A few kilometers from the coast of Marseille is the little one archipelago of the Frioul islands, a natural paradise characterized by turquoise waters, rocky coasts and whipping wind.
During a stay of several days in the French city, the one to the islands is one of the excursions not to be missed.
The ferry company that shuttles between Marseille and the Islands, the Frioul – If Express, starts from the Old Port of the city, you can easily find it at 1 Quai de la Fraternité, right next to the Foster canopy. The journey from Marseille to the Islands takes approximately 25 minutes.
During our visit to Marseille they could not give up some of the most beautiful beaches around the city, and the Frioul archipelago, with the Calanques, they are one of the must to visit.
The boat stops first at castello d’If, which is famous as the site of the prison where Edmond Dantes was held in Alexandre Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo and made even more famous by the film the Iron Mask.
Unfortunately that day it was not possible to dock on the island due to the strong wind, so we continued towards the port of Frioul, landed there and dedicated the whole day to exploring the two largest islands of the archipelago: Ratonneau e Île Pomègues.
- The Frioul Islands: where and what they are
- The island of Ratonneau
- The island of Pomègues
- L’isolotto d’If
- The island of Tiboulen du Frioul
- How to visit the Frioul islands from Marseille
- More information to visit the Frioul islands from Marseille
The Frioul Islands: where and what they are
The Frioul archipelago is a protected natural area which is located about 4 km away from the port of Marseille and which is part of the Calanques National Park.
The islands that compose it are four: Pomègue, the largest, Ratonneau, If e Tiboulen du Frioul.
The toponym Frioul derives from the Provençal term “frieu” which indicates a maritime passage. This obviously refers to that stretch of sea that separates Pomègues from Ratonneau. Today the two islands are connected to each other by a dam erected during the reign of Louis XVIII.
Given its position, the archipelago has always played a strategic role in the defense of Marseille. In the XNUMXth century, however, on the island of Pomègues, theCaroline Hospital to assist the sick and stem the yellow fever epidemic.
Today the islands are visited every summer by many tourists and people of Marseille attracted by the beautiful beaches, crystal clear water and still unspoiled nature.
If you also want to visit the Frioul Islands, I will briefly describe them below so that you know what awaits you once you get on the ferry from the Old Port of Marseille.
The island of Ratonneau
The island of Raccoon it is the most urbanized of the archipelago and it is here that the tourist port of Port Frioul rises. The village was built in 1974 and today houses a few bars, restaurants, shops and hotels.
Once you have boarded from the port of Marseille, it will be right here that the ferry will take you.
We spent the whole day here, walking every path and visiting every single beach on the island and Pomegues island. The two are in fact joined by the Berry dam and it is possible to visit them both by walking from one to the other.
Arrived at the port, to orient yourself between the two islands and to get an idea of the beaches to discover, you will have a nice map that indicates all the most salient points of the two islands:
ADVICE: Generally to travel the two islands there is, in the months of July and August, a train / shuttle that runs between the port and the Caroline hospital. Sure comfortable, but if you want the best views, walking is your best bet!
Among the most beautiful beaches I point out Calanque de Saint Estève and Le Havre de Morgeret which are undoubtedly very different from each other.
La Saint-Estève beach it is the most popular (even if the beaches of Frioul are never as crowded as those on the mainland) because it is suitable for families, has crystal clear waters, sand, a shallow seabed and has a lifeguard in summer. It is a pleasant 20 minute walk from the port with good views over the Château d'If. There is a bar but when I went it was closed.
As an alternative to the beach of Saint-estève, there are a series of smaller and more isolated coves called “calanques”. If you follow the main routes, many of them are signposted but are only accessible on foot.
Among these is the already mentioned Morgeret Beach which is very beautiful, but it is lashed by the mistral and often the waves become important so it is not always easy to swim. There is no sand here and the bottom is also full of stones so the ideal is to go there with shoes on purpose.
In addition to the beaches there are other things to see on the island: the Battery of Cap de Croix, the Caroline Hospital and the Fort de Ratonneau, built in 1886, it is located on the main point of the island at the top: from here you have a wonderful 360 ° view, but I didn't go there: it was 40 ° and honestly I didn't feel it!
