Following our first night in Marseille, I took a day trip out to the calanques de Marseille with the other assistant(e)s with whom I was traveling during this past February vacances. Even though I’d already visited the calanques during my first visit to Marseille last March, I had been so blown away by their beauty that I was happy to return to them again…this time with company!
The calanques, or “rocky inlets,” as they’re translated, are made from a combination of limestone and other minerals; they’re commonly found along the Mediterranean coast, specifically in the Marseille area, and some parts of Corsica. However, it’s the calanques de Marseille which are the most famous, consisting of a 20-kilometer (12-mile) stretch from Marseille to Cassis, a small port town. Lots of tourists come to the calanques each year, usually to hike along the cliffs, take a pleasant boat ride along the coast, and otherwise soak up the warm, Mediterranean sun.
Now, there are thirteen calanques in total, and granted, it would’ve been impossible to see all of them in one day (heck, I only managed to get to one the year before!). That said, the other assistant(e)s and I planned to hike one of the trails which would take us to two of the calanques— Sormiou and Morgiou–which would equate to about 13 kilometers (8 miles) of hiking. Not too bad, but it also didn’t include the distance to get there from the bus stops that we would be getting off of. It would be an all-day affair anyway, so it was a matter of preparing ourselves with comfortable shoes, sunscreen and sunglasses, and plenty of water.
We left our hotel around 9h30, taking the metro over to the Rond-Point du Prado where we would catch the Line 23 bus toward the calanque de Sormiou. It was about a 45-minute ride and we got off a kilometer or so from the entrance to the national park (in which the calanques are located). Passed by a quiet, peaceful residential neighborhood in the outskirts of the city center before stepping onto the the trail road to get to Sormiou. The weather was in our favor that day, with cloudless blue skies, warm sun, and lovely temperatures ranging from 15 to 18 degrees Celsius (59 to 64 degrees Fahrenheit). Although I would still consider those temperatures a bit chilly by Californian standards, it was a godsend in France, especially after being cooped up in 7-8 degrees Celsius (44-46 degrees Fahrenheit) temperature for most of the time in Normandy. Plus, the bright, warm sun…I’d been missing it dearly!
Not more than 30 minutes had passed when we finally arrived at the vantage point for the calanque de Sormiou. With its crater-shaped bend pulling in the Mediterranean waters, it was a lovely sight to see. We also saw a small beach resort at the base in the distance, which I can imagine would be packed in the summer!
At Sormiou, we got in our photos, even taking a short break of snacks and water along the cliff’s edge (how dare-devilish of us!) before continuing on towards Morgiou. The trail started getting narrower and narrower, until we were going one-by-one along the side of the cliffs. To be honest, we actually didn’t know where we were going, although we were heading in the general direction towards our end-goal. There were red, blue, yellow, and black lines on some rocks every few feet, which we assumed to be trail indicators to follow, so basically, we did that. While I’m pretty sure we ended up walking more than expected, nevertheless the views of the deeply-carved white cliffs and pristine, sparkling Mediterranean made it rewarding.
We kept climbing and climbing uphill until we somehow stumbled upon the vantage point of the calanque de Sugiton, which I’d actually visited last year and find it to be the prettiest out of all the other calanques. Again, we took a break, taking in the slight, warm breeze from the top and the stunning views of the calanque de Sugiton peak, standing above the blue sea. Really, one of my favorite sights to see.
It was around 14h00 when we finally decided to get serious and find our way to Morgiou; before, we’d just been wandering around. The German assistant found a small route that descended down to our destination, so we took that one.
…and oh boy, was it an adventure! Considering that there were other trails we saw that looked very unsafe to take, I had the impression that the one we took would be safer. That wasn’t the case, however: not only was the trail narrow and winding, but also the ground had small pebbles which, if you weren’t careful with walking, were easily slippery. In fact, all of us had close-calls while descending the cliff, and it was terrifying! Even worse was that there were no guard rails to protect us: one little slip-up, and you could fall to your death! Seriously, all of us were on-edge (literally and figuratively-speaking) as we tentatively took it step-by-step down the cliff. If anything, we even had to hold onto nearby rocks and tree branches, just to make sure that we didn’t slip off the ground. Again, it was that risky!
Finally, after what seemed like hours (2 hours, to be exact), we finally made it to the harbor of Morgiou, where we were rewarded with some quaint, colorful boats and views of people rock-climbing along the craggy rocks. We were relieved to be back on flat land, as well as back in civilization, aka houses and locals.
We took a short break before deciding to head over to the bus stop (from Morgiou) to take it back to Marseille’s city center. However, we’d messed up in calculating the distance from the Morgiou harbor to the bus stop when planning our route: turned out, the bus stop was about 5- 5.5 kilometers away, and by then, it was already 16h30 and getting late. We were tired from a whole day of hiking, but in any case, we didn’t have a choice but to make the long walk over. Some cars passed by as we walked, and many times did we consider just hitch-hiking over to the bus stop (we didn’t, though).
Finally, we made it to the residential neighborhood in Morgiou about one-and-a-half hours later, waiting about 40 minutes before the bus came and sped back to the city center. We took the metro back to our hotel, stopping by the grocery store beforehand to get some dinner for the night and finally(!) returning to our hotel close to 20h00, after almost twelves hours of being out. We were exhausted and were ready for bed by 21h00.
Overall, we must’ve walked close to 20 kilometers (12 miles) that day, which would equate to the distance along the entire calanques de Marseille! Whether my estimation is accurate or not, nevertheless it has got to be one of the most challenging and tiring hikes I’ve done so far- even the Cinque Terre in Italy can’t compare with it! All the same, I was glad to have returned to the calanques this time around, visiting new ones like Sormiou and Morgiou, as well as revisiting Sugiton. Weather worked to our advantage, too, and I admit, I felt a bit of a tan going on in my face (on the contrary, the British assistante and German assistant got sunburned)! If anything, the calanques were the reason that I was glad to have made the decision to go south for the holidays, and perhaps one day I’ll return to explore more of the other inlets in the region.
…and that concludes my February vacances this year! Again, it was a very brief getaway (3 nights), but much-needed for the sake of my wanderlust. It was logical to go to warmer climates, too, similar to what I’d done the previous year in Spain and Portugal. If I were to stay in France in the following years, I would for sure use the vacances d’hiver to go to other warm, sunny destinations. Time (and luck) will tell!
More adventures to come soon. Until then, à bientôt!