No visit to Marseille is complete without experiencing the truly awe-inspiring natural beauty of the Calanques National Park. Generations of painters and poets have been drawn to these dramatic limestone cliffs, inlets and coves. The calanques are the perfect day trip from Marseille, and can be seen from roadside observation points, or by hiking or sea kayaking.
In 2012 the calanques were designated as a national park due to their wild beauty and the unique habitats they support. The park begins within Marseille’s city limits and stretches for 12 miles (20 kilometers) south to the town of Cassis.
There are numerous ways to experience the calanques. Book a ticket on the Blue Coast train from Marseille and simply enjoy the passing calanque landscape from your window seat. Or, join one of the many informative guided boat tours which leave daily from Marseille’s Vieux Port.
Rent a car and drive to two of the most popular calanques, Sormiou and Morgiou. Both offer panoramic lookouts just short distances from the parking lots. Sormiou features a beach, seafood restaurants and small harbor, while the picturesque settlement of Morgiou has swimming inlets.
One of the best ways to explore this incredible region is on foot. Follow the miles of marked trails and enjoy the hundreds of plant species which thrive in this arid landscape. Keep an eye out for foxes, rabbits, sea turtles and dolphins, and look to the skies for eagles and falcons.
Be sure to pack plenty of water before hitting the trails and avoid the exposed cliff faces on windy days. Don’t be put off by cloudy weather, as the white cliffs are often at their photographic best on overcast days when crowd numbers are down. Most calanques are closed in the hottest summer months due to risk of forest fire.
Allow at least a day to properly experience the calanques, including travel time there and back.