Île Sainte-Marguerite is one of my absolute places to visit in the South of France.
Conveniently located off the shore of Cannes, this stunningly beautiful island is a paradise of untouched nature for travelers looking for a day filled with sunshine, leisurely walks along the beach, and views of crystal clear waters.
The island is home to many intriguing attractions like Fort Royal (where the famous Man in the Iron Mask was held prisoner!), lush wooded trails meandering around the island, and an abundance of wildlife. and secluded paradisiac beaches. The calm Mediterranean waters around Île Sainte-Marguerite are ideal for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving.
If you are planning a visit to Île Sainte-Marguerite, you are in the right place.
This ultimate travel guide will provide you with all the information needed to get the most out of your trip, from how to get to the island from Cannes, to the best things to do and explore.
→ In a hurry? Get your tickets for the ferry between Cannes and Sainte-Marguerite here.
About Île Sainte-Marguerite
Saint-Marguerite Island – once called Lero – is the biggest of the Lerin Islands and known to have been inhabited during the Roman Times.
Its exact history and the time of its first inhabitants are unknown, but after that, the island is believed to have been renamed in medieval times by crusaders, who built a chapel to Saint Margaret of Antioch on the island.
It’s fascinating to think about the island’s past, particularly its association with the idea of a fictional Sainte Marguerite, who according to the legend would be the sister of Saint-Honortat, who founded the monastery on the neighboring island (which at the time owned Saint-Marguerite).
Little did the monks of Saint-Honorat know when they passed ownership of the island to Claude de Lorraine, Duke of Chevreuse in 1612 that it would soon feature an impressive fort (Fort Royal) which would be captured and recaptured by the Spanish forces two years later – and recovered by France soon after.
Fort Royal became a state prison and held several famous prisoners, being best known for its most famous inmate, the Man in the Iron Mask.
→ For another wonderful day trip idea, check out Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
The Man in the Iron Mask
Until this day, no one knows for certain who the Man in the Iron Mask was, but it is believed that he was a political prisoner of the French government and held at Fort Royal.
The famous prisoner’s identity was kept secret, his face hidden by an iron mask (although some stories say it was actually a mask made of velvet.)
There are plenty of theories regarding his identity, one of them being that he was the twin brother of Louis XIV, who had been kept hidden away because it would have significantly hindered Louis XIV‘s right to the throne.
Is Île Sainte-Marguerite worth visiting?
Yes, absolutely. Île Sainte-Marguerite is a true gem of the Mediterranean and one of the best things to do in Cannes.
The island itself is an absolute beauty with its calm, crystal-clear waters and unspoiled nature. It’s ideal for outdoor activities like swimming, snorkeling, and hiking.
You might also enjoy reading: The ultimate guide to visiting the Lerins Islands
How to get to Île Sainte-Marguerite from Cannes
Getting to the Sainte-Marguerite island from Cannes is really easy, as the island is only a 15-minute ferry ride away from the mainland.
How to get to Île Sainte-Marguerite from Nice
During the summer, it is also possible to get to the island by taking a ferry directly from Nice. The boat leaves from the port of Nice and takes around one hour to get to Saint-Marguerite. You can buy tickets here.
Alternatively (if you are visiting during the off-season, for example), you can always take the train from Nice to Cannes to catch the ferry from there.
That is also how I recommend getting from Antibes to Île Sainte-Marguerite.
You can find the ferry schedule here.
⛵ If you love being out in the ocean, you might want to check out these boat tours from Cannes.
Best things to do in Île Sainte-Marguerite
Although St-Marguerite is quite small in size, there are many wonderful things you can do to enjoy your time on the island.
1- See the cell where the infamous Man in the Iron Mask was held captive
In Fort Royal, it is possible to step inside the cell where the Man in the Iron Mask was held captive. It is an eerie experience, but it gives you a glimpse into the island’s past.
2- Enjoy the island’s idyllic beaches
There are many stunning small beaches around the island, with crystal clear water, soft sand, and wonderful views.
Even in March (when I visited), the weather was warm so we managed to swim for a bit and it was the absolute highlight of our day there.
