• Riviera Insider editorial

Exploring the coves of Sainte Marguerite Island in Cannes

Updated: Aug 12, 2021

Lewis Longman takes us to the Îles de Lérins, just off the coast of Cannes, exploring the secret coves of St Marguerite like a local.'s a secret!

We were sat in the morning sunlight atop the ferry, heading across to Île Sainte-Marguerite, twenty minutes off the coast of Cannes. I had been there a few times before, for walks through the wooded pathways that snake across the infamous island, but this time I was taking a friend. The infamy owed to the fact that the Man in the Iron Mask was held captive there, a mysterious prisoner whose identity was hidden by, you guessed it – an iron mask. Rumour has it that it was the identical twin of Louis XIV who was subjected to the ordeal – a rumour glorified by Hollywood in the film of said ordeal. But today we are not visiting the island to speculate. We are here to swim.

Surrounded by almost improbably clear waters, the island is home to breathtaking beaches and tiny coves. My accompanying mate knows the area extremely well and told me we would visit a cove he has known since he was a child. As we left the crowded boat in a flood of limbs and pushchairs, I was escorted up some old stone steps. “Follow me. We’re going the way no one else knows.” How very exciting. Had those words been spoken by somebody I did not know, perhaps excitement would not be an apt description. My companion, however, was Southern French, born and bred, and hidden paths of Île St Marguerite are as familiar to him as the roads are to a taxi driver. We walk for about fifteen minutes through trails lined by prodigious trees, the chaotic hubbub of the boat left behind. We soon find ourselves at his childhood cove.

Descending a group of rocks, we set up a base of towels, sun cream, and flip-flops, maintaining a Corona-safe distance from the few other swimmers present. A world away from the nearby sandy beaches of the Croisette, this island is a pure, natural escape. The island doesn’t just lack sand - it is completely non-existent. Instead, the shore is covered in layers of dried seaweed, which actually appears to be more like chunks of wood chips. Perhaps it’s not as traditional as sand, but the stuff makes for a lovely natural mattress. Growing up by the North Sea, I’ve never been one to shy away from cold water, so it wasn’t long before I ventured into the perfectly still sea, much to my friend’s horror. The horror was well placed - my enthusiasm wasn’t. The late-spring water was freezing! Big mistake. I force myself to persist and venture underneath a mysterious rocky arch, wading knee-deep through water as still as glass. I feel like I am on some kind of expedition and I half expect to see Bear Grylls behind me, grunting while punching a snake.

But no, I am alone. Complete serenity except for the odd seagull manically screaming as it flies by. Next to me is a dark cave, a shingle beach at its entrance. “When I was a young boy, I used to call this place le repère de la sirène,” my friend informs me, having finally dared to leave the warmth of the beach to join me on my expedition. Mermaid’s Waypoint, a befitting name for such a mysterious place. Next to it trickles a minuscule waterfall, pouring into a rock pool. After maybe ten minutes trying to ascertain whether a red object was a fish or perhaps a piece of litter (it was a fish, thankfully) we climb up onto the hot slabs of sun-baked rocks above.

From here, we can really appreciate the beauty of the cove below, a sparkling gem hidden from the rest of the world, a turquoise canvas untouched for centuries. I pluck up the courage for another swim, which perhaps lasts a meager 33 seconds. Bear Grylls would be ashamed.

When it’s time to leave the island and head back to Cannes, a bustling metropolis in comparison, I tell my friend that we shall return soon, for I would love to swim without the sea rendering me a whimpering child.

How do you find this hidden cove, you ask? Well, it wouldn’t be a secret if I told you.

- Lewis Longman

Getting there:

Ferries for île St Marguerite depart from the following ports:

· Cannes: Daily, every 30 minutes, 15-minute ride, 15.30€ rt

· Golfe-Juan: Daily, 6 trips per day, 19€ rt

· Nice: Day trips offered Tue – Sun, 1-hour ride, 41.50€ rt

· St Raphaël: Day trips on Fridays, 1h15 ride, 30€ rt

Tickets can be purchased at Tourism offices, at the port or online:

This article was written before the new Underwater Eco Museum -- don't miss the mask installation off the south coast of the island. Read about it here:

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