Setting foot on Saint Honorat Isle, offshore from Cannes, is like entering into another dimension. Every year hundreds of people eager for calm and silence come to do a retreat in its Abbey to recharge their batteries. Here is our account of the stay.
There is a shuttle ferry that runs several times a day, all year round and which takes only 30 minutes to get to Cannes. Nevertheless mass tourism has miraculously spared this little island of Saint Honorat. This is an island which is one of the last places in the Mediterranean where wild geraniums still grow.
Saracens, Genoan Pirates, Spaniards, Revolutionaries right up to our modern real estate property developers – everyone over the last 16 centuries who has tried to get their hands on this island which is endowed with a spring (which is not the case in the neighbouring Sainte Marguerite) have come up against the tenacious resistance of the monks from the Lérins Abbey.
We spent three days with these robust fellows and shared their bread and wine (which is truly delicious.)
Brother Marie Pâques, Brother Abbott Vladimir, Brother Gian Carlo, Brother Marie... Thank you so much for your hospitality! The fact that men like you still exist in these times shows that another way of life is truly possible.
Today, there are 25 Cistercian monks, living as recluses in this Abbey under the patronage of the Gallo-Roman Saint Honorat, who in the 5th century gave his name to the island after having rid it of the snakes that infested it.
The monks of Lérins Abbey have been living according to the rules of Saint Benoît since the 7th century, living exclusively from the labours of their hands. These days their main source of revenue is the wine which they make themselves from the 7 hectares of cultivated vineyards in the centre of the island. Saint Honorat’s soil is rich, fertile and naturally abundant in organic matter. So there is no need to add fertilisers!
Under the dynamic impetus of Brother Marie Pâques (who used to be a beekeeper) and Brother Marie the wines of Lérins Abbey have, in recent years, conquered the most illustrious restaurants of the Côte d’Azur (like l’Oasis in Mandelieu, Le Martinez at Cannes and La Bastide St-Antoine in Grasse), and also spread to Japan. The red wines which principally use the mourvèdre grape variety impress particularly due to their intensity and freshness.
But even though the monks of Lérins Abbey work for their own subsistence they have also set up a financial model which enables them to help the poor. Adjacent to the monastery, the ‘Charity enclosure’ is a new plot of vines with the particularity of having been financed through donations. A production of 500 bottles of wine will be sold every year at auctions and the takings will be offered to charitable works for housing, education, food etc.