Between the bustling city of Marseille and the serene seaside village of Cassis are a series of rocky cliffs and bays known as the calanques. The limestone cliffs jut out to form inlets which serve as coves that cradle the crystal clear and deep blue water of the Mediterranean Sea. The calm azure sea against a backdrop of rugged rocky outcroppings make for an image both awe inspiring and oh-so-lovely.
A Geological Wonder
This natural wonder was created between five and seven million years ago. Changes in sea level exposed underwater caves which collapsed creating inlets. As the turquoise waters of Mediterranean Sea climbed back up the inlets were filled and bays were formed.
Mother Nature continued the process over the next several millennia, blasting Les Calanques de Cassis with strong winds, salty sea spray and rain.The result is breathtaking. Each calanques is unique and slightly different from its neighbor.
The limestone was once mined and you will notice abandoned quarries among the calanques. This primary export of Cassis was used to create the channel walls of the Suez Canal connecting the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, quays in major cities from Algiers to Alexandria and even the base for Lady Liberty in New York Harbor.
These cliffs and surrounding area are now protected land and many visitors and locals alike come here to hike amidst the natural beauty or sunbathe (often sans swimsuit) atop the terraced surfaces formed in the cliffs.
The calanques play host to a variety of flora and fauna. In the absence of soil plants take root in chinks and fissures in the limestone. Pine trees and junipers dot the rocky terrain, some in forest-like clusters. Ferns and shrubs adapt to this arid and often harsh growing climate.
You’ll see trees that frame some areas surrounding the calanques. It’s quite a stunning picture. Scrubby shrubs, full pine trees and juniper all in deep forest green, high above the rugged white cliffs and azure waves lapping below. In all, over 900 species of plants can be found among these limestone cliffs.
Animals also call the calanques home. Rabbits, deer and wild boars, reptiles and rare birds exist among the cliffs. It’s not unusual to see eagles and other birds of prey gliding on the wind above their rocky aerie.
Of course there are plenty of fish in the waters of the calanques. You can see many of them clearly as you peer into the crystal water. The charming Cassis, in addition to being a tourist attraction, is a fishing village as well.
See The Beauty Up Close
The best way to experience this natural wonder is by boat. Set out from Cassis and enjoy a leisurely tour that meanders past the mammoth cliffs and title in the calm inlets. The breezes of the Mediterranean carry a magical panacea for even the most stressed as you marvel, awestruck, at the magnificence of the grandeur surrounding you.
The View of A Lifetime
Once back on land you really need to make your way (by car) up to the top of the surrounding cliffs and take advantage of some of the most spectacular views you’ll ever see. The epic blue of the Mediterranean, so like the Provençal blue of the sky, against the chalky white and grey limestone is truly impressive. You’ll treasure the image in your mind’s eye for the rest of your life.
Your visit to the Calanques de Cassis is not complete until you’ve strolled the seaside village of Cassis. Often referred to as “little Saint Tropez” this colorful coastal gem is known for its pebbled beaches, sidewalk cafes, colorful buildings, friendly people and charming shops.
Cassis is a wine-growing region and some of the most delicious regional white wines come from the local vineyards. It’s been said Cassis whites are Provence’s best kept wine secret. The unique growing conditions and the proximity to the Mediterranean contribute to the palate-pleasing flavors, so particular to Cassis wines.
The Best of Provence itinerary includes a day trip to Cassis and boat ride to see the Calanque.