One of our favorite towns in the Provence is Cassis. This French Riviera gem is tucked away between Marseille and Toulon, far away from the famous strip of tourist magnets between Nice and St Tropez. In spite of the many day trippers, Cassis still feels pretty authentic, especially when you visit during shoulder season. The best thing about this cute town along the Mediterranean coast is that it has more to offer than just sea, sun and postcard views. The rocky inlets known as Calanques form the most spectacular setting for an exploration of the Calanques National Park. We explored the Cassis Calanques and can’t wait to share our hiking experience.
Cassis’ Calanques National Park
It wasn’t until 2002 that the Calanques became a National Park, the 10th of its kind in France. The park stretches out over 12 mi (20 km) of coastline between Cassis and Marseille and includes both land and sea. Its highest point is Mont Puget at 565 m (1,854 ft). But most of the 2 million visitors that explore the Calanques on a yearly basis are not there for the limestone cliffs and mountains. The nine rocky inlets of the Massif des Calanques with their aquamarine waters steal the limelight. These make the Calanques National Park one of the most spectacular natural landmarks in France.
There are several ways to visit the Calanques from either Cassis or Marseille:
- Take a boat tour from the port of Cassis. Do note that you’ll only be passing by the inlets since boats are not allowed to anchor there. The only exception is the Calanque de Port-Miou.
- Join a kayak tour. It’s a great way to reach the beaches in the inlets if the conditions allow it.
- There’s a bike trip to the Parc National des Calanques as well. Do take into account that, by bike, you can only go as far as the Calanque de Port-Pin.
- Or you could hike your way to the inlets, which is what we did.
We explored the Calanques from Cassis.
Our Calanques de Cassis hiking adventure
Since we’re no experienced hikers and didn’t pass by the tourist office to get a physical map, we carefully studied the trail information signs at the park entrance. Of course we had done some research beforehand but, apart from photos about the gorgeous views, it was hard to find more detailed visuals about the hike online. Let’s hope that this article will solve that problem for you. 🙂
Our plan was to follow the trail with the red/white stripes to the first three of the nine rocky inlets:
- Calanque de Port-Miou, located right at the entrance of the Calanques National Park.
- Calanque de Port-Pin at 2,3 km (1.43 mi), which can be reached after a 20-25 minute hike.
- Calanque d’En-Vau at 3,8 km (2.35 mi), requiring a good 1 hour hike.
It’s not a loop trail, so you’ll need to retrace your steps when returning to your car.
– Calanque de Port-Miou
This is the first inlet, located right behind the trailhead. It’s a gorgeous sheltered docking area for dozens of boats, tucked between the limestone cliffs of the Calanques National Park. The contrast with the teal-hued water is just amazing. The trail leads you right along the waterside for the first part until it follows a very steep, ochre-colored sandy hill. Make sure to turn around when you reach the top, so you can take in the best view over the Calanque Port-Miou. The perfect place to catch your breath before continuing your hike.
– Calanque de Port-Pin
From there, the trail gets rocky. The first stretch is pretty doable because the trail is rather wide. If you’re a bit slower than other hikers or make more frequent photo-stops, others can easily move past you. But eventually the trail narrows and becomes even more rocky. On a crowded day, you may have to queue a bit before passing through some stretches because of an influx of people going to and coming from the Calanque de Port-Pin. No matter how busy it may get, tread carefully so youp don’t trip.
The final part is the most challenging: Reaching the Calanque de Port-Pin requires a steep descent over the rocks. The slope is wide and, in our experience, the outer lanes are a bit easier to manage than the middle one. The ocean-side lane has a primitive handrail as well. But just look how gorgeous it is.
Okay, you’ll need to look past the bikini-wall once you arrive at the beach. 🙂 Summer crowds… Most visitors only make a brief stop here so it’s a coming and going. Just pick a spot and enjoy a well-earned dip.
A word of caution before you take a dip: We spotted several jellyfish in this inlet.
– Calanque d’En-Vau
Follow the red/white-striped trail at the west side of Port-Pin beach, upwards until the junction. It starts out narrow but widens as you make your way to the top. Continue and you’ll see that the trail descends via another rocky slope. When you make it down, follow the red trail marks on your left. The final part is a beautiful wider trail, in between the high cliffs. Just a little further and you’ll reach the fabulous Calanque d’En-Vau.
Map of the Calanques de Cassis
For your convenience, we’ve created this map indicating the different Calanques in Cassis.
Best time to visit the Calanques National Park
The best time to visit the Calanques de Cassis is shoulder season: May, June and September are perfect for this hike. And needless to say but, should you decide to hike during the summer months anyway, then it’s recommended to either start early (around 8 a.m. is ideal) or later in the day.
We were there in Cassis during the last week of July and it was hot and crowded. Since taking this hike at the hottest time of the year is obviously not ideal, we hadn’t anticipated to see so many other visitors on this trail. It was a colorful mix of experienced hikers in athletic wear and flipflop-wearing tourists loaded with big beach bags and coolers.
At least we were allowed to access the trail in July: During the dry summer months of June, July and August, there’s always a risk of fire. Therefore, the Calanques National Park may be closed for some periods during summer.
Getting to the Calanques National Park
When driving up to Cassis, you’ll see that the Calanques National Park is signposted before you reach the city center. You could take your chance to park at the Port-Miou parking lot but it’s pretty small, very rocky and right next to the cliffs, so beware of falling rocks. When we arrived at 9 a.m. in peak-summer, the parking lot was full. But we found a spot in the residential Avenue Notre-Dame, just opposite from an alley leading to the Avenue des Calanques. From there, it was just a 10 minute walk to the park entrance.
Where to stay in Cassis, Provence
The accommodation options in Cassis are somewhat limited, which is a rather atypical for southern France. Then again, it does give Cassis a certain exclusive elan.
- We’re notorious hotel geeks and only found one Cassis hotel that ticks our boxes: the luxurious Les Roches Blanches (5*).
- If you’re looking to stay in a more affordable yet classy hotel then Hôtel 96 (4*) might be for you. It’s located outside of town, though.
If none of the Cassis hotels fit the bill, then you could search out the perfect guesthouse. These are some options that caught our eye:
Have you explored the Calanques in Cassis? Which of the nine inlets did you hike to? Any tips you’d like to include in this article? Let us know in the comments.
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