The Calanques in Provence is one of the most unique and beautiful parts of the French Riviera. And one that is not very well known to foreign tourists.
This rocky and mountainous coastal region runs along the Mediterranean sea between Marseille and Cassis and along the coast of Provence. It is a nature reserve and a popular destination for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Carved out of limestone, this unique cliffside mountain range is a protected national park that is much beloved by the locals.
More than just a mountain range, the Calanques include an amazing series of little inlets and islands that are surrounded by steep cliffs, rocky hillsides. And when you add in the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, it is a stunning place to visit if you’re on holiday in the South of France.
It’s an excellent place to spend a day, either visiting by boat or on foot. So let’s look at the best ways to explore the Calanques, shall we? Allons-y!
I. Calanques By Boat
1. From Marseille
If you happen to be in France’s oldest city, Marseille, the easiest way to head to the Calanques is to catch a boat leaving from the Vieux Port, right in the heart of the city.
This is a good option if you don’t have a car and cannot get around as quickly. If you are coming off a cruise ship into Marseille, the cruise ship port is about 20 minutes away, and most of the main sights like Le Panier are around the Vieux Port, making it an easy stop.
The boats that head to the Calanques used are usually catamarans and depending on the option chosen, make stops at other nearby islands as well like Château d’If and Iles du Frioul.
Some of the boats offer a full day of snorkling in the Calanques with stops at Port Pin beach, one of the top beaches in the area. I highly recommend bringing your swimsuit. You can find out more about Calanques boat cruises from Marseille here.
2. From Cassis
If you want to be like the locals however, you may want to head to the nearby coastal town of Cassis to catch a boat from here.
Cassis is a charming little town (avoiding the traffic issues of big city Marseille), and it is this portion of the Calanques that is reputed to be the prettiest.
There are several boats leaving from the Port of Cassis, with options of how many of the main Calanques inlets you want to visit and for how long. Several of the boats from here offer picnic and swimming as well, so you just have to pick. You can find out more about Calanques boat options from Cassis here.
3. From La Ciotat
The nearest Calanques that you can visit from the small town of La Ciotat, is the Calanques de Figuerolles. You can hike up to these Calanques or take a boat.
There is also the Ile Verte (Green Island) in the area, which is a piece of protected land that is part of the Calanques regional park, which you will definitely need a boat to get to. About 550m offshore, it is about 12 hectares of land of wooded trees and vegetation.
It was previously used as an ancient fortification, and you can still see At the remains of Fort Saint-Pierre and Fort Géry built in the Middle ages, which were strengthened by the Germans and then destroyed during the Allied bombardments of WWII.
There are 3 small beaches on the island as well, to explore and enjoy. Nature trails will lead you between the beaches, so bring shoes that you can walk in.
Regular maritime shuttles and boat cruises are available to take you back and forth from the port of La Ciotat.
II. Hiking into the National Park
The hiking trails in the Calanques National Park are renowned for its spectacular views as far as the eye can see.
While there are many different possible hikes into the Calanques, there are a few that are more heavily frequented than others, due to their beautiful scenic views across the coastline:
1. From Cassis: Calanques de Cassis to Port Miou, Port Pin and Encre d’En-Vau
From the edge of the town of Cassis, you can follow hiking trails that take you to Port Miou, one of the closest calanques that is 1400m long. The hiking trail GR98-51 actually goes all the way between Cassis and Marseille, although I don’t recommend you go that far (unless you are really keen!)
From Port Miou you can head to Port Pin, which has a beautiful beach to swim in, and then onto En-Vau via a high lookout point of Pointe de la Cacau that is not to be missed.
The hike takes around 2h30 and is relatively easy until Port min and gets harder from Pont Pin to En-vau with a rather steep path to follow. Tour guides are available which you can book here.
2. From Marseille to Calanque de Sugiton
The hike to the Calanque de Sugiton starts in a rather odd location, the Luminy University in Marseille. It is just steps away from the Calanques, so you don’t have to worry that you’ve accidentally gotten lost.
From Luminy, you can follow a rather flat path marked in blue for about 30 minutes that will take you to the Col de Sugiton.
From here you hike up 1km to the Belvedere de Sugiton for beautiful views of the Calanques regional park, including the Calanque de Morgiou on the other side.
You can then head down to the coves in the Calanques de Sugiton towards the beaches. (Note, the beaches here are often closed due to falling rocks.)
If the beaches are closed, you can follow the path along to a couple of rocky coves from where you have the possibility of going for a swim. The path continues and gets a bit steeper and narrower to go around and take you back to Luminy.
The hike takes about 3 hours and covers a distance of about 4.5 miles (7.5km). It is considered relatively difficult as there are some rather steep portions.
III. Tips for Visiting
If you are planning to visit the Calanques, there are a few tips to keep in mind:
1. Check the park conditions and fire advisories
High winds and the mistral are common weather conditions in the Calanques, and French authorities take the risk of fire very seriously. The Calanques is often closed to visitors when there is a risk of fire due to high winds, so check any advisories the night before.
2. Expect the water to be cold
One thing that always surprises visitors to the Calanques is that the water is often cold, even in the middle of summer. The currents of the Mediterranean bring cooler waters to this part of France, so the water is generally rather “refreshing”.
3. Prepare for extreme heat conditions in the summer and for it to get cooler at night
It gets very hot in the south of France in the summer, anywhere from 90F° (32C°) and above. At the same time, because of its position on the Mediterranean, it can get very cold and windy in the evenings as well. So bring a light jacket, just in case.
4. The hikes are not recommended for children under six.
Officially, the hikes are not recommended for children under 6 years old. There is no one checking at the entrance, but since there are no particular signs saying “easy route” or “hard route”, your child may not appreciate this particular adventure.
5. Take enough food and water
It is easy to get lost in the Calanques, since internet and telephone service in the area is not guaranteed. If you are counting on your GPS to guide you, you may struggle to get network in the area.
Be prepared for all occasions and bring plenty of food and water, especially in hot summer conditions.
6. Take proper hiking boots and water shoes
The rocks around the Calanques can be very slippery so good hiking shoes are a must. (I once went with sneakers, and really struggled).
In addition, if you are going to go in the water, I would highly recommend water shoes in most areas, as there are sometimes sharp rocks, pieces of glass and other debris in the water.
7. Go with a guide
When in doubt, go with a guide. If you only have a short amount of time in the area and can’t afford to get lost, a guide is worth the price to make sure you don’t end up with a turn with the French rescue services.
From bike tours from Marseille, rock-climbing tours from La Ciotat, and kayaking tours from Cassis, there is something from everyone. So enjoy!
If you enjoyed that post, you may want to read more about traveling around Provence and the French Riviera. A bientôt!