Easy hiking in the South of France
The French Riviera is not all of one piece and offers quite a lot of variety along its coastline of roughly 150 miles between Hyeres and Menton: geographical variety, cultural variety, even climatic variety, but most importantly, a stark contrast between the Plebeian and the Princely.
The French Riviera for Princes and Plebs
On the one hand, there are resorts where retired salesmen in short trousers promenade their wives’ Yorkshire terriers, and then there is Monte Carlo.
Cannes is pretty much on the Monte Carlo end of that scale, and the horizon behind the Croisette, the town’s famous beach promenade, is nearly always lined with yachts that range from modest $1M vessels to floating palaces whose upkeep alone would easily eat up the annual welfare budget of a Siberian province (and probably does).
Almost incredible then that one of the most untouched and unspoilt pieces of nature anywhere along the French Riviera can be found a mere 15 minutes away from Cannes – by boat.
The Ile Ste. Marguerite (the largest of the Iles de Lerins) has virtually no commercial buildings, no hotels and no private residences with private beaches. This means that the Sentier Littoral, the coastal path around the island, is virtually continuous and uninterrupted.
Lonely, however, it is not. Many people from Cannes come here for a day at the seaside, since most of the beaches along the Croisette are fenced-off for hotel visitors only. So, on a hot and sunny Sunday in September (which is when we visited the island) there were loads of folks around.
Still, because Ste. Marguerite is quite large, it never feels crowded, and if you go just a few minutes away from the landing pier of the ferry, you can always find yourself a spot that you will have all to yourself.
Bring some swimwear, by all means, but also something to cover your feet because the ground underneath the water is often quite stony.
Instructions of how to explore the Ile Ste. Marguerite could not be easier: just turn right from the pier, proceeding counter clockwise, either once around the island (which will take you app. 3 hours) or cutting inland when you have had enough. (Get a map of the island when you buy your tickets – boats leave throughout the day from the extreme south-western corner of the harbour – or go to the tourism office in downtown Cannes.)
Finish your trip by visiting the fort, originally built under the rule of Cardinal Richelieu to defend the southern coast of France but mainly used in the centuries thereafter as a prison. This is where the Man In The Iron Mask was held, perhaps the world’s most mysterious prisoner ever. (According to Alexandre Dumas, the Dan Brown of the 19th century, he was the twin brother of Louis XIV.)
Coincidentally, on our ferry ride back to the mainland, we crossed the path of one of Cannes mega yachts while it appeared to be cruising in the waters between the town and the Iles de Lerins. Certainly nothing like a ride on ferries to Dublin, this ferry ride.
The Diamonds Are Forever – as I found out by consulting the Internet – is that relatively rare piece of maritime real estate that can be chartered, and you will be pleased to hear that it can be yours for a meagre $ 400,000 a week.
But don’t hurry your decision – have a look here first what your money will actually buy you. (There are, you will probably agree, more sensible ways to spend nearly half a million bucks, but few that are more splendid and flamboyant.)