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The French Cycling Bicycle Gourmet - French Country Travel Life Film Maker and Author. Your non-snobby Gourmet Guide to food, wine travel and Lifestyle Adventure!

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French Riviera Vacation – Part Three

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Only half a mile from Cannes, but atmospherically in another universe, is the tranquil isle of Ste. Marguerite. One of two islands in the Lerins “chain.” Here you will find no boutique, no swingin’ hot spot, and no souvenir stand.

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You’ll have to be content with acres of pine studded pathways, deserted beaches, soft salty ocean breezes, and all that other tree-hugger stuff. Not to mention a nature reserve. But then, in a phrase, the isle St. Marguerite IS nature reserved for you. With the exception of the to-be-expectedcafe/snack bar/coffee house.(that I can neither recommend or condemn).

“Sparsely populated” is  classic understatement describing the population of St. Marguerite.  20 houses. Almost all – fishermen. Summer, of course, a different story.Like every island in and under the sun.

Ste. Marguerite has several claims to fame, depending on your interests. It’s a frequent film location. Easy to understand why, with the proximity to Cannes. (Hint – the actors are close to their five star hotel and shopping!) There is rare flora and fauna to be appreciated. But easily the most prominent is the History of  The Man in the Iron Mask.

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Popularized by Alexander Dumas in the final installment of his “Three Musketeers” series.The real story of that masked man, which begins in 1669, has more intrigue and suspense than all of Hitchcock’s films. And more conspiracy theories than 9/11 and the Kennedy assasination combined

The most prevelant being the one Dumas(loosley) based his story around. Namely, that the Man in the Iron Mask was the Father Of Louis 14.(you remember him, right? – “The Sun King” – Versailles, etc.)

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Howso? – well here’s the scoop: Louis 13 was a raging queen, who lived seperately from his wife, (a real Queen) for 20 years. Next in line for the throne,was Louis 13’s brother –  Gaston d’Orleans. Problem for Cardinal Richelieu, the King’s minister, who had a mutual hate relationship with Gaston. Because if Gaston were next to wear the crown, Cardinal Richelieu would have no place to wear his hat.(you’re getting my drift, dear reader, are you not?) So – the scuttlebut is that Richelieu arranged for some  other stud in the Royal entourage to get up close n’ personal with the queen. And – viola! – Louis 14!  young louis 14

Ok – so far so good. Except that Louis 14 bears NO resemblance whatsoever to Louis 13. But is a carbon copy of “The Royal Inseminator.” Can’t have people talking now can we? Can’t have the integrity of the monarchy threatened! Not to mention it’s pomp, ceremony and foreign bank accounts. Solution : Lock up the real father. Treat him, well..like the Father of a King. But, for the same reason make him wear a mask.(black velvet – not iron) It’s also suggested the Kingly Father was cautioned not to blab about anything other than food, medical needs,and the color of his dinner plates, or he would go the way of Marie Antoinette.

There is a fortress on the island – Fort Royal – that you may wander through. Except the part that’s been converted into a youth hostel. But then, if you’re a youth, I guess you’re good to go. The Fort Royal was “Home” to several high profile prisoners during the latter part of the 17th centuy. The most celebrated being the “masked one.” His cell is open for visits. Here’s where it gets almost as strange as his story.

First of all – it’s free! Second -there are THREE cells. Virtually identical, adjoining a long corridor. Third – There are “arabic scenes” painted on at least one entire wall of each of the cells. How this relates to Mr. Mask, is not explained. More to the point, and strangest of all – there is no info in French, English and Japanese explaining the History of it all. Completely out of character for the French. Who (usually) never miss a chance to thump their Historical chests.

But the final “Coup de Bizarre” is a wooden statue at the end of the corridor. It’s face contorted with pain, suffering and credit card debt. Impossible to determine the gender. Again, no info. No explanation. No Plaque. Is THIS the Man in the Iron Mask? And, if so..uh – why is it in wood? And if not – what the freakin’ heck is it doin’ here?

Adjoining the masked one’s multiple dwellings, there is a museum of the sea.

Which is not free. 3.50 euros gives you the right to walk through two floors of more ancient pots, plates, jewel boxes, and 2000 year old raisans(really!) than you ever imagined could be littering the surrounding ocean. But, then, those Romans. They DID get around!

Just one touch of lux on Ste. Marguerite. that you will never experience. Unless you’re one of those priviliged humans my Father used to refer to as “The Swells.” (You know – them folks that be “more swell” than the us common folk.) Think millionaires, politicans, and corporate criminals. It’s discreetly named “Le Grand Jardin.” Snapped up by an Indian businessman for around $50 million.

BOTTOM LINE : Not knowing your definition of “it all”, I can’t say that the Isle Ste. Marguerite is the place to get away from “it all.” But I can recommend it unreservedly(and isn’t that the best way?) as a place to get away from most of “it.”

Will that float yer boat?
THROW ME A BONE HERE, PEOPLE!
What are ya thinkin’?
(More scholarly History here on the Man in The Iron Mask.)
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4 Responses to “French Riviera Vacation – Part Three”

  1. mike filmain says:

    makes me wish i were there! glad that you were. it’s second best ) but better than nothing right?

  2. frieda deless says:

    beautiful photos ) totally capture the feeling of the place; can’t wait to visit!

  3. dennis markinson says:

    As you said..the lack of any info at the museum regarding the man in the iron mask is bizarre, to say the least. Thanks for filling in the blanks.

  4. harrison spadix says:

    Very magical _ your last photo! Also extremely informative post: Looking forward to more!

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