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Calanque, Marseille, France
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Marseille’s Calanques: the essential guide

Just outside Marseille, the Calanques National Park is one of France’s most breathtaking spots. Here’s everything you need to plan a visit

Alexis Steinman
Written by Alexis Steinman
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‘Calanques’ in French translates roughly as ‘rocky inlet’. But the calanques of Marseille aren’t just any rocks: they’re staggeringly beautiful limestone cliffs that spill into turquoise coves, like the Mediterranean’s (much warmer) answer to the Norwegian fjords. A total of 26 make up the Calanques National Park (Parc National des Calanques), a 200-square-mile treasure trove for hikers, boaters, swimmers, and nature lovers.

Sprawling across Marseille and Cassis, Europe’s largest peri-urban park seduces in all seasons. Every Marseillais has their calanque of choice. Whether you’re craving a killer hike, a cool dip or a charming port to amble around, this handy guide will help you find yours – along with some advice on how to tread lightly to protect the park’s precious flora and fauna.

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The ultimate guide to Marseille’s Calanques

The best calanques to visit
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The best calanques to visit

Les Goudes 

On the southern tip of Marseille, this quaint fishing port is the gateway to the Calanques National Park and a great starting point for easy ambles or epic hikes. Reward your efforts with a bite at Grand Bar des Goudes or a drink at nearby bar 20,000 Lieues.

Calanque de Morgiou

This lovely little port is well worth a visit: embark on the 50-minute hike down from Luminy, which is prettier than the fire road from Les Baumettes, and reward yourself with a dip. Or take in the sweeping view from above on a hike to Cap Morgiou, where you’ll also get the chance to check out the prehistoric Cosquer cave paintings at Anse de la Triperie.

Calanque de Sugiton  

With its picturesque white cliffs and blindingly blue coves, it’s no surprise that Sugiton is the most popular calanque. It’s best to avoid Sugiton in summer, even if the new reservation system is helping to keep crowds down. To visit, take the fire road from Luminy to a well-marked trail. The Belvédère viewpoint is very much worth the detour.

Calanque de Sormiou

This snorkelling paradise was home to Jacques Cousteau’s first scuba dives. It’s Marseille’s largest calanque and also boasts a beautiful sandy beach. For hikers, the prettier and fastest route leaves from Les Baumettes. To score a parking spot, book a table at Le Château (open April to September) or arrive in the early months of the off-season.

Calanque de Marseilleveyre

An easy 50-minute hike from Callelongue (the last stop on the 20 bus), this idyllic turquoise cove is ideal for swimming and sunbathing. Bring a picnic, or some euros if you want to dine at Chez Le Belge, a laidback beach shack just steps from the sea.

Port-Miou and Calanque d’En Vau

The skinny port and ancient limestone quarry at Port Miou are just a 20-minute walk from the village of Cassis. An hour more takes you to the soaring cliffs, remote sandy beach and neon-blue waters of En Vau, which have earned it a reputation as one of the most beautiful calanques.

Îles du Frioul

Not technically part of the Calanques National Park, this island archipelago is nevertheless worth a shout: its calanques are the closest to Marseille’s city centre, and the easiest to get to, with boats leaving most days from the Vieux-Port. Highlights include the medieval Château d’If prison, the picturesque Saint-Estève beach, and the rocky coves of Pomègues if you want more peace and quiet.

How to get to the Calanques
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How to get to the Calanques

By bus:

Many calanques are accessible by bus.  Take line 19 to Madrague de Montredon for Les Goudes and Croix de Marseilleveyre, line 21 to Luminy for Morgiou and Sugiton, or line 22 to Les Baumettes for Morgiou and Sormiou.

By car:

You can drive to Les Goudes throughout the year. Morgiou and Sormiou are open to cars in the off-season, or you can beat their summer parking ban with a restaurant reservation. To reach Cassis from Marseille, the Route de la Gineste’s stunning switchbacks are gorgeous any time of year.

By boat:

Les Goudes is the gateway of the Calanques, and from April to October, Marseille’s public ferry La Navette is the best way to beat the summer traffic. For the Îles du Frioul, the year-round Le Bateau express shuttle ferries passengers daily.

By kayak/paddleboard:

Work up a sweat before your swim with a kayak or paddleboard rental. Raskas Kayak offers guided tours for all levels from Les Goudes or Cassis. Rent a paddle board from 1,2,3, Kayak to spend a day exploring Les Goudes, Marseilleveyre or Frioul.

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A perfect day in the Calanques
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A perfect day in the Calanques

There’s no better start than a sunrise in the Calanques. A short walk east of Les Goudes, the graffiti-splashed Blockhaus des Goudes – a German WWII bunker – is a perfect perch to watch the sky light up in orange and pink. Grab a café at the century-old Grand Bar des Goudes or breakfast at Feel Goudes.

Head towards the tiny Callelongue port to follow the coastal GR 98 trail for three hours to Sormiou. Replenish with grilled fish on Le Château’s terrasse. Take a post-lunch nap on the sandy beach or a dip in the turquoise cove. 

