Hiking into the calanques was one of the best things that I did during my two week honeymoon in France. I’d easily rank the hike as one of the best I’ve done anywhere in the world. A beautiful beach, stunning views, and a pretty good work out, clocking in at a roughly eight mile excursion.
I don’t think this map is exactly accurate, but it is a pretty good representation of our hike:
So first of all. Where are the calanques, and what the hell will they be when you find them? Wikipedia defines a calanque as “a narrow, steep-walled inlet that is developed in limestone, dolomite, or other carbonate strata and found along the Mediterranean coast. A calanque is a steep-sided valley formed within karstic regions either by fluvial erosion or the collapse of the roof of a cave that has been subsequently partially submerged by a rise in sea level.” But if there’s one thing hiking makes clear in a hurry: A picture is always worth far more than a thousand wikipedia entries:
We stayed in the small seaside town of Cassis (about 10 miles east of Marseille) for three days and, like the calanques, it was a clear highlight of our trip. On our second day in Cassis, we had the best weather day of the entire trip. The temperatures spiked up to the mid 80s under sunny skies.* We had a great AirBnb on the west side of town, so we were able to start our hike straight from there. But no matter where you are in Cassis, you can just walk west until you hit the Plage du Bestouan, a lovely rock beach from which you can easily find and begin exploring the calanques.**
Once we were at the beach, we continued heading west on the Avenue des Calanques and followed the signs as we went. It ended up being about a mile or so from where we were staying to the official “trail head”, where we left Avenue des Calanques and began walking on a dirt path along Calanque de Port-Miou.
If you look closely at some of the street signs along Avenue des Calanques, you’ll notice trail markers leading you towards the calanques. Starting on the actual trail, you should see three trail markers on the rocks along the route, a red and white striped mark, a green mark, and a blue mark.
Calanque de Port-Miou is used as a port, and many small boats are docked there. The walk along this calanque is not especially scenic, but it offers a relaxing entryway into the beauty to come. After another 20 mins of walking, we reached the beginning of Calanque de Port Pin.
A bit of a downward climb is required to get to the beach at Calanque de Port Pin, but its not especially tricky if you take your time. This beach is a popular destination and on a nice day you’ll find many swimmers as well as people dispersed up and down the surrounding rocks.
From here, there are two routes from which to choose. The red/white, blue, and green trails continue to run together on an obvious trail that goes straight past the beach at Calanque de Port Pin. The blue trail loops onto itself, beginning at the beach at Calanque de Port Pin. You can split off to the left on the west side of the calanque and gradually head up hill on the blue trail, or you can continue straight on the red/white, blue, green trails. We continued straight and recommend this route, as you’ll return on the blue trail later and can savor the views at that time.
Heading straight from the beach at Calanque de Port Pin, the trail climbs steeply up the limestone rocks. This part of the hike isn’t especially fun, as the limestone is slippery and there is not much shade to protect you from the sun. But it’s all worth it.
The trail levels off and plateaus, offering a good view of the limestone cliffs that jut out into the Mediterranean Sea. You’ll reach another junction with the blue trail where it splits off to form its loop. You’ll come back to this junction again later, but again, we recommend continuing on the red/white trail, which brings you to the beach at Calanque d’en Vau.
Here you’ll find the most difficult hiking: it is a roughly 475 foot (145 meter) climb down to the beach at Calanque d’en Vau. The beginning of the descent is the hardest part, with rock scrambling and butt-scooting over rock faces all but unavoidable. But after about 15 minutes of scrambling, the trail becomes more of a path (albeit a rocky one) for the rest of the hike to the bottom. It took us about 35 minutes to reach the beach from the top of the plateau.
By now, you’ve hiked roughly 3 miles (depending on where you started) from Cassis. You’ve earned the chance to relax a little bit, and this beautiful beach presents the perfect opportunity to do so. We sat on the beach for close to an hour, cooling off in the beautiful water of the Mediterranean and snacking on some delicious fruit and cheese.
When you are ready to resume hiking, you’ll have to retrace your steps back up to where the blue trail left the red/white trail. The rock scrambles actually turned out to be slightly easier on the way up than the way down, though it took us the same 35 minutes to hike back up.
Back at the junction with the blue trail, take a right to begin the blue trail loop. On this section of the hike, you will be treated to fantastic views over Calanque d’en Vau and the beach where you just came from. I’d recommend getting out before 10 a.m. for this hike so that you’ll be at this section of the trail in the late morning to early afternoon, ideally between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. so the sun will be straight over head to light up the water a brilliant turquoise.
The views from the blue trail were stunning and we took this 1.5 mile loop at a leisurely pace to enjoy them. Vistas at the start of the loop gave us sight lines toward the mouth of the calanque and out to the Mediterranean. As we moved further along the loop, we were treated to views back toward the beach at Calanque d’en Vau.
Continuing on the blue trail, the views remained impressive. We reached the southern tip of the cliffs, where we could look out over the sea. Soon we were walking north again, now high above Calanque de Port Pin, tour boats floated on the calm waters as people swam and floated lazily below.
The trail descends back to the beach at Calanque de Port Pin that you passed earlier. Retrace your steps from here! I’d recommend finding a good meal and a local bottle of wine in town to appropriately wrap up such a beautiful journey.
*The Calanques National Park is sometimes closed to hiking during portions of the summer (July to September generally) due to the sensitive habitat and the risk of wildfires. We did this hike in the second week of June. I believe kayaking to Calanque d’en Vau is still possible if the hiking trails are closed. Check the park’s website for current conditions.
**You can drive to the car park at Port Miou and leave your car there and save the mile or so (each way) from town. You can also kayak to Calanque d’en Vau. There are many rental options in Cassis.