A visit not to be missed is theCaroline de Ratonneau Hospital used in the XNUMXth century to quarantine yellow fever patients.
The island of Pomègues
Pomegranates it is the largest island of the archipelago and certainly the wildest and most authentic one.
Here you can take a walk up to Fort of Pomègues or to Tower of the Poméguet, or reach some of the most beautiful beaches of the archipelago to relax and swim.
Among the most beautiful coves I would like to point out Calanque du Cap Frioul, Calanque de l'Huile and Calanque de Crine.
The smallest of the Frioul islands is the islet of If, almost entirely occupied by the castle of the same name: here you will not find beaches, it is a kind of rocky island in the middle of the sea.
If was made famous by the pen of the French writer Alexandre Dumas who here imagined the protagonist of his novel The Count of Monte Cristo prisoner.
It is one of the most visited sites in Marseille and was classified as a historic monument on 7 July 1926. The castle was built between 1524 and 1531 by Francis I to protect the city of Marseille from invasions by sea.
The castle then served as a state prison: it housed the famous prisoner José Custodio Faria, immortalized by Alexandre Dumas, author of The Count of Monte Cristo.
I highly recommend you to visit this castle and its site, full of stories. You can also see the legendary hole dug in the wall by Edmond Dantes during his escape.
Beware that often the island cannot be visited as the strong wind and the rough sea make it impossible to dock the boats.
For this reason, my advice is not to buy tickets in advance, but to take them the same day when boarding the Porto Vecchio (go early to avoid the long queues).
The entrance to the castle is separate: here you can find the Skip the Line ticket to enter (transport not included)
The island of Tiboulen du Frioul
The latest, Tiboulen du Frioul, it is simply an islet that houses a signal lighthouse and which cannot be visited.
How to visit the Frioul islands from Marseille
Visiting the Frioul islands from Marseille is very simple: in fact, numerous ferries and guided excursions depart from the Old Port to reach them.
Frioul – If Express
The ferries leading to the Frioul Islands from the Old Port of Marseille are called Frioul – If Express.
The service runs 7 days a week, but times vary depending on the season and weather conditions, so my suggestion is to keep yourself updated through the company's website. Generally, however, the first ride leaves around 7 am and the last between 6.30 pm and 22.30 pm.
The cost of the ticket is € 10,80 for the round trip (only for If) and € 16,20 to reach the other islands of Frioul.
The crossing takes about 20 minutes to the Islet of If and its castle and about 30 minutes to reach Ratonneau.
I tried to buy tickets in advance from the site of Frioul – If Express and I have not succeeded (personally I do not consider it very well done). Since every day due to weather conditions the times can change or even ferry rides can be canceled, the best thing to do is to go very early in the morning and buy tickets from the port. The queues are long, therefore try to go there as soon as possible!
To reach the Frioul islands from Marseille, the most convenient and economical solution is certainly the Frioul - If Express, but there are also some organized excursions that you can take part in to live a unique experience.
If you are a diving expert, for example, you can book a diving tour of the Frioul Islands and Monte Cristo: the seabed of this protected natural area is full of life and you will surely have fun.
More information to visit the Frioul islands from Marseille
Before concluding the article I want to leave you a couple of more information that I think will be useful to you.
- You can visit the Frioul islands freely, but remember that to enter and visit the Castle of If you need to buy a ticket at the price of € 6 per person.
- If you want to fully enjoy the natural beauty of the Frioul Islands I suggest you spend at least a full day in Ratonneau and Pomègues.
- Eating and drinking on the islands can be expensive and, especially if you want to spend a day at the beach on one of the archipelago's many pristine beaches, I recommend that you bring some water and some snacks with you.
- If you visit them in the summer it will be terribly hot, bring plenty of water, a hat and sunscreen!
- The trails on the islands are well maintained and I have seen many people walking calmly in flip flops. If I have to be honest, however, I recommend a nice pair of sneakers because they are more suitable for walking on the rocks.