Whilst many tourists flock to the famous French Riviera many may miss out on visiting the less-well-known island of Saint-Honorat and its magnificent abbey.
The island of Saint-Honorat lies but a short boat trip from Cannes but no cars are allowed as this would disturb the peace of Lérrins Abbey.
Lérrins was among the great abbeys of Europe but suffered from continued raids – and massacres – by the Saracens. By the late 15th century the monks had abandoned their ancient site and taken up residence in a fortified monastery by – one could almost say 'in' – the sea but in sight of the old.
Still they were under attack – this time by the Spanish and Genoese. Their numbers dwindled to just four and at the revolution it was dissolved. In 1869 the community was re-established and the great abbey rebuilt but the fortified building was left to endure the merciless pounding of the sea.
What we see today is a monastery piled high like a tower house. All the monastic rooms are inside including a double-tiered cloister. The entrance is heavily defended in a re-entrant and the parapet projects on machicolations.
The island is host to many chapels as well as fortifications from the Spanish and French periods to the Germans in WWII. On the neighbouring island can be seen the fort and prison of 'The Man in the Iron Mask' though he was later transferred to Cannes where he died – appropriately an 'iron mask' is placed above the door of his prison.
If you visit Lérrins, do not miss the chance to visit the modern abbey. The church is accessible but not the monks' area. However, the abbey shop is open and sells an excellent red wine made by the community. Recommended – and an appropriate way to raise a toast to the fabulous sights you have seen!
Article by Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle.