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Are you ready for an unforgettable trip to the Calanques de Cassis?
Bowed pine trees eking out an existence.
Soaring craggy limestone cliffs.
Azure blue sea slipping into fiords.
These are les Calanques de Cassis.
And then there’s the port of Cassis, France.
A mini “St-Tropez.”
Shutters askew on pastel-coloured façades.
Cobbled streets winding to nowhere in particular.
Salty seawater lapping against bobbing bows.
The combination of the Calanques de Cassis and the town of Cassis, France make an amazing stop on a south of France itinerary through the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. My daughter and I knew from the outset when planning our itinerary that this would be our final stop in southern France. The Calanques de Cassis and Cassis, France make an easy day trip from Aix-en-Provence with less than an hour’s drive.
1. What are the Calanques de Cassis?
What on earth is a calanque?
Let’s, first of all, get the pronunciation straight. Calanque…get your best French accent ready…. sounds like “kalawnk.”
The Calanques de Cassis are a series of narrow inlets and rocky cliffs located along the Mediterranean coast, just east of the town of Cassis in the south of France.
Like a fiord, there are magnificent cliffs and slim inlets. The calanque is the inlet where the splendid, turquoise water licks the chalk-white limestone. Each calanque is slightly different from its neighbour.
They are a stunning example of nature at work. Les Calanques de Cassis were formed over thousands of years by the blasting wind, the salty sea and rain resulting in an impressive and unique landscape.
These stunning geological formations stretch for several kilometres between the towns of Marseille and Cassis, and are part of the Calanques National Park.
The Calanques de Cassis are a popular destination for hiking, rock climbing, and swimming, and offer breathtaking views of the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean. The Calanques National Park, created in 2012, is situated between Marseille and Cassis, France and offers remarkable biodiversity in both its plant and animal life.
2. See The Calanques de Cassis from A Tour Boat
Walk past the sailboats docked in the port of Cassis, France to the booth that sells tickets for the boat tours on Quai St. Pierre. Really, just follow the crowds, for in mid-June visiting the Cassis Calanques is not an off-the-beaten-path adventure. Choose your tour depending on how many Calanques de Cassis that you want to see and/or how long you want to be on the boat.
3 Calanques de Cassis are a 45-minute excursion and costs 16 €
5 Cassis Calanques are a 65-minute excursion and costs 19.50 €
8 Calanques de Cassis are a 90-minute excursion and costs 23 €
9 Calanques are a 120-minute excursion and costs 28 €
There is also a 90-minute excursion that includes swimming amidst les Calanques de Cassis in the Mediterranean Sea.
Purchase your ticket for the Cassis Calanques and get on the next available boat.
The boat tours of the Calanques de Cassis do not enter the fiords but amble past the mammoth limestone cliffs and idle at the entrances to the inlets. Embrace the salty spray from the Mediterranean and your tiny spot in the universe as you cruise past these historic monoliths.
3. See Les Calanques de Cassis By Kayak
Kayak into the inlets of the Calanques de Cassis with the white cliffs towering above. Pull your kayak up on the rocks for a picnic and a swim in the turquoise waters. Unforgettable.
I was warned by every French person I know (honestly, it’s more than one!) to be very careful kayaking here. I personally would choose to kayak with a guided group in the Calanques de Cassis. The water on the Mediterranean can whip up some pretty big waves.
4. Hiking The Cassis Calanques
Hiking the Calanques de Cassis is a must. The view from the clifftops down into the calanques is breathtaking and scrambling down the cliffside pathways to swim in the clear Mediterranean waters is an extraordinary experience.
Follow the signs from Cassis, France to the first calanque, Calanque de Port-Miou. Port-Miou means “sheltered from the wind” in provençal explaining the plethora of moored sailboats. If you have a car and are not so keen on hiking, there is a parking lot at the end of Ave Notre Dame. Park here and it is just a short walk to peer down upon Calanque de Port-Miou.
Hiking to Calanque de Port-Miou from Cassis only takes between 20 and 30 minutes (one-way).
After Port-Miou, follow the steep, rocky pathway to the Calanque de Port-Pin, named after the Aleppo pine trees growing between the rocks.
Hopefully, on this hike in the Calanques de Cassis, you are wearing runners or hikers as the path leading down the escarpment is not for the faint of heart. Upon arrival at the narrow beach, find a spot to spread your picnic blanket, float in the glorious waters and rehydrate.
Remember all that biodiversity that the Calanques de Cassis has to offer? We got a front-row seat to this wild boar. He graced us with his presence but was unfortunately accustomed to getting snacks from humans.
After a break, follow the path upwards to Calanque d’En-Vau. This Calanque, meaning “in the valley” in old French, attracts climbers from all over the world who scale the 130-metre high cliffs.
When you reach the top there is a split in the path. Stay to the right and scramble down the loose rock path or stay left and admire the view. Being the determined type, I wanted to continue the hike but … I did not have the correct shoes or enough water. So, we turned back. Little did we know that we could have taken the path to the left for a view of Calanque d’En Vau.
The hike all the way to Calanque d’En Vau and back to Cassis, France will take you the better part of a day.
5. Tips For Hiking The Calanques de Cassis
Check to verify that the Calanques de Cassis are open for hiking. Typically they are closed to hikers in the summer months, due to risk of fire.
Get an early start to beat the heat (in mid-June, it was scorching hot!)
Bring plenty of water, snacks and a picnic on your Cassis Calanques hike. You won’t regret it.
Wear proper running shoes or hikers. The steep pathways in the Calanques de Cassis are made of sharp, loose rocks. Easy for slipping.
Bring or wear a swimsuit, a towel and/or picnic blanket.
6. Another Way To Visit The Calanques de Cassis:
By Tourist Train: There is a tourist train and a shuttle bus that leaves from Cassis. It takes you to the closest Calanque of Port Miao.
7. Cassis, France
Cassis, France known for its beaches and white Cassis wine is a gateway to the Calanques. The Vieux Port (old port) is bustling in the evening with bars and restaurants at capacity, even in June. Beware…the prices reflect Cassis’s nickname “Little Saint-Tropez.” Are the prices as high as St-Tropez? Never having been to St-Tropez, I can’t honestly say but there are many tourist traps in Cassis and the prices are on the high side.
On our way back from hiking the Cassis Calanques, we stopped at the Plage de Bestouan (Bestouan Beach) for some suntanning, relaxation and swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. Overheated from the hike, we purchased what every human craves in the heat. Something icy and refreshing. The freezie was exactly what I needed and worth every cent of the $6.
Sipping on a delightful apéro right in the harbour, our bill was double what we expected.!
Despite the prices, Cassis, France is the perfect seaside town. Mussels and ice cream are readily available and flowers cascade down pastel-shaded buildings. Fishermen arrive with their day’s catch amongst the pleasure sailboats. Waves lap the sandy shore and an ancient castle (now an exclusive hotel) watches over the town. Cassis, France is seaside perfection.
Wednesday and Fridays are market days in Cassis, France. We had to pull ourselves away from the Wednesday morning market to catch a train in Aix-en-Provence. The merchants were engaging and the stalls were full of clothing, local artisanal goods and delectable food and wine. French markets are beyond enticing.
Hot tip: Stock up on real savon de Marseille (Marseille soap) that is actually made in a nearby French factory. Savon de Marseille is now manufactured in China and sold around the world. It’s often not the real, natural deal but here at the Cassis market, it is authentic.
More Travel Info…
Spending time in Provence, France?
More Travel Info: Provence…
Kayak the Gorges du Verdon – don’t miss the incredible teal water here.
Arles, France: 11 Best Things To Do
Avignon, France: The Best Things To See and Do
Lavender Fields of Provence: 7 Top Tips for Visiting – the purple fields will blow your mind!
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie: Don’t Go Unless – tucked under cliffs, this is a wonderful place to stay.
Luberon France: Exploring Hill Towns in Provence – Be sure to visit the stunning medieval hilltop towns.
Bormes les Mimosas: An enchanting hilltop town on the French Riviera.
Heading to Paris?
Here you will find all my tips and tricks to visiting the City of Light… keep an eye here… many new posts to be added!
Having a travel guidebook is always handy. I am a fan of this one.
Rick Steves edition is called Provence and the French Riviera.
I feel like you just shouldn’t go to Provence without reading this… Although, don’t blame me if you end up moving there!