Things to do

Beautiful coastal walks visiting The Calanques of Cassis

Spend some time exploring the natural phenomenon and beauty of Calanques near Cassis in southern France.

Possibly one of the most beautiful natural sights in the south of France, the Calanques of Cassis are attractive to adventurous hikers, wild swimmers, and families alike. Some simply stop to soak up the scenery, perhaps with a boat ride to enjoy the crystal waters, while others choose to hike one of the trails to experience the highs and lows of these striking cliffs.

Learn more about this unique place and plan your next trip to see for yourself.

Marina filled with boats and a street lined with colourful houses and plants in the sun

Driving to Cassis from Calais

The drive from Calais to Cassis takes you through some stunning French countryside over the course of just over 10 hours, if you choose to drive direct. However, planning some stops along the way is easy, as there are some wonderful choices dotted along the various routes you can take.

Travelling via the A26 and A7 you could plan to see Reims, famous for its champagne and numerous historical sights, or stop at Dijon in the Burgundy region for some sophisticated wining and dining. As you venture further towards the south of France, Lyon unfolds with its incredible restaurants and food markets (no wonder it has been dubbed food capital of the world), plus it has beautiful parks to explore.

If you choose the slightly longer route via the A1 and A10, you could plan a sorjourn in Paris, or pause in Orleans. This route also goes through Parc Naturel Régional Livradois-Forez as the road winds to rejoin the A7 below Lyon.

However you choose to reach Cassis, you are sure to experience some lush landscapes and quintessential French scenery. Once in the town there’s plenty to enjoy, from watching the boats on the fishing port, to markets and pastel coloured houses.

white boat heading out onto blue water by a white cliff with trees

An overview of the Calanques

Pronounced Kal-aunk, this natural wonder sits along the coast between the city of Marseille and town of Cassis. The area has a very specific eco-system thanks to many of the plants growing from the limestone cliffs, and has been a protected area since 2012, when the entire stretch of Calanques coastline was designated a national park.

Thanks to the area’s beaches and swimming opportunities being accessible only by foot or boat, the Calanques inlets and bays are often quieter than other Mediterranean beaches. It is important to note that there are no natural freshwater sources in the Calanques, so you must take lots of drinking water, especially in the warmer months.

Parking is limited and you may need to walk a little way from where you leave your car, so pack a bag accordingly. Designated parking for the area can be found at the end of Avenue Notre for around 8 for a full day.

The Calanques are beautiful at any time of the year, however between May and June is the best time to go, when the weather is warm and sunny and before autumnal rain arrives.

What are the Calanques?

Calanques comes from the word ‘calanche’ in Corsican and ‘calancas’ in Occitan, meaning ‘inlet’. The name is perfect, as the Calanques have inlets, coves, and bays formed between a series of rocky, limestone cliffs. Some have become popular beaches, but others are harder to reach due to the steep cliff faces surrounding them.

How were the Calanques formed?

It is thought that the Calanques were created around 12,000 years ago, as the sea rose to erode sections of the limestone cliffs, forming the cliff sides and inlets that we see today. Hiking trails have formed as people traversed the rocky cliffs to discover the unique wildlife here, which is why parts of the Calanques are off limits to tourists, to preserve the flora and fauna.

Can you swim in the Calanques?

Bathed in glorious Mediterranean sunshine, you can swim from two idyllic coves nestled between the Calanques’ towering cliffs, Calaque de Port Pin and Calanque d’En Vau. They both require some hiking to access, but sturdy shoes and a little patience are all you need to be rewarded with crystal-clear waters and golden sands.

You can also approach the Calanques from the sea, kayaking from Marseille or Cassis. Boating tours from the harbour in Cassis are quite regular, with some stopping to allow for swimming before heading back to shore.

People swimming and relaxing on a beach in a tree lined cove

The cliffs and Calanques of Cassis

Often described as looking like ‘rough diamonds’, the cliffs surrounding the Calanques offer some amazing hiking trails with tranquil coves found between them for relaxing after your walk. The three locations below are often combined for one longer hike, but each offers its own beautiful views and peaceful surroundings.

Calanque de Port-Miou

This is the only calanque accessible by car, featuring a picturesque marina filled with boats year-round. You will also find the starting point for a hiking trail called the GR 98, which runs along the Calanques and takes around six to eight hours to complete. There isn’t a beach here, but there is a small peninsula with restaurants to enjoy.

See if you can spot (or hear) the ‘souffleur’, a hole in the rocks that begins in the water and ends in the cliff face with a very small hole. The waves compress the sea air through this hole, creating some interesting sounds!

Calanque de Port Pin

You can hike from Port-Miou a little further to reach Port Pin, a charming inlet named for the many pine trees that surround the sand and shingle beach. Relax on the beach here or stop for a picnic before going further along the marked pathways to Calanque d’En-Vau for even more natural beauty.

Calanque d’En-Vau

Some of the most beautiful views on the Cote d’Azure can be found at this quiet beach. Crowds tend not to gather here, as there are only really two routes to reach Calanque d’En-Vau, both requiring a short hike, with rugged pathways. They are marked with either blue or red markers, red being the more direct route of the two.

Woman with bright orange backpack standing at the top of a white cliff overlooking crystal clear water

Hiking in the Calanques

This area is perfect for hikers and walking enthusiasts if you decide to take the 17.4-mile-long trail on foot. Although steep in places, the hikes are suitable for all ages, as long as the correct footwear is worn. In warmer months be sure to pack sunscreen and plenty of water, as there are limited places to stop or food or drink along the way. Why not pack a picnic to enjoy at one of the beaches or coves? You’ll have earned it after your hike.

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If hiking in the Calanques sounds exciting, there are two more great spots in the south of France where you can see stunning views and challenge your feet. The Gorges du Verdon is often dubbed Europe’s Grand Canyon, or head to the Cap d’Antibes trail for epic views of the Mediterranean. We also have a guide to the top hiking trails throughout Europe.

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