Standing at the port in the heart of Marseille, France’s second largest city, you may think it impossible that a mere 15 km away is a pristine beach with crystal clear waters. The good news: yes, there really is, known as the Calanques National Park. The bad news: it is only accessible by boat, a rugged hike up and down a mountain, or (if you’re lucky) a short drive by car.
The Calanques National Park (Parc Nationales des Calanques) is less than 10 years old. Located between the cities of Marseille and Cassis, the calanques are considered to have some of the most beautiful landscapes, outstanding biodiversity and deep cultural heritage in all of France.
So if this magical place is located just a short drive from a city of nearly a million residents why doesn’t everyone just go there to relax and enjoy the beach?
From as far as I could tell, it’s simply that the calanques are not very easy to get to, in fact, you could even say they are hidden and secluded. As well, the mountains that surround and form the calanques are made from white limestone, with little vegetation. The reflection of the sun on the rocks and the sea can cause a fire risk in the summer months and therefore it is possible that you can only enter the park from 8am to 11am or even not at all. If you do wish to visit, check the Bouches du Rhône regional website (only available in French) before planning your trip.
How to get to the calanques
There are a few options to get there. The first is to charter a boat; the second to take a bus to Cassis and the third is to drive. I was told that if you arrive before 8 am you can drive your car all the way to the Calanque de Sormiou, but we were not that lucky. Instead, we had to park at the gate and hike for 3 km up the mountain and then down rocky trails before reaching the beach. There is a small restaurant located by the beach, and if you make a reservation (or at least tell the gate keeper you have one) you can drive through. Also, you can hitchhike, which is what we did on the way back, but not so lucky on the way there.
Take comfort in the fact that once you reach the calanques, whatever stress you accumulated during your journey will be washed away in the stunning beaches. The main beach (which is very small) is right when you walk into the area. There are a few smaller coves along the calanque, but they are not so easy to get to.
It is also possible the hike to the Calanque de Morgiou by following the “red path” from Sormiou, but it would take about an hour and hiking boots are required according to the park ranger.
I’m hoping in the future to be able to visit more of these natural wonders, especially one of the smaller, more secluded ones that are only reachable by boat. A great option (both for a little exercise and to keep costs low) could be to rent a kayak, which was possible at Sormiou.