From last year visit in Marseille, what we keep the most in our memories, it's not the city nor the people nor the amazing music festival... I don't want to mean that they weren't worth and we wasted our time; indeed they were superlative, but it's just that there is something else around there that is on another level of magnitude and cannot be compared with the rest: a series of rocky inlets and bays with clear crystalline water and Mediterranean vegetation called Les Calanques. Marseille is only a few kilometers away, but you feel like you are thousands miles away, in another continent: no memory of that bustling, busy city; here it's only nature to dominate.
How we got there
We reached it very easily taking a direct bus from the city (bus #21, but also 19, 20,23 according to where you want to go), that left us at the University of Luminy, a very nice campus immersed in nature. Just a few steps away are starting the hiking paths leading to the recently created (2012) Parc Nationale des Calanques, in particular to the "Calanque de Sugiton". This is the closest Calanque to the university, and the only one accessible when we were there. In fact during summer, from June to September, the access to most of Les Calanques is restricted because of the dry and hot climate and a high risk of fires.
What are Les Calanques?
Actually the term Les Calanques is plural, and it's indicating a series of natural inlets extending on a stretch of 20 km of coast from the popular fishermen wiki page.village of Cassis to Marseille. Les Calanques are somehow compared to the more famous Norwegian fjords, to whom they are similar in form, but different in origin. They were produced by distinct geological phenomenons, the french version due to fluvial erosion, while the Norwegian version caused by glaciation. For a more detailed geological description you can read the
Visiting by boat Les Calanques: Marseille - Les Calanques - Cassis
Not only tourists are going to Les Calanques: Marseille 's students and inhabitantare benefiting from the proximity of this amenity, making it a favourite destination during free time. If you still don't want to give up on seeing also the other bays (understandable), there is another way to visit Les Calanques. Marseille and Cassis in fact are directly connected to it also by boat. It's possible to go on a short cruise to taste the beauty of this place: the only disadvantage (apart from the price) is that it looks like passengers are not allowed to get off the boat, they can only enjoy the view from the vessel. So if you opt for the boat trip we still suggest to combine it with some hiking to experience the Calanques in the field, maybe the following day.
Hiking the trail of Les Calanques
The path to reach the Calanque de Sugiton, passing through arid land, steep valleys and Mediterranean vegetation, is signed and easily recognizable; you can't get lost if you just follow the multitude of students hiking there. You can first stop on the way at the viewpoint of the Calanque de Sugiton, where the panorama is opening over the bay. From there with an easy downhill it's soon reached the seaside. The view is breathtaking: the water turning from clear crystalline to deep blue, the strong sun reflecting into the water itself and in the light rock, steep cliffs entering suddenly into the sea: this is Les Calanques.
Feelings at the Calanque de Sugiton
Being the only Calanque accessible, there were quite a lot of people at the Calanque de Sugiton, and to find a free spot to stay it wasn't an easy job. There aren't really beaches here, it's mostly rock; people are fighting for a few squared inches of sand. Most of them instead, find their place in the rocky boulders, sticking they hoofs in the cracks like a tribe of goats. A big group of brave teenagers, is competing from the central rock to please the girls, watching the guys diving into the blue cold water. Yes cold, because even if the place is idyllic, the water isn't really as warm as you would expect.
After finishing our day at Les Calanques,
on our way back we still find the time to stop and visit the Unité d'habitation of the famous French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier in Marseille (Cité Radieuse) that is exactly on the way back of the bus. Overwhelmed with the feelings left by all this nature today, we can bear also this concrete monster!
And don't forget that this year the European capital of culture is Marseille. Les Calanques will amaze you during the day and the city will welcome you back in the evening entertaining you with its cultural life. What are you waiting for? It's the perfect summer escape: go and visit Marseille and Les Calanques!