L’île Saint Honorat

September 12, 2008

Fifteen hundred years ago a monastery was founded on St Honorat, the smaller of the two Lérin islands lying in the Mediterranean Sea just off the coast near Cannes. The island has had a very rich and varied history since then, but now it is a calm refuge for 24 Cistercian monks who earn some of the money the monastery needs through their agricultural products, mainly wine. When we bought some at the big wine fair in Cagnes-sur-Mer last November, we also joined Le club des amis du vignoble de St Honorat.  When we received a letter from the club inviting us to a members’ day on the island September 6, 2008, we thought it would be a good opportunity.

We embarked on the boat to St Honorat at 9:00 from the port at the west end of Cannes. On arrival we walked the short distance to the island’s one restaurant, La Tonnelle. Coffee and pastries were served. Frère Marie-Pâques, the “Commercial Contact,” gave us a review of the schedule. (He is at the back center-left with the microphone.)

 
Then we walked to the other side of the island, past vineyards and olive trees, to the abbey.   

Linda stopped by the statue of Saint Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of olive growers.
 
We assembled in a lecture room for a discourse by the Abbot, Dom Vladimir. He talked about the various ways that the grapevine had been used as a symbol in the scriptures.

This was followed by a sung mass in the abbey church. Linda and I did not go to the mass in order to see the old fortified church and the views from the top of it. Then we walked around the east end of the island. While we were on St Honorat, we only saw three of the 24 monks, Dom Vladimir, Frère Marie-Pâques and Frère Marie, the head winemaker, who talked to us at lunch. The other monks are under a vow of silence and are not to be seen. When they sang at the mass, they were obscured from the congregation, but we heard that the Byzantine music was lovely and beautifully sung.
 



 

 

The restored tenth-century chapel of the Holy Trinity was one of seven on the island when it was a pilgrimage site. The entry arch of the chapel of St. Michael is all that remains of it. Only the monks are allowed past the gates to these vineyards and the work areas.
 

When we arrived back at La Tonnelle, it was filling up with day-trippers. We could smell fish grilling.

Our group was seated at long tables in the back under the trees.


We met our tablemates, who included a young member of the Taittinger family on the island to help with the harvest and for some spiritual replenishment. The menus were distributed, the food passed out and the wine poured.

 


The amuse-bouches were served with the 2006 Saint Pierre. This is the island’s basic white wine, based on Clairette, a traditional Provençale variety known for producing somewhat flabby wines. The 30% Chardonnay added gave it some body and so it was a nice starter.


   

The shrimp with mashed potatoes was served with the 2006 St Césaire: 100% Chardonnay of the island, a substantial wine.


The filet of beef with mushroom risotto was served with the 2006 St Sauveur, Syrah with 10% Mourvèdre. A good wine, but the course wasn’t really suited to a summer lunch.
The cheese was served with the all Syrah 2006 St Honorat.

The apple tartelette with cinnamon ice cream.

The monks make four kinds of digestifs: tangerine, marc de Lérins, lemoncello (called Lérincello) and green Lérina.

The lunch was a lot of fun. We conversed with people we would not have met in any other way. We left just in time to catch the boat arriving at 3:30 from

Cannes. We boarded it after the passengers debarked and then we returned to a noisier world.

http://www.abbayedelerins.com

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