“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks”
– John Muir
With 8 days in the Provence region in the South of France, our highlight was hiking in Calanques National Park in Cassis, which is located just outside of Marseilles and just a one-hour drive Northwest of Toulon. A calanque is a steep, walled inlet, typically made of limestone or dolomite and found in the Mediterranean. There are several calanques in this area, but the most famous are Calanque Port Pin and Calanque d’en Vau.
There are a few ways to go about hiking to these beautiful coves, but whichever route you select, allot a half or full day to explore with plenty of time for swimming. My recommendation is to begin the hike at Calanque de Port Miou. If you have a rental car, simply enter this name into Googlemaps and it will take you directly to the car park, a dirt lot with lots of shaded spaces that costs €8 per vehicle. If you want to avoid the parking fee, there is also parallel street parking, however, you must go very early (7:00 AM or earlier) as it fills up quickly. Trust me when I say that the €8 is completely worth it for a full day of beauty, hiking and swimming. Consider it your “fee” to the national park entrance, since they don’t charge an entry fee to visit the national park itself.
The trail head is a bit counterintuitive to find, as there are no clear signs and the open dirt car park is actually not where the trail head is. We simply followed the masses and it led us to the right place. You will go down a bit of a dirt trail for only a few minutes, and then come out to the street again. Follow the street down and you will see the start of the trail there.
You’ll walk along the harbor with beautiful crystal clear waters that you’ll ooo and ahhh over. But just you wait, it gets even better!
After about 20 minutes of walking from the dirt car park, you will arrive at Port Pin, a small swimming cove that gets really crowded. These calanques are no secret and certainly not a hidden gem, so the early bird really gets the worm here. We began our hike around 9:30 AM and it already looked like this!
From here, continue on the path to the right. Follow the red/green path throughout the entire trail. You’ll see trail marker arrows on rocks such as this one below: (Italian colors!) 🙂
The trail is of moderate level and goes both up and down, sometimes at very steep inclines. Be cautious as the rocks are extremely slick even when dry. You will be going over loose rocks, so watch your step. We visited during mid August, so the trail was quite crowded with people, including kids, beach chairs, floaties and even a dog! Many hikers choose to stop at the beach at Port Pin and make a day out of it rather than continuing on to Calanque d’en Vau. However, I highly recommend continuing on, as the views are magnificent!
Once you reach the top of the highest point before the ascent into the valley, you will see these views, which reminded me of Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah and Meteora in Greece.
Once you reach the top, take a rest, have some water, and continue on the trail down to the valley floor. Once you reach the bottom, you will finally arrive at the beach!
There were plenty of hikers crowding the small beach, eager to take a dip, so if you can bring snorkeling gear with you, that’s a nice way to get out further into the water and get away from the crowds of the beach. However, if you are snorkeling, be aware that boats constantly come in and out of the cove.
*TIPS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO*
- Bring water shoes! The beach is composed of large pebbles and rocks so it is very painful to walk into the water. It’s actually pretty entertaining to watch people walk around saying “ooo, ahh!” as if they are stepping on fire or lava rock.
- When we visited (in mid-August), there were a few jellyfish, and I just so happened to get stung by one. I was peacefully floating about, meditating in the pristine calm waters when I felt something wrap around my arm and it immediately stung. Luckily, it only stung for around 10 minutes and nobody had to pee on me. 😉
- You can also take a boat or kayak into the coves. I am unsure of where to rent them, but there were several boats and kayaks that came in and out of the coves.
- Pack your trash! You’re in a pristine national park, so be respectful of nature and don’t litter.
- Bring plenty of food, snacks and water, as there are no concessions.
- If you are in decent hiking shape, the hike into the beach should take around 1 hour, 15 minutes and around the same going back. Allow several hours for swimming and taking in the views at the top.
Once you have soaked up all the Mediterranean blues you possibly can, it’s time to head back. My recommendation is to return on the blue path, which is a bit longer, but hugs the coast for excellent scenic views rather than going back through the valley you came through. Also, there are far fewer people who take this path. Here are the views you will be spoiled with:
At the end of your descent, you will arrive back to Port Pin (it’s a big loop). I highly recommend stopping here for a second dip (you’ll need it after the hot hike!) We ended up staying for over an hour, jumping off the rocks, snorkeling, eating the croissants and baguettes we packed, and then sunbathing on the rocks like sea geckos. It does get quite crowded, and the rocks are not the most comfortable lounging area, but it’s not so bad if you alternate between jumping in and laying out. The beach will be so crowded in the afternoon, so planting your belongings on the rocks is the way to go. Here was our little rock spot:
I hope you get to enjoy this beautiful area if you are traveling to Southern France!
NEXT UP: CINQUE TERRE, ITALY