Just before reaching the notorious French Riviera, we spent time hiking in one of France’s relatively new national parks, Les Calanques. According to Wikipedia, a calanque is a narrow, steep-walled inlet found along the Meditteranean coast. Five calanques make up this national park between the port city of Marseille and the resort town of Cassis, and the beaches at the end of each calanque were pristine and breathtakingly beautiful. It is said to avoid weekends in order to escape the worst of the crowds, so we thought arriving on a Thursday would be fine.
Ha. Little did we know that the Thursday we arrived was the beginning of a French 4-day holiday weekend–Ascension Day. To top it off, we quickly learned that the southern coast of France isn’t particularly motorhome-friendly. Getting to Cassis and Les Calanques was a stressful feat and I can’t recommend driving into town with a big vehicle unless you’re ready to dive into a cluster.
After making the mistake of driving into Cassis, we were forced to drive along steep, narrow, one-way roads congested with cars, pedestrians, scooters, and bicycles. Every parking lot had a height limit of 1.8 meters, and the sole campground in town was full. Even the recommended parking lot, Parking des Gorguettes, prohibited any motorhomes from parking there. Luckily we found plenty of free parking available just east of the campsite at the roundabout, on Avenue des Albizzi. Despite the No Parking sign, countless cars and another motorhome were parked along the street. We parked there temporarily, and made plans to venture back into the heart of Cassis at night after the traffic mess died down. Our goal was to park as close as possible to the park’s trailhead to get a head start in the morning.
Once we parked, we walked the 20 minutes into town. The liveliness of Cassis that early evening made it evident that it was a French holiday; locals filled the beaches and street side cafes and restaurants, cars filled with young beachgoers and small families cruised through the crowded streets, and everyone was simply enjoying the warm sun and beauty of the Mediterranean.
No matter how charming Cassis may had been, we weren’t there for the resort town. Ultimately we were there to hike through the national park to relax on the secluded beach, and we did just that the next day. That night around 10pm we drove back into a deserted town with plenty of parking opportunities. We found free parking on the wide, empty street of Avenue des Carriers, next to all the Petit Trains of Cassis!
In the morning we walked 20 minutes through town to the trailhead, which began with the first calanque, Calanque de Port-Miou. This calanque is the most accessible calanque as a road hugs the east side of its wall, and is used as a port.
A short, easy stroll led us to the next calanque, Calanque de Port-Pin. Many families ended their walk at this beach because it was far enough from the first calanque but still easily accessible, not to mention its gorgeous beach.
Avid hikers continued past this calanque, and hiked up the steep trail and down the even steeper gorge to the most beautiful calanque of all, Calanque d’En-Vau. Plenty of rocks and loose scree lined the trail, but that didn’t deter the groups of 60-year-old hikers and families with their babies and toddlers who were determined to enjoy the beautiful outdoors.
Because we began our hike in the morning, we were rewarded with an almost remote beach of d’En-Vau. Although extremely pebbly and rocky at the shore, visitors enjoyed the beach nonetheless and numerous rock climbers played in their wonderful playground of cliffs and walls.
Not long after noon, when the beach became overcrowded with the latecomers, we headed back out the park and back to Cassis. A quick photo upon our departure:
Despite the park’s popularity, vicinity to a resort town, and the stress required to get there, we still enjoyed the hike along the rocky walls and found peace on the beach. Because access to the beach is limited to those willing to take a 1-hour hike or kayak, the beach and the calanques were truly something special.