Île Sainte-Marguerite: An Island Gem off the Coast of Cannes

Posted by Deborah Fisher on Thursday, September 29th, 2016 at 12:58pm.

Located a half mile off the coast of Cannes on the French Riviera sits the tranquil island of Île Sainte-Marguerite. Just a 15 minute boat ride will get you to this remote land highly known for its prison fortress, Fort Royal. It is said that "the man in the iron mask" was held here in the 17th century. It's an A+ destination on the Cote D'Azur that is well worth a visit. Put this tiny island on your to-do list as it is full of bewilderment and adventure. 

The island is thought to have been first occupied by the Romans when it was known as Lero. Though it has not been confirmed, the island was most likely renamed by the crusaders who built the Saint Margaret of Antioch church which still stands. In 1612, the ownership of the island switched from the monks of Saint-Honorat to the Duke of Chevreuse. Soon the construction of a fort was underway. The island was capture by the Spanish in 1635 but was reclaimed by the French two years later. By the end of the 1600's, the fort was known as a state prison and a barracks. By the 18th century a village named Saint Marguerite was formed. 

Today Saint Marguerite is heavily wooded by eucalyptus and umbrella pines. It is a great tourist attraction with its history and mysterious legends of the unknown prisoner widely knows as "the man in the iron mask". The village is only made up of 20 buildings; most being homes for fisherman. There are a couple of small cafés for visitors but it's really a quiet place great for exploring and swimming. Boats moor in the "Plateau du Milieu" while others enjoy water sports on the landward point of the island. There's plenty of room to swim and snorkel as well. Rocks and smalls cliffs jut into the water making it a playground for water-lovers. 

The historic prison is now home to a youth hostel and museum. Visitors can see artifacts from ancient Roman shipwrecks, former prison cells, and a Roman cistern room. The island can bee seen year round. A ferry runs from the port of Cannes to Île Sainte-Marguerite making it easily accessible and open to all who wander. We recommend packing a bag with your swimsuit and a snack to  explore all the island has to offer. Bring a camera for its picturesque setting and some goggles to enjoy the sea life. 

Deborah Fisher

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