The calanques are inlets of the limestone cliffs where creeks empty into the Mediterranean. Many of the calanques are deep narrow inlets, sort of Provencal fiords, in the rocky coast between Cassis and Marseilles.
The calanques were formed by rivers flowing into the sea, submerged aeons ago by the rising level of the Mediterranean. The long narrow inlets in the high white rocks are truly impressive, some with tiny harbors or beaches at the ends, and rock climbers scaling the walls along the sides. They've provided safe haven for sailors during storms for millennia, and today the clear blue-green waters are even more popular in good weather.
Cassis Calanques, East to West
These calanques, west of Cassis, are the most popular, and are the ones visited by the Calanques Tours boats from the Cassis village harbour. Port-Miou is the nearest, at the edge of the commune, 2 km from the village center. Morgiou Calanque is about 8 km to the west of the village.
Some of these calanques are picturesque, fiord-style inlets with beaches and hamlets; others are only shallow indents of the limestone cliffs, difficult to identify without a guide.
The Calanque de Port-Miou is the nearest to town, with the inlet only 2 km along past the line of beaches and sunbathing stones out southwest of the harbor. The mouth of the calanque curves around between steep, rocky walls, then the inlet continues northeast (back towards the town) as a long, narrow yacht harbor lined with boats on both sides.
Just southwest of Port-Miou calanque entry is Pointe de la Cacau, a narrow point with a tiny rock islet at the end. Around this point is a wide inlet with Point d'en Vau in the center; from here, Port Pin calanque is at the right and En Vau calanque is at the left.
Port Pin Calanque
Calanque de Port Pin is a narrow inlet between steep rocky sides. The entry is east of Pointe d'en Vau, and the calanque narrows to a small rocky beach at the far northern end. This narrow beach is used locally for launching kayaks and small boats.
En Vau Calanque
Calanque d'en Vau entry is west of Pointe d'en Vau, with a narrow, picturesque inlet going northwest, tapering in to a small beach. Cliff walls along the sides of the inlet are beautiful. The small beach, even though difficult to access from the landward side, is popular for sunbathing, swimming and snorkling.
Calanque de l'Oule isn't so much as an inlet as a wide, shallow bay ringed by high, vertical cliffs. Viewed from the sea (in a boat), L'Oule is distinctive for a semi-circle cliff wall with narrow chimney rocks extending up from the top.
The ancient creek entry is at the back left corner (northwest), where you can see a half-circle of smooth rocks down near the water.
The Calanque du Devenson is unremarkable: just a large semicircular shape of the cliff walls, barely discernible veiwed from the sea. At the left edge of the Devenson calanque, though, there are a pair of long, low rocks standing in the water. Called the Ilot du Dromadaire, they have the general shape (with the right lighting and fair imagination) of a pair of sitting camels.
L'Oeile de Verre Calanque
Calanque de L'Oeil de Verre is also an unremarkable, indent-in-the-cliffs shape, but with a circle up high that resembles a giant eye staring out to the west. An alternate name of this creek outlet is Calanque de Saint-Jean de Dieu.
Calanque de Sugiton is a very small but pretty little notch-calanque, just to the right (east) of the entry into Morgiou. Sugiton calanque is identifiable by a long, low rock in front, called Le Torpillèur (the torpedo boat).
The inner part of this little calanqe has a tiny beach and shallow lagoon-like waters, and is a popular swimming site for those in the know.
Calanque de Morgiou is a long, narrow inlet, large and very picturesque. The inlet tapers into a small boat basin at the end, behind a couple of rock jetties, with facilities for launching small boats. On shore is a small hamlet, with a few houses and a bar-restaurant. There's a small beach at the right end of the boat basin, and the inlet walls are steep enough for rock climbing.
Morgiou Calanque is (almost) accessible by road. It's about 14 km from the center of Marseille.
Ten km south of Marseille is Les Baumettes, a suburb/hamlet, and the end of the "normal" roads. There's a free parking area here (Parking Calanque de Morgiou),.
From the parking area, it's another 3.5 km of narrow and twisty road down to the seaside; we think this road is only open to local residents, so for you, it's either a 45-60 minute walk or luck with hitchhiking.
Boat Trips from Cassis
Boat trips to the calanques are fun to arrange. Walk along the line of boats at the Cassis harbor and see which ones are filling up for which trips. They'll be going to a set of 3, 5, or 8 calanques. When you find a boat going to the set you want, that still has good seats available, pay and get in and wait for the departure.
Boat trips leave all day from about 9 AM to 6 PM, except midday (12h-14h). Advance booking isn't necessary. You look at the signs along the quai for the different trips: 3, 5 or 8 calanques and the departure times and decide what you want. At a central kiosk at the quai, you book the trip you want, at the next available time you want.
• 3 Calanques; 0h45 (about 10 €):
Port Miou, Port Pin, En Vau
• 5 Calanques; 1h (about 12 €): Port Miou, Port Pin, En Vau, L'Oule, Devenson
• 8 Calanques; 1h30 (about 15 €): Port Miou, Port Pin, En Vau L'Oule, Devenson, Oeil de Verre, Sugiton, Morgiou
Quarries along the calanques have provided a dense white limestone for centuries. One of the first "modern" ones was the Cacau quarry in 1720. Cassis stone has been used around the world, for things as divers as the base of the Statue of Liberty, the Suez canal and the quays of Alexandria. Its durability makes it excellent for lighthouses, and it was used to build the Cassis lighthouse and the 60-meter high Marseilles lighthouse. You can still see ancient stone structures that were once used to load the tartins, sailing ships that transported the stone.
Many More Calanques
We've described (above) the eight principal calanques that can be visited easily from Cassis. There are a lot more calanques further west along the coast, including around point and up the coastline all the way to Marseille. Calanques tours from Marseille come all the way around the coast to Cassis, visiting some of the "Cassis calanques" and a few of the others as well; but a full Marseille-Cassis tour takes over three hours.
Beside the entry into the Morgiou Calanque, at the left (west) is a long peninsula ending with Cap Morgiou. On the south side of that cape is a small bay called Triperie Calanque, and it's here the famous prehistoric cave, Cosquer Grotto is located. [Calanques Locations Map]
The white stones growing up out of the sea are partially forested with Pin d'Alep and the scrubby kermes oak. The area is also rich in our regional staple of scented herbs: rosemary and thyme. Prickly yellow sow thistles grow sturdily in the rocky ground, and cistus is found just about everywhere.
Calanques National Park
The Calanques are destined to become the Parc National des Calanques in 2011. It will be France's 8th national park, and the first national park of Europe in a pre-urban zone — at the edge of Marseille.
The Calanques National Park will be created in two zones: an internal zone that's closely protected and a surrounding zone with somewhat looser rules and the involvement of local communes and groups.
The internal core zone will include such outstanding sites as the Frioul Islands, the Riou Islands, the Ile Verte and the Cap Canaille.
The entire park area will encompass 2200 ha of marine area and 6500 ha of land area, include the communes of Aubagne, Camoux-en-Provence, Cassis , Ceyreste, La Ciotat, Cuges-les-Pins, exterior Marseille (outside the central area), La Penne-sur-Huveaune, roquefort-la-Bédoule, Bandol, Saint Cyr-sur-Mer, La Cadière-d'Azur, Le Castellet.
History of Calanques
The chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours at the head of the inlet was built in honor of Avignon's Pope Gregory XI's refuge here during a storm in 1376.
• GPS: 43.260897, 5.477148
Refer to the Cassis page for information about maps and hiking in the Massif des Calanques.