Marseille’s ancient port, buzzing art scene and cool, multicultural vibes have made it a firm favourite with city breakers. And with a Eurostar service now running direct from London, it just got even easier. But there’s more to this cultural capital than meets the eye. Venture just south of the city and you’ll find some of Provence’s prettiest and most secluded beaches in the Massif des Calanques, a secret string of crystal-clear coves nestled between craggy headlands.
Boat tours from Marseille will take you along the coastline to Cassis, dipping into the Calanques as you go. They run throughout the summer with plenty of stops for swimming and are the easiest way of seeing these elusive gems. Or if you’re up to the hike, you can walk to the beaches themselves. The paths sometimes close during summer so it’s best to check the Bouches du Rhones website (http://www.paca.gouv.fr/files/massif/) the night before. It takes a few hill walks and rocky scrambles, but your reward is staggering scenery, rare flora and fauna and a cool, refreshing dip in some of Europe’s prettiest waters.
Considered by some to be the most beautiful of Marseille’s Calanques, Sormiou also happens to be one of the city’s closest. Its still, crystal-clear waters are simply the best swimming spot for miles, bordered by a stretch of white sand and shingle. You can rent sea kayaks or walk round to the cove’s small harbour – and it’s a world-renowned rock climbing spot too. Make a lunch reservation at the shoreside Chateau de Sormiou restaurant and you can park beside the beach, but you’ll need to check the schedule ahead of time, as the access road often closes during the day. If you don’t want to drive, it’s a steep 45-minute hike from the city car park and bus stop, but the views are well worth the walk.
Just around the headland from Sormiou is the old fishing cove of Morgiou, with its small restaurant and charming harbour. It’s got some gentle, winding hikes and more pretty spots to swim from. The calanque is known for its magical Cosquer Cave – an underwater grotto with paintings and engravings dating back to 27,000BC. It’s a little too extreme for public visits, but there are plenty of caves and tiny creeks to explore instead. Parking at the beach can be hit and miss but you can drive or catch the bus to Les Baumettes and walk the half-hour stretch from there.
Sugiton is the best known of the Calanques as it usually stays open through the summer. There are two narrow creeks with picture-perfect pebble beaches and local nudists still swim from Les Pierres Tombées, although it’s strictly closed to the public. There are no bars or shops in Sugiton, so be sure to take enough water and food with you. The steep, winding access path from Luminy bus stop takes just under an hour and gives you some of the best views of the Calanques.
En Vau and Port Pins
The twin creeks of En Vau and Port Pins are small and intimate, with beautiful turquoise swimming waters and tiered rocky platforms, perfect for sunbathing. They’re bordered by fragrant pine trees and can be reached by pleasant but tricky hiking trails. After cooling off in the ice-cold shallows, you can pick a rock to bask on or a snoozing spot in the shade of the pines. The easiest access is from the Col de la Gardiole car park just outside of Cassis, a 45-minute walk from the beaches.
Words by Clarice Hine.
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