 1927 it was officially declared to be an historical monument and in 1944 it was downgraded as a military facility. It is now open to the public with guided tours taking place from June to September.

The island is also home to the Musée de la Mer, a fascinating exhibition of underwater excavations and the treasures that they have revealed such as a Roman shipwreck dated back to 1BC and a Saracen shipwreck from the 10th century.

For such a small place Ile Sainte Marguerite makes for a surprisingly full day out - our recommendation is to get to Cannes in the morning and be on as early a ferry as possible to make the most of it.


Map of the surrounding area