Spanning 20 kilometres between Marseille and Cassis, the Parc National des Calanques promises visitors a stirring and unforgettable holiday experience. A paradise for hikers, the park overflows with precious natural treasures.
The Calanques fjords
An exceptional site
Welcome to Provence’s most natural wonder. Ancient valleys submerged by the Mediterranean Sea 10,000 years ago, the Calanques are dazzling white limestone cliffs studded with cracks and scree that offer a striking contrast with the azure blue waters below. Spanning 20 kilometres between Marseille, Cassis and La Ciotat, the Parc National des Calanques offers a varied relief, eroded and carved out by the wind and sea. Here, breathtaking peaks rub shoulders with steep slopes and majestic vistas over the Mediterranean Sea stretching as far as the eye can see. We can’t say it enough: the Calanques National Park – Europe’s only suburban national park – encompasses both land and sea.
The National Park Trails
A paradise for hikers
Motor vehicles are unauthorized in the Calanques, but most are accessible on foot, offering a genuine Eden for seasoned and amateur walkers and hikers alike. The Parc National des Calanques features a maze of stony trails lined with sweet-smelling vegetation. The best-known is the GR 98-51 long-distance footpath measuring 28 kilometres and winding its way along the curvy coast and up and down the slopes from Marseille to Cassis. Ideal for relaxation and contemplation, the various footpaths are intersected by crystal clear waters, ideal for a refreshing dip in summer in communion with nature.
Calanques flora and fauna
Located in the Mediterranean’s driest climate, the Calanques fjords are characterized by their arid nature. This particularity has not prevented an exceptional and cunning ecosystem from flourishing there: the vegetation slides its roots into every nook and cranny of the rocks. The Parc National des Calanques is home to 1,600 plant species, 32 of which are protected on a national level and 40 on a regional level. Among them, the very rare Provencal sandwort, together with rock samphire, myrtle, rosemary, kermes oak and Aleppo pines. On the fauna front, the Calanques are home to no less than 25 protected bird species, including the magnificent Bonelli’s Eagle.
A precious asset
The park’s sea beds also overflow with treasures and were initially protected by the “Comité de Défense des Calanques” as far back as 1923. Conservation measures were reinforced in 2012 with the creation of the strictly-regulated national park. This natural jewel offers a nurturing environment for a vast Posidonia meadow, which acts as both a nursery and shelter for the local marine fauna. Further out to sea, you may even come across bottlenose dolphins, fin whales and loggerhead turtles! Spiny sea urchins wind their way slowly through the grassy Posidonia, feeding as they go. The brown grouper fish, which is born female and becomes male after around 12 years, is also making a welcome reappearance at the sea beds.
A historic and cultural heritage
Dating back to the era of cavemen
The Calanques fjords have been a precious source of food and raw materials for man since prehistoric times. Discovered in 1991, the cave paintings adorning Grotte de Cosquer, at a depth of 37 metres, testify to the former presence of cavemen in the fjords. Dotted with several ports, including Montredon and Port-Miou, the Calanques became a hub of tuna fishing from 1 AD. Later, the fishermen of Marseille rowed their wooden boats (a.k.a les pointus) there to catch sea bream, squid, sole and lobsters. This traditional activity remains an intrinsic part of the city’s identity as witnessed by the many old fishermen’s cabins (cabanons) lining the Calanques de Sormiou, de Morgiou, Les Goudes and de Callelongue.
THE ISLANDS OF PROVENCE
Set sail for the wild and verdant islands of Provence. Located just a few minutes by boat from the coast, Frioul, Les Embiez and Porquerolles are tranquil havens of peace, promising a plunge into mesmerizing and exotic scenery.