Should you find yourself in the South of France, particularly near Marseille, for any reason whatsoever, I know of the perfect thing for you to do…and it’s even free. While the famous Vieux Port, or MuCEM, or trendy Cours Julien are all great and worth visiting your first time in Marseille, I would even go so far as to say you could safely skip all of that to spend a day at this place I’m about to tell you:
The Calanques of Marseille.
“Calanque” is the French word for “fjord,” but if you ask anyone what a fjord is, they’ll have no idea. Personally, I thought people were talking about Bjork (those silent J’s, man). A fjord, or calanque, is a valley located between high cliffs, often leading to a bay of water – in this case, the Mediterranean Sea. Think of the Grand Canyon, yet not orange-ish brown. And with emerald-cerulean waters.
Unlike a lot of the picturesque, majestic natural wonders of the world I’ve seen, the Calanques aren’t plagued with tourists wearing fanny packs and rainbow visors, McDonalds and Starbucks, or immigrant vendors selling knockoff keychains. I know; I was surprised too. Take a look at what you get to enjoy instead:
Bring sunblock, lots of water, a plastic bag for your trash, and definitely your swim suit. The Calanques are actually super slippery, and if you get freaked out about high cliff ledges where you could fall 1000 feet at any second, don’t wear Converse sneakers like I did. My pace about 2mph the entire way up…ahem, and down – and many times, instead of taking it in and admiring the views, I was fearing for my life. Once up top, you get these views:
Water as blue and green as your pool after chemicals:
Please swim here. You won’t regret it.
The hike from the tippy top of the Calanque (or fjord!) to the very bottom takes a good hour – and there are paved paths for 80% of it. I don’t recall seeing lights, so once the sun starts setting, you better get your fanny back up top.
“Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”
How to get from Marseille to the Calanques
First off, there are multiple “calanques.” We visited the Calanques des Pierre Tombées, which are technically “off-limits.” Let me tell you one thing: there were probably thirty people down at the same beach, as well nudists five minutes away – so I don’t think many people tend to “care” much about completely passing the “Do Not Enter” sign.
From our $25 a night AirBNB at Castellane, we hopped on the Bus 21 and took one hour until Luminy, the end of the route. There’s not much around in terms of food, but if you do need to use the restroom or buy some snacks from the vending machine (or coffee), stop in the university buildings within walking distance. The trip takes about one hour, and it’s pretty much a tour through the Marseille suburbs.