The deliciously beautiful center of Cassis is best explored on foot. The coastal path winds from the wide expanse of Grande Plage beach past restaurant terraces and boutiques all the way to Plage du Bestouan and the start of the Parc Nationale des Calanques. Each August the entire town comes alive for a series of literary festivals, fireworks shows, and sea jousting tournaments (yes, involving lances and motor boats).
In 2012, Cassis was declared the capital of the new Parc Nationale des Calanques. The calanques are towering cliffs created 120 million years ago. They were then split apart by rising sea levels and bleached white by the Provençal sun. Each calanque crashes into the azure sea from heights of up to 565m (nearly 2000ft). Like Norway’s fjords, they surround a series of boat-only bays that stretch for 32km (20 miles) from Cassis to Marseille. So sturdy is the snow-white stone from Calanque Port-Miou, a creek within walking distance of Cassis, that it was used to build the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York.
The main public pathway through the park is the GR51, a long distance hiking trail known as the "Balconies of the Mediterranean." This grande randonnée route links Marseille with Monaco. Those visitors without Ironman thighs (or without a spare 3 weeks of vacation) may hike along a score of shorter marked paths instead, passing lonely islands, rocky passes, secret beaches, and gaping creeks. Park maps are available from Cassis’s ever-helpful Tourist Office.
A more relaxed way to tour the park is by boat. Head down to Cassis’ harbor, where a well-signposted kiosk sells tickets for regular daily boat trips. Opt to take in three calanques (45 min.; 16€ adults, 9.50€ children 9 and under), five calanques (65 min.; 19.50€ adults, 13.50€ children) or nine calanques (2 hr.; 29€ adults, 17€ children). A particular favorite is Calanque de Sugiton, which crumbles into an island-strewn bay. The postcard-perfect Calanque d’En Vau is also well worth seeking out. As non-official motorboats are banned from the National Park, try paddling under the calanques by kayak or SUP instead. For equipment, contact Cassis Sport Loisirs Nautiques (www.cassis-kayak.com).
Parc Nationale des Calanques
The Parc Nationale des Calanques (www.calanques-parcnational.fr) is the seventh National Park in mainland France—and the first since 1979. Some 50,000 hectares (193 sq. miles) of land, coastline and sea are now protected forever more, including the wildlife, flora, and 60 species of fish that reside therein. Cars, scooters, jet skis, and speedboats are prohibited in the National Park, so tranquility is assured.
Southern French travelers hoping to hike further off the beaten track are spoiled for choice. On their doorstep is the Port-Cros National Park (www.portcrosparcnational.fr), which covers a series of sub-tropical islands. The Mercantour National Park (www.mercantour.eu), a haven for wolves, deer, and butterflies, sits just north of Nice.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.