Il Calanques National Park it hides some of the most beautiful coves in the whole of Provence. The colors that characterize this unspoiled natural area are the white of the rocks that shine in the sun, the green of the vegetation that grows irregularly and the turquoise of the sea that invites you to take a bath.
Il Calanques National Park it is a short bus ride from Marseille, in the south of France, and is one of the most beautiful national parks I've ever seen.
There is a kind of magic along this stretch of land that I haven't felt anywhere else. With incredibly blue water, white limestone cliffs and scenic trails the Calanques National Park should definitely be on your bucket list.
In this article I will give you some useful information on what they are, in my opinion, the best Calanques to visit during a trip to Provence: this way you can better organize your visit.
- What are the calanques and the Parc National des Calanques
- What to know before the visit
- How to get to the Parc National des Calanques
- When to visit the Calanques
- Where to sleep to visit the Calanques
- 1 – And Vau
- 2 - Port Miou
- 3 – Sugiton
- 4 – Morgiou
- 5 - Sormiou
What are the calanques and the Parc National des Calanques
Before we start talking to you about the best Calanques in Provence, I want to briefly explain what it is.
When we talk about gullies we refer to a particular territory in which the erosive action of water and wind have given rise to particular furrows in the ground.
Also in the case of the Parc National des Calanques, the coast is entirely characterized by this type of phenomenon and this is what makes it particularly interesting and suggestive.
The National Park was established in 2012 and includes both a land area and a marine area. The purpose of the Parc National des Calanques is to protect and preserve the nature of the place: it includes 31 terrestrial and 14 marine ecosystems for a total of 180 protected animal species.
The best trails of the Calanques are in Massif of Marseilleveyre and there are also beautiful trails close to the Calanque di d'En-Vau. The main attractions during the excursions in the Calanques are the landscapes with the cliffs overlooking the sea that hide the senatures and small beaches.
This is an exceptional and extremely delicate place, which as such it is necessary to visit with awareness and attention.
What to know before the visit
A very important thing to know is that between June 1st and September 30th entry into the calanques is regulated. During the summer the park is often closed even for hikers due to fires and the only way to explore the Calanques is to discover them by boat or kayak instead of walking.
Marseille and Cassis are the two main starting points for visiting the calanques.
If you stay in Marseille, it will be easier to explore the western area. Marseilleveyre, No half moon, Sormiou, Morgiou e Sugiton are the closest.
Staying in Cassis it will be easier to access Port Pin, En-Vau, Cape of the Eagle and the whole coast up to La Ciotat.
Here you find one detailed map of the paths and calanques.
As I mentioned, this protected area is breathtakingly beautiful, but its nature is very fragile and access, during the summer season (from 1st June to 30th September), is regulated through precise signs.
- Orange Sign: access is free throughout the day;
- Red sign: access is limited from 06.00 to 11.00;
- Black sign: access is forbidden.
You will be able to find out about the access situation in advance by visiting the official website.
During the rest of the year the park is always open and admission is free.
Below I also leave you some other tips to organize your visit in the best way.
- Entry is allowed for dogs as long as they are kept on a leash to avoid disturbing other visitors and not to risk damaging the fauna and flora of the Park.
- Inside the Park free camping is prohibited and, as you can imagine, light the fire.
- Some creeks they are not accessible by bicycle, so if you are thinking of visiting them by mountain bike, get informed in advance.
- To visit the Calanques on foot I suggest you wear trekking shoes or in any case suitable and comfortable footwear for walking on uneven ground.
- Especially during the summer bring lots of water with you: generally the return is uphill and the temperatures very high.
- Bring some snacks with you too: some coves have a bar service, but the prices, as you can imagine, are skyrocketing.
- Don't forget your hat and sunscreen!
How to get to the Parc National des Calanques
Reaching the Park is not an easy affair: parking near the points from where the paths branch off is almost impossible during the high season and some roads are closed to cars. The best way is to use public transport from Marseille, Cassis o La Ciotat.
Below I will describe the best calanques and also how to reach them by public transport.
Alternatively, you can decide to visit the Parc National des Calanques by boat: this is the choice I wanted to make, but unfortunately the places were sold out. The advice, therefore, is to book your excursion well in advance.
There are the ticket offices in the port of Marseille.
There are many tours that are offered to the calanques if you want to visit them in a different way: bike tours, kayak tours (top!) And so on and so forth.
Below you will find 3 that I strongly recommend:
-> FIND HERE a nice catamaran tour with lunch at the Calanques from Marseille
-> HERE you will find an electric bike tour of the SORMIOU Calanque (the best)
-> Here you will find a guided walking trek from Marseille (in English)
When to visit the Calanques
The Parc National des Calanques is best explored on foot between October and June. Keep in mind that the water is often freezing cold even in summer.
During the summer months from July to September, the hiking trails to the badlands may be closed due to fire risk depending on the conditions and the heat. If you plan to visit any of the other road-accessible coves, you may also find that there are restrictions in place that limit the number of cars allowed or that the roads are closed to traffic.
If you happen to visit during the summer there are obviously alternatives, it means less walking and having a different perspective! You can take a boat from Cassis or Marseille and arrive at the calanques by sea. Although it is not possible to get off the boats, you will still see the towering and steep cliffs rising from the sea.
Where to sleep to visit the Calanques
Cassis is the closest town to the main part of the Calanques. We only booked a few weeks before so we had trouble finding a place in Cassis.
If you can't find a place in Cassis (which is also a bit expensive) you have two alternatives: La Ciotat and Marseille.
La Ciotat it is certainly much less beautiful than Cassis but offers more services.
