I found the peace I was looking for on Ile St. Honorat off the French Mediterranean Coast. I learned the value of silence. I learned the true meaning of sharing, togetherness and solidarity.

I was dragging myself to a three-day retreat in Ile St. Honorat with a head full sorrow and a tired, aching body. I was curious to learn more about this Mediterranean Island, where monks worked the soil in order to produce quality olive oil and wine. As I am not Catholic, I was unsure what to expect on St. Honorat Island. I had never been to a retreat before, so I was nervous. But frustrations at work and pandemic fears had weighed on me. I was in need of a change and this place promised to be a haven.

My best friend asked me if she could come along with me as I was preparing to leave. Although I was grateful for the offer, I also knew that she would not want to spend three days in a remote island, without trendy restaurants and cafes. In March, when the abbey was less crowded, I decided to visit. The lush vegetation and unspoiled wilderness were perfect for a visit in March.

How to Get to My Retreat at Ile St. Honorat

St. Honorat Island, on the French Mediterranean coast, is rich in architecture, history and beauty. St. Honorat Island can only be reached by ferry. Nine departures are made daily from Cannes. A tenth departure is early in the morning on Sundays or public holidays. The roundtrip fare from Cannes to Honorat costs 15.50 Euros (about $17).

Photo courtesy Ile St. Honorat Photo courtesy Ile St. Honorat

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I was able to take in the beauty of the Mediterranean while on a boat trip to St. Honorat Island. In the distance I could see Isle Marguerite – the larger of two Lerin Islands. Cannes was behind me, a busy, noisy city.

I looked at my fellow passengers. Some would be only visiting for a day, while others, as I assumed, wanted to spend some time with nature and nurture their spirituality.

You can visit for a day and explore the paths and chapels. For lunch, book a table at La Tonnelle where you can enjoy Mediterranean cuisine and savour the fine wines of the monks while facing the Bay of Cannes. The idyllic restaurant is located where the ferry docks. It is open every day until 3pm.

The founding of Ile St. Honorat

The island was named after Saint Honoratus, who founded it in 410. St. Honorat Island is home to 21 monks ranging in age from 37 to 90. The monks live by the Saint Benedict rule based on work and prayer. If Saint Honoratus could find peace and tranquility on this island, then I can too.

Ile St. Honorat, Monastery. Photo courtesy Ile St. Honorat

As the ferry boat approaches, you cannot miss the majestic ancient tower that overlooks the Mediterranean. The fortress, built on the southern coast in three stages, was a central part of the monastic life throughout the centuries.

The restoration of this ancient mystical site, which defended the monastic communities for centuries, is almost complete.

Photo by cmfotoworks via iStock by Getty Images. Photo by cmfotoworks, iStock via Getty Images

The History of Ile St. Honorat

St. Honorat Island was originally peaceful, but there have been many attacks over the years.

The Spanish drove all the monks off the island during a 1635 attack. Two years later, the French reclaimed the island and the monks were welcomed back.

Ile St. Honorat is a place with a long history. Photo by cmfotoworks from iStock. Getty Images

The turmoil continued through the Napoleonic Wars and French Revolution from 1792 until 1815. As you explore, you can see the grim reminders of Ile Saint Honorat’s more violent past. You can, for example, see two ovens used to heat cannonballs in the Napoleonic Wars. These are all grim reminders of less-than-pleasant times.

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Honorat was a French horse that belonged for a time to France after the French Revolution. It was then sold to an actress from France who lived in France for around two decades.

The island experienced a revival in 1859 when the Bishop Frejus purchased it and a group of Cistercian Monks started rebuilding the island.

Finding Solace During My Retreat on Ile St. Honorat

The island is very small. The island is only about a quarter mile wide and 1.5 kilometers long. I enjoyed leisurely, solitary walks every day to take in the beauty of the rocky beach, pine forests, paths, trees and plants. Early morning and late night walks were my favorites, especially as the ferry boats disappeared into the distance. The evening light makes walking around the island, which has no cars, an even more luxurious experience.

On the island, it is important to respect nature. Visitors must remove all trash from the island when they leave the island at the end the day.

Coastline on Ile St. Honorat. Photo by cmfotoworks. iStock, Getty Images.

Vineyards in Ile St. Honorat

These hardworking monks are passionate about producing quality wine. Eight different types of red and white grapes are planted, grown, and harvested.

Vineyards on Ile St. Honorat. Photo courtesy Ile St. Honorat

The location of the winery is crucial. Each year, the mainland French viticulturists are faced with hail, frost and freezing temperatures. Not on Ile St. Honorat.

The cellar master, Brother Marie, said that the vines on the 20 acres (8 ha) have the best weather possible with 220 sunny days. The climate is mild and we experience minimal frost. He explained that at Honorat we use a tractor for soil work and harvest by hand.

The monks make wine from grapes they gather in the vineyards. Photo courtesy Ile St. Honorat

The monks produce and bottle organic wine on the Island, and ship it as far as Japan.

The island is not only devoted to grapes. About 150 olive trees are found on the island, some of which date back over 1,000 years. Brother Marie explained that the latest venture is permaculture farming for growing vegetables.

Church services during the retreat on Ile St. Honorat

The church and chapels are important because the island is inhabited by monks. It was an added bonus to be able to participate in the services with the monks. The after-dinner services were incredibly moving. Dim lights and listening to monks chanting are cherished memories.

Seven chapels are located on the island. Some chapels are located on the coast, while others are a little inland. St. Sauveur Chapel, the oldest, underwent recent renovations.

Abbaye de Lerins is the central feature of St. Honorat Island. The abbey may seem too simple, or even sparse to some, but it’s in keeping with Cistercian traditions. It was a wonderful experience for me. Everyday, mass is held at 11:25am and on Sundays it’s at 9:50am.

Entrance to Abbaye de Lerins (the main church on Ile St. Honorat). Photo courtesy Ile St. Honorat

My Daily Life on Ile St. Honorat

Silence during meals was not in the least problematic. We didn’t need to talk. Sharing and being thankful with prayers before and following eating, the sense of togetherness always remained. I was able practice mindfulness, which is the art of concentrating on the moment.

The daily life on Ile St. Honorat is peaceful. Photo by nito100, via iStock. Getty Images

Evelyne is a volunteer at Honorat who has been volunteering for over nine years. She loves being part of the community.

“I meet people that I would not have met without volunteering at an abbey. I realized there was as much life and people as there were. “It is enriching.”

We moved efficiently and purposefully around the kitchen at the end of every meal. Some of us washed the dishes – manually, of course – while others dried the tablecloths or set the tables for the following meal.

It surprised me that with my computer and phone in my bag, I didn’t feel the need to check my emails or see what my Twitter followers were complaining about. I was able to focus on more simple, less stressful tasks. My head felt much clearer. I felt safe.

Returning Home After My Retreat on Ile St. Honorat

I was feeling light and free as a feather when, three days later, I hopped on the boat that would bring me back to mainland. I returned to a noisy and chaotic world but had learned the true meaning of silence, sharing, and togetherness. I found the peace I was looking for on Ile St. Honorat. I was ready for the world. To book your spiritual retreat, visit online or contact them directly at hotellerie@abbayedelerins.com.

Booking well in advance is recommended. Wander has many more suggestions for places to visit in France . Also, we have some suggestions for health travel.