What are Calanques?
Les Calanques are submerged valleys formed before the last Ice Age and then flooded when the ice melted and the oceans rose. Today, they are deep, narrow inlets, lined with jagged limestone cliffs, that stretch between Marseille, Cassis and La Ciotat along the Mediterranean coast. These “fjords” of the south were carved into the limestone massifs by rivers flowing to the sea, forming the dramatic coastline.
For thousands of years, sailors have used the inlets as safe havens during storms. In fact, that may be how the adventurous Phocaens found Marseille in the first place.
Every calanque is different. Some have small beaches at the ends – there are at least 70 sand or fine pebble beaches scattered among Les Calanques. Others have tiny harbors. Some can be reached over footpaths, others by boat from Cassis or another nearby town. There are even one or two that are accessible via public transportation from Marseille. Some are walled by an especially hard, fine-grained limestone known as Cassis stone. This stone has been quarried since ancient times and was used to build the quays of Alexandria and the Suez Canal, even the base of the Statue of Liberty. Others are made of softer stone and riddled with caves – many of them underwater. In a few places, most of the surrounding landscape has eroded away leaving needles and masses of isolated limestone that seem to grow from the sea.
Lovers of adventures and active vacations will find plenty to do here. Adventures include challenging cliff climbs and spelunking, boating and sailing, as well as moderate hikes suitable for families or groups of mixed abilities.
Because of very high summer temperatures and lack of fresh water, most local footpaths in the Calanques are closed during the summer months. But access from the sea is possible year-round.
The Calanques of Marseille
From Marseille, you can take public transportation to the Calanques of the massifs de Marseilleveyre and Puget. One of the pleasures of Marseille is that you can combine an urban vacation with hiking and swimming around some of the wildest coast in Europe. The following routes will take you to points from which you can hike through the Calanques and down to the sheltered beaches. Hiking access is forbidden between June 10 and September 15 because of the heat and lack of drinking water.
Les Goudes or Callelongue: Metro Line 1 to Castellane, then Bus 19 followed by Bus 20. Follow footpath signs to the Calanque de Callelongue.
La Cayolle: Metro Line 2 to Rond Point du Prado, then Bus 23 to Beauvallon, followed by one hour on foot to the Calanque de Sormiou. (Cosquer’s Cave is in a mystery location, somewhere near this calanque).
Luminy: Metro Line 1 to Castellane, then Bus 21. Follow footpaths to the Calanque de Morgiou and the Calanque de Sugiton.
Les Calanques of Cassis
Three of the most beautiful Calanques are within easy reach of Cassis:
Calanque de Port Miou: The closest to Cassis, it’s about one km/.62 miles long and ends in a small, sheltered port.
Calanque de Port Pin: Pine trees cling to the steep, rocky walls of this calanque, giving it the name. At the base is a small, shaded beach.
Calanque d’En Vau: This is one of the most famous Calanques. Its cliffs and limestone needles rise straight out of the calm sea. It has a sandy beach at its base.
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