Marseille it is the largest city and where we decided to sleep. In addition to the fact that it is definitely worth a visit, from Marseille in addition to the Calanques you can visit other places in the Calanque National Park, namely the Frioul Islands with the Castle of If.
1 – And Vau
En Vau it is certainly the most beautiful of the coves that you will find inside the Park and it is also probably one of the most beautiful beaches in all of France.
The cove is squeezed between two steep cliffs and overlooks a turquoise sea with shades ranging from blue to green.
This is also probably the hardest beach to reach, but your efforts will be rewarded once you get to sea level.
To reach En Vau there are actually two ways: one from Col de la Guardiole and one from Cassis (actually 3 because it can also be reached from the Port Miou calanche).
If you start from Cassis you will also cross the calanque di Port Pin, highly recommended if you have children.
From the Port Pin calanque there are two possibilities to get to Calanque d'En Vau. You can continue on the red and white path which is a more direct upward path through the bush, or you can follow the blue path.
More scenic but a little longer, the blue run hugs the coast. My advice is to go straight up the red and white path and then slowly go back along the coast on the blue path!
It's important start your excursion early because in the afternoon the shadows begin to creep on the calanque making it less beautiful. I recommend starting around 10:00 from Cassis, which means that you will arrive at Calanque d'En Vau in time to capture all the colors that this calanque can offer.
How to reach En-Vau
If you reach En Vau by car you will need to get to the parking lot Col de la Guardiole, on the D559, and from there continue on foot for about 2 hours.
The route is not recommended if you suffer from vertigo or if you are not at all used to long walks, but it offers beautiful views.
To reach En Vau the best way is to reach Cassis from Marseille by public transport and from there move on foot. You can also get there by car but the parking is small and most likely you won't find a place.
Two other routes start from another of the calanques, Port Miou: the first leads to En Vau in about 45 minutes following the white and red signs, the second is more panoramic and will take you there in about 1 hour and 15 following the blue signs.
To reach Cassis from Marseille you can take the train or bus lines M8, 68 and 69.
2 - Port Miou
Port Miou it is one of the most suggestive calanques: the inlet is squeezed between the rocks as if inside a small canyon and inside there is a real marina with several boats moored.
What was once a real natural harbor for fishermen, is now one of the favorite moorings for tourists wishing to explore the area.
The hike starts in the town of Cassis and you can simply visit the Port Miou creeks and return to Cassis or you can continue to the next two creeks, Port Pin and En Vau.
Doing all three in one day is doable if you are physically prepared enough.
The terrain is VERY steep and rocky, especially when you approach the En Vau calanque. You have to pay attention to where you put your feet, however much you want, given the views, to walk with your nose up, I advise you to look down.
Rather, stop, take lots of pictures and then start walking again.
Bringing a camera or a smartphone is a must because the scenario you will see will blow your mind.
How to travel to Port Miou
To reach Port Miou it's simple: it takes about 20 minutes to walk from the car park.
3 – Sugiton
La Calanques of Sugiton it is one of the best known gullies among those of Marseille: it can be easily reached from Luminy University Campus a few km from the center of Marseille.
Upon arrival in front of the campus you will find a nice free parking, but in the high season try to go early otherwise you risk not finding a place. A nice dirt road starts from the car park and turns into a path after about 40 minutes of walking.
Sugiton has two pebble beaches, both of which are always crowded with people. There are plenty of limestone cliffs that you can jump into the water from or spread out your towel on. The water immediately becomes very deep. The islet in the center of the bay is also a favorite place for people to take a dip.
The cove is characterized by a pebble beach, transparent water and a position generally protected from the gusts of the dreaded Mistral.
From the Sugiton calanque you can reach that of Morgiou on foot, but the path is bad and not suitable for beginners. Remember to bring your hiking shoes!
How to travel to Sugiton
The Sugiton gully can be reached via a path that winds its way from the university center of Luminy. To get there you will have to take the bus line 21 or the B1.
Once you have taken the path you will have to walk for about 40 minutes: if you want to make a detour, halfway through, I suggest you take the path on the right to reach the panoramic point from which you can admire a beautiful view of the Morgiou calanques and of that of Sugiton.
Just to understand from here you can take the photo like mine above.
4 – Morgiou
La Calanque di Morgiou it is one of the largest around Marseille and was once a fishing village.
Even today the inlet has a small harbor with some cafes and restaurants, but it is mostly devoted to tourism.
Nearby you will also find a small sandy beach mixed with pebbles.
How to reach Morgiou
This is one of the few calanques that can be reached directly by car, but it won't be easy to find parking during the high season.
The alternative could be to leave the car at Baumettes Park (also reachable by bus n ° 22) and continue on foot for about an hour or leave from Luminy (reachable by bus 21 or B1) and continue on foot for about 50 minutes.
Morgiou can also be reached on foot from the calanque de Sugiton.
5 - Sormiou
Finally, the last of the calanques that I want to recommend is that of Sormiou. This is by far the largest of Marseille's badlands.
The cove is very characteristic and in addition to some beautiful beaches where you can relax, you will also find several restaurants and cafes. Among the most evocative views are those on the cabanons, ancient shelters for fishing boats.
The most beautiful beach is the sandy one on the right side of the bay. You will also find two other smaller ones on the left side.
In Sormiou you will also find a diving center to discover its depths.
How to reach Sormiou
Far from the summer season, the calanque di Sormiou it can be reached by car if you have a table booked at the restaurant, otherwise you will have to leave it at the Baumettes car park or at the Cayolle.
This last car park, however, is infamous for numerous thefts, so if you stop here, don't leave anything of value in the car.
To reach La Cayolle by bus and then continue on foot, instead, just take bus line 23. Alternatively, bus 22 will take you to the Baumettes car park.