If there is anything about Marseille that makes everyone agree, it is the calanques! Even the biggest critics of this French city remain stunned by its natural beauty. Sumptuous landscapes framed by a blue sea envied by the whole world (or France at least). So put on your hiking shoes and get ready to be amazed!
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Calanques’ in French translates roughly as ‘rocky inlet’. But the calanques of Marseille aren’t just any rocks: they’re staggeringly beautiful limestone cliffs that spill into turquoise coves, like the Mediterranean’s (much warmer) answer to the Norwegian fjords. A total of 26 make up the Calanques National Park (Parc National des Calanques), a 200-square-mile treasure trove for hikers, boaters, swimmers, and nature lovers.
Sprawling across Marseille and Cassis, Europe’s largest peri-urban park seduces in all seasons. Every Marseillais has their calanque of choice. Whether you’re craving a killer hike, a cool dip or a charming port, this guide will help you find yours!
The best calanques to visit
On the southern tip of Marseille, this quaint fishing port is the gateway to the Calanques National Park and a great starting point for easy ambles or epic hikes. Reward your efforts with a bite at Grand Bar des Goudes or a drink at nearby bar, 20,000 Lieues.
Calanque de Morgiou
This lovely little port is well worth a visit: embark on the 50-minute hike down from Luminy, which is prettier than the fire road from Les Baumettes, and reward yourself with a dip. Or take in the sweeping view from above on a hike to Cap Morgiou, where you’ll also get the chance to check out the prehistoric Cosquer cave paintings at Anse de la Triperie.
Calanque de Sugiton
With its picturesque white cliffs and blindingly blue coves, it’s no surprise that Sugiton is the most popular calanque. It’s best to avoid Sugiton in summer, even if the new reservation system is helping to keep crowds down. To visit, take the fire road from Luminy to a well-marked trail. Though the Belvédère viewpoint is very much worth the detour.
Calanque de Sormiou
This snorkelling paradise was home to Jacques Cousteau’s first scuba dives. It’s Marseille’s largest calanque and also boasts a beautiful sandy beach. For hikers, the prettier and fastest route leaves from Les Baumettes. To score a parking spot, book a table at Le Château (open April to September) or arrive in the early months of the off-season.
Calanque de Marseilleveyre
An easy 50-minute hike from Callelongue (the last stop on the 20 bus), this idyllic turquoise cove is ideal for swimming and sunbathing. Bring a picnic, or some euros if you want to dine at a laidback beach shack just steps from the sea.
Port-Miou and Calanque d’En Vau
The skinny port and ancient limestone quarry at Port Miou are just a 20-minute walk from the village of Cassis. An hour more takes you to the soaring cliffs, remote sandy beach and neon-blue waters of En Vau, which have earned it a reputation as one of the most beautiful calanques.
Îles du Frioul
Not technically part of the Calanques National Park, this island archipelago is nevertheless worth a shout: its calanques are the closest to Marseille’s city centre, and the easiest to get to, with boats leaving most days from the Vieux-Port. Highlights include the medieval Château d’If prison, the picturesque Saint-Estève beach, and the rocky coves of Pomègues if you want more peace and quiet.
How do i get there?
Many calanques are accessible by bus. Take line 19 to Madrague de Montredon for Les Goudes and Croix de Marseilleveyre, line 21 to Luminy for Morgiou and Sugiton, or line 22 to Les Baumettes for Morgiou and Sormiou.
You can drive to Les Goudes throughout the year. Morgiou and Sormiou are open to cars in the off-season, or you can beat their summer parking ban with a restaurant reservation. To reach Cassis from Marseille, the Route de la Gineste’s stunning switchbacks are gorgeous any time of year.
Les Goudes is the gateway of the Calanques, and from April to October, Marseille’s public ferry La Navette is the best way to beat the summer traffic. For the Îles du Frioul, the year-round Le Bateau express shuttle ferries passengers daily.
Work up a sweat before your swim with a kayak or paddleboard rental. Raskas Kayak offers guided tours for all levels from Les Goudes or Cassis. Rent a paddle board from 1,2,3, Kayak to spend a day exploring Les Goudes, Marseilleveyre or Frioul.
Boat trips in the Calanques
A boat trip is ideal for visiting multiple calanques in a day, and a must to truly experience the natural splendour of the Calanques National Park. If you want to swim, snorkel, and sunbathe, there are many companies which have 4-to-12 person motorboats or a 24-person catamaran for private or group outings. If sightseeing is your thing, plump for the much larger (150 to 250 passengers) and less expensive group tours.
Splurge on brunch and sunset cruises on a catamaran – or rent a budget-friendly boat to yourselves. The closest Marseille ports to the Calanques are Pointe-Rouge and Les Goudes. Alternatively you can charter a boat from Cassis which is an hour away by road from Marseille. However always do check that your skipper has a green pass for park access, a new system to protect this fragile maritime reserve.
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