🏖️ You might also enjoy reading: The best beaches in Cannes
3- Explore Fort Royal
Fort Royal, built in 1635, is the main highlight of the island. The fort features a beautiful viewpoint with breathtaking views over both Île Sainte-Marguerite and the Bay of Cannes.
4- Visit the Museum of the Sea
Inside Fort Royal, you will also find the Museum of the Sea, which is dedicated to the treasures and archaeological findings on the island.
5- Bird-watching Batéguier Pond
Batéguier Pond is a beautiful oasis of calm and tranquility, surrounded by lush vegetation. It’s perfect if you want to take a relaxing stroll, have a picnic with friends, or do some bird watching.
6- Walk around the island
The island features some wonderful and easy trails which will lead you through the island’s unspoiled nature. It’s a great way to explore the island.
One of my favorite trails was Allée des Eucalyptus, a path surrounded by impressive eucalyptus trees.
7- Snorkel and see the statues in the underwater museum
If you are feeling adventurous, just off the coast of the island there is a famous snorkeling spot with sunken underwater sculptures by the artist Jason deCaires Taylor.
The sculptures, inspired by the tale of the Man of the Iron Mask, are located between 3 to 5 meters from the surface and can be easily reached by snorkeling. How cool is that?
8- Cimetière de l’Île Sainte-Marguerite
Another unexpected place to visit on the island is the small Muslim cemetery. It is a peaceful place to wander around.
9- Have a picnic
Since there are not that many options for restaurants on the island, it is always a great idea to pack your own food and have a picnic – especially in a place so beautiful.
Around the island, you will find plenty of picnic spots with impressive views.
Important tip: if you visit during the off-season, definitely take food as the restaurants were closed when I visited.
10- Try one of the restaurants
Alternatively, you can try one of the restaurants located on the island.
There are two options: L’escale Restaurant and La Guerite.
L’escale Restaurant is good for a casual lunch, while La Guerite feels more like a beach club and is great for having a drink in the evening or more sophisticated food. Prices are elevated in both places, but L’escale Restaurant is definitely more affordable.
🥐 My Nice Restaurant Guide is now out!
Are you a foodie? Then the Nice Food Guide is definitely for you.
This ebook contains a list of the 30 best restaurants in Nice (in the categories of seafood, lunch, fine dining, cafés, Niçoise specialties, and brunch) and is on sale for only €6.90.
What to bring to Ile Sainte-Marguerite
As the island doesn’t really have a lot of infrastructure (which is what makes it so special!), make sure to bring with you anything you might need during the day.
I highly recommend bringing food, water, sunscreen, bathing suits, toilet paper (you never know), and bug spray.
🧳 Still wondering what to pack for your trip? Then check out this guide on what to wear on the French Riviera.
Sainte-Marguerite Island FAQ
Lastly, here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Île Sainte-Marguerite.
Is it possible to spend the night in Ile Saint Marguerite?
Yes, it is possible. However, the only lodging option is Le Centre International de Séjour Iles de Lérins de Cannes Jeunesse inside Fort Royal.
This hostel-like accommodation can be booked during summer but to be completely honest I don’t think the idea of staying there is ver
Personally, I would recommend staying in Cannes and going to the island early in the morning, and taking the last ferry back to the mainland in the afternoon.
How much time do you need to see Ile Saint Marguerite?
The island is quite small so you can tour it in around 3 hours – which is plenty of time to enjoy the beaches and nature around you. If you want to take your time and explore every corner, then you could spend up to 5 hours there.
How big is Île Sainte-Marguerite?
Île Sainte-Marguerite is a small island measuring only 1.5 km in length and 500 meters in width.
Other cool day trips to take from Cannes
Besides Île Sainte-Marguerite, there are plenty of other great day trips to take from Cannes.
The possibilities are endless! You just need to pick your favorite one and head there.
Conclusion: A Guide to Visiting Île Sainte-Marguerite
That’s a wrap! I hope this guide has given you some ideas of how to best make your visit to Île Sainte-Marguerite and that you have an absolutely wonderful time exploring this gem of a place.
Oh! And if you are visiting the South of France soon, follow my Instagram for more hidden gems and travel tips. Happy travels!