Although lesser-known than the Calanques de Marseille, this section of the coast certainly holds its own. Home to a myriad of turquoise coves, authentic villages and tasty local specialities, the Côte Bleue is a veritable Eden.
The Côte Bleue
An unspoiled coast
Between the little port of L’Estaque in northern Marseille and Martigues lies a succession of tall cliffs, rocky creeks, vast stretches of sand and pebble beaches, and narrow fjords (calanques) plunging into translucent turquoise waters. Spanning 25 kilometres, the Côte Bleue is a raw and extremely well-preserved coast. Ideal for walks and hikes, swimming, water sports, and diving, it is very popular with Marseille residents seeking a breath of fresh air. If you want to immerse yourself fully in the charms of the coast, take the Petit Train de la Côte Bleue – a little railway line that clings to the Estaque cliffs. The train stops off at 7 stations and winds its way over a plethora of crossings, 2 bridges and 18 viaducts, four of which are proud holders of the “20th Century Heritage” distinction.
Picturesque little ports
Niolon, Ensuès, and Carry-le-Rouet
Connected to Marseille when the railway arrived in 1915, the Côte Bleue’s intimate fishing ports have maintained all of their original authenticity. They are reputed for their casual, family-style atmosphere. Nestled at the back of a fjord crowned with a railway viaduct, the tiny port of Niolon, lined with ancient fishermen’s cottages, faces the Bay of Marseille. A little further on, Ensuès-la-Redonne harbours picturesque little ports tucked away in fjords lapped by crystal-clear waters. With its casino, bars, restaurants and marina, Carry-le-Rouet is the Côte Bleue’s biggest holiday resort. Its beaches and coves stretch all the way to the neighbouring town of Sausset-les-Pins, a former tuna-fishing port now reputed for its stylish marina. Last but not least, with its beached coveted by surfers and traditional fish market, the port of Carro is definitely worth a visit. The same goes for its neighbour La Couronne, adorned with a pretty red and white lighthouse.
The Marine Protected Area (MPA)
Preserved sea beds
Created in 1983, the Côte Bleue Marine Protected Area (Parc Régional Marin) comprises maritime zones around Carry-le-Rouet, Ensuès-la-Redonne, Martigues, Le Rove and Sausset-les-Pins and is devoted to preserving the coast’s flora and fauna. Fishing, anchoring and diving are prohibited throughout the MPA, while the sustainable social and economic development of sea-related activities is encouraged. The MPA’s actions to date have borne fruit and marine life has thrived again in recent years.
Testifying to an ancient history
The Côte Bleue coast is dotted with astonishing archaeological ruins, testifying to the presence of mankind as far back as Antiquity. In Saint-Mitre-les-Remparts, near Etang de Berre lake, archaeological digs at Saint-Blaise have unveiled a very ancient site, inhabited from prehistoric times until the Middle Ages. Also on the banks of Etang de Berre, Saint-Chamas is home to the magnificent Pont Flavien, a Roman construction erected in 1 AD, set over the Touloubre river. The 15-kilometre discovery footpath linking Lavera and Sausset-les-Pins reveals the ruins of ancient stone quarries: rocks were transported by sea to Marseille as early as 5 BC and the marks left by the stone cutters can still be seen today.
Sea urchins, poutargue, and brousse
Flavourful local specialities
The Côte Bleue is also famed for its oursinades: giant sea urchin banquets held in every port on the first three Sundays of January and February. Locals and visitors alike come here to savour sea urchins spiked with a drop of lemon juice and washed down with a nice glass of chilled white wine. Another tasty local speciality, poutargue is made with dried mullet roe and served grated on farmhouse bread. While you’re visiting, don’t miss the local mélets: this tempting recipe from Martigues is made with anchovies macerated in brine, pepper and fennel. The Côte Bleue isn’t just about seafood though – the coast is also the proud producer of Brousse du Rove, a much-loved goat cheese made with milk from goats in the village of Rove, recently awarded the prestigious AOC label.
UNDER THE PROVENCE SUN
From the bustling Mediterranean metropolis of Marseille to the magnificent nature and villages in Provence's countryside, a slideshow of picturesque beauty awaits you on this Provence itinerary. A not-to-miss experience!