Reserve a private skipper via Click n’ Boat to pick you up for an afternoon sail. Ask to drop anchor at the blindingly blue Île Riou coves.

Back in Les Goudes, kick back with a beer at 20,000 Lieues. If it’s a full moon, the lune illuminates an easy amble to Marseilleveyre – ideal for a moonlight swim on sultry summer nights.

Where to hike in the Calanques
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Where to hike in the Calanques

Most people begin their hikes in Calanques National Park at Luminy, Les Baumettes, Les Goudes, or Madrague de Montredon (all accessible by bus.) There are hundreds of different trails to amble, ranging from easy to difficult. Here are some of the best.

Hiking to the Croix de Marseilleveyre

For panoramic views from a 433-metre-peak, clamber up to Croix de Marseilleveyre (the name roughly translates to ‘see Marseille’). Whether departing from Montredon or Pastré, the jaw-dropping scenery and steep sections will make your heart race. Set aside around three hours for a round trip. 

Hiking to the Calanque de Morgiou

Forget the picnic and pair your hike with a tasty sit-down meal. From Luminy, descend 50 minutes to Bar Nautic for fresh fish alongside the picturesque port at Calanque de Morgiou. Return back via Les Baumettes to Chez Ze to fill up on wood-fired pizza and Provençal fare. FYI, it’s cash only at this secluded spot.   

Hiking the Calanques de Cassis

You can visit all three of Cassis’s calanques on one moderate hike. From the village, take the aptly named Avenue des Calanques to the slender Port-Miou. Follow the red & white GR 98-51 markers along the sea to Port Pin. A steep descent gives way to a flatter path to En Vau, the crown jewel of Cassis’ coves. The hike takes roughly an hour and fifteen minutes each way from Port-Miou.

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Local tips for hiking the Calanques
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Local tips for hiking the Calanques

There are a few things you should know before setting out for your Calanques adventure. Here goes…

Check in advance for trail closures

If you’re visiting from June 1 to September 30, check the national park’s website. Trails can be closed for fire risk if it’s too hot or the mistral wind is blowing. Many trails are exposed, so avoid hiking around midday in the summer, and be sure to bring lots of water and snacks.

Dress appropriately

Trails meander through cool shade and blazing sun and you never know when it might get windy, so layers are a good idea. Though a sturdy pair of sneakers will suffice, you might want to think about hiking boots and poles for the tougher trails. And even if you’re headed down to the beaches, it’s best to avoid flip-flops, since the limestone rocks can be quite slippery.  

Look out for waymarkers

The trails are marked by coloured swatches painted on rocks. They can be confusing to spot at times – don’t hesitate to ask a local for help. Or pick up an IGN Les Calanques map to get a great lay of the land.

Boat trips in the Calanques
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Boat trips in the Calanques

A boat trip is ideal for visiting multiple calanques in a day, and a must to truly experience the natural splendour of the Calanques National Park. If you want to swim, snorkel, and sunbathe, Bleu Evasion has 8-to-12 person motorboats or a 24-person catamaran for intimate outings. If sightseeing is your thing, plump for the much larger (150 to 250 passengers) and less expensive Compagnies Maritimes tours.

Splurge on brunch and sunset cruises on a Levantin catamaran – or rent a budget-friendly boat to yourselves on Click n’ Boat. The closest Marseille ports to the Calanques are Pointe-Rouge and Les Goudes. Check that your skipper has a green pass for park access, a new system to protect this fragile maritime reserve.

Got your sea legs on? Check out more of the best boat trips from Marseille.

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Where to stay in the Calanques
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Where to stay in the Calanques

FYI, camping isn’t allowed in the Calanques National Park. But you can book a stay amidst the Calanques to disconnect from the city bustle and truly connect to its natural splendour. 

In a 1902 Creole-style house, the charming chambre d’hôte La Petite Calanque is a garden oasis just a few steps from the Calanque de Samena beach. For a more sumptuous stay, check out the nineteenth-century Château Beaupin, a shabby-chic hôtel particular in Pointe-Rouge with a pool and restaurant. 

If you’re after a secluded retreat, Les Volets Rouges is tucked away in the remote hills above Cassis. Hike directly to the Calanque d’En Vau from this small, eco-friendly hotel. Or you can rent a cabanon (a traditional beach cabin) from a local in Les Goudes for a taste of village life at the foot of the Calanques.

How to visit responsibly
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How to visit responsibly

Since the Calanques National Park was established in 2012, it has skyrocketed in popularity. The park now welcomes over 2 million visitors annually. When combined with the city’s increased pollution and fire risk, this makes the park’s incredible biodiversity more fragile than ever.

To travel responsibly, try to avoid the crowded calanques (like Sugiton and Sormiou) in the summer. Stay on marked trails, don’t pick plants, and be sure to pick up your trash (that includes cigarette butts). And if you’re thinking of visiting by sea, kayaks and paddleboards offer a less intrusive way to explore the coves than travelling by boat.

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