Glory of Green
Stories from the Great Outdoors
Queuing for the Calanques
Our three outdoors adventures in the Marseille area started out with the most famous one, by far. We knew we wouldn’t be alone, but still… In nature I’ve never seen anything like it. The London metro or the 7 kilometres round trip from Cassis to the Calanque d’En Vau and back? Same, same, but different. Of course, there is no azure coloured water glittering like an emerald on the London underground, but apart from that… I’ll share my personal experience. Then you can decide if this hike is for you or not.
The Calanques are beautiful inlets at the French Mediterranean coast, located next to Marseille in Provence. You can hike from one to the other and stop to swim along the way. There are several marked routes of different lengths and you don’t have to go to d’En Vau to have a nice experience. The water was actually crystal clear at Port Mio, while at d’En Vau the under (and over) water visibility was ruined by the crowds. The geology is dramatic – with deep, narrow valleys, interesting rock formations and good opportunities for rock climbing, if that’s your thing.
I’ve seen the Calanques compared to Norwegian fjords, but as a Norwegian I can assure you: That is an extremely far stretched comparison. I’d rather say they are deep bays or gorges. In the Mediterranean I’ve seen slightly similar geology both on Malta and in Croatia. The Norwegian fjords are much wider, longer and cut in minerals that create completely different looking walls and formations. Both beautiful, but nothing like each other.
Take the train or come early!
Cassis is a small town to the east of Marseille. It’s where most people enter the calanques, and it easily gets packed with tourists on holidays and weekends. As we had chosen a camp site to the west of Marseille (closer to the other outings we had planned) AND because we had some serious troubles picking the right roads as suggested by google maps, we were way to late to get a parking place. Additionally, due to heavy traffic it took forever descending to Calanque de Port Mio where we had planned to start our trip. This was clearly the universe punishing all of us for not taking the train.
Still, the parking guard who notoriously sent people away unless they were eating at the restaurant Brasserie La Presqu’lle, seemed to feel a bit sorry for us – hot kids in the car and everything. He actually let us in. Thank you, thank you, thank you! As a general advice I conclude: Use public transportation, stay in Cassis or go there early in the morning – or bring some sweaty children.
Don’t go in summer!
We were there in late May. Which meant that we had tolerable temperatures AND that we didn’t have to worry about forest fires. From June and throughout summer, there are regulations closing off the area in case there’s a fire hazard. We did make the mistake of going on a public holiday though. Avoid those too, unless hiking in endless queues is your thing. Opt for the blue, slightly longer route between the calanques Port-Pin and d’En Vau if you want the nicest views and a little less people (map underneath).
Bring a lot of water and have some respect for the hike!
This hike can be seriously hot, even in spring. You’ll be walking across the steep valleys and ridges, not along them. Which means lots of steep ups and downs on more or less loose rocks. We met people in trouble due to a definite lack of experience, a bit too much alcohol and a serious lack of water. Wear sensible shoes and bring a bathing suit.
Do NOT expect to be alone!
On our hike to d’En Vau I spotted the following: Asian grannies sporting umbrellas against the sun, toddlers, loud drunk polish youngsters, stone-faced man-bunned climbers, Germans, Koreans, very pale Brits, groups of youngsters with boom blasters (one of them even brought a water pipe), fat dogs, sunburned people (bring sunscreen!), more or less tattooed people, a happy black pig, skinny, tanned girls in tiny sandals, people with wet suits, a guy with crutches, the rest of the world, me and my family. Everyone.
The fact that this is a national reserve made me squirm a little, but as I myself was part of the problem, it’s hard to point any fingers. It would undeniably be selfish to ask people to stay away, but I might have chosen differently if I had known what I was walking into…
A) The calanques east of Marseille are beautiful but crowded. The word overused comes to mind. Wilderness is a necessity for many of us, but I’m not sure nature can take this amount of people all in one place. Erosion and damaged vegetation are likely outcomes – not to mention the noise pollution as the culture of the city enters nature. At the same time: Crowds on this route might spare other areas.
B) There are other options in the area if you want to get out of Marseille for a day. You might want to try one of the other, longer routes on the map or follow my blog for upcoming tips concerning immensely less crowded and no less impressive adventures in the Marseille area.
C) Alternatively: Try renting a kayak in Cassis – we saw people coming to d’En Vau that way. I sent an e-mail a few days before going, but the firm never replied my request. Maybe they were all taken, and I was too late…
We started our hike at a parking close to the blue dot number 5. We took the red and white route to Calanque de Port-Pin and then continued on the blue one before joining in with the serious crowds on the red route for the last stretch to d'En Vau.
Questions? Wanting to share? Duke of Edinburgh or plain Jane? Feel free to contact me.