Before we left London, we’d planned to tick off one of the must-do’s when you’re staying in Cassis; hiking les Calanques. The Calanques are small, idyllic and unspoilt beaches dotted along the sheer coastline, situated to the west of Cassis. These are part of a national park, meaning they are rightfully protected and the only way to access them is by foot or boat/kayak.
We decided to get there on foot, and had come prepared with our hiking boots (seasoned professionals). We’d read that it was a pretty hot, steep and rocky walk, and – being inaccessible by cars and in a national park – there is nowhere to stop for food or drink along the way. The trails also often close during July and August because of the risk of fires, so you can only imagine how hot it must get. With all of this information, I decided to be sensible and opt for comfort and practicality over style, donning an old t-shirt, my fuchsia gym shorts, Ross’ hat and my hiking shoes. The result was a look I’m not proud of, and Ross christened me ‘Emile’ for the day.
Emile enjoying the view
Setting off late morning (you’d be better off getting up earlier than we did if you want to avoid some of the heat!) and with backpacks full of water and snacks, we began our hike. The walk officially begins from Port Miou (the first Calanque), about a 20-minute walk from our accommodation. As you climb down the first hill, there’s a beautiful view of the Port and you’re tempted to dive right in the crystal clear water, but don’t stop (maybe just to take a photo) – keep going! It gets better.
We kept walking to the second Calanque, Port Pin. Despite being really hot, it was a pretty easy walk to get to this point. That being said, the Port is tiny and there are loads of people crowding the cove. With plenty of water still left in our bottles and the prospect of a more exclusive outlook, we trundled onwards and up the steep hill towards Calanque d’en-Vau, our ultimate destination!
From here, the walk got pretty tough. After too many wines the night before, I pathetically felt a bit dizzy and had to stop a few times to rehydrate and catch my breath. While Emile was doing it tough, Ross – lover of physical challenges – was as keen as ever and had a huge smile on his face the entire time. We eventually reached the top, and were then faced with an even steeper and rockier drop into the valley. Having had two knee surgeries in the past two years (and as most people with bad knees will attest), going down is way harder than going up, so I descended the cliff super slowly and mostly on my bum.
When we got down to sea level, I took a moment to look around and appreciate the vastness of the cliffs surrounding us, before walking for another 10 minutes or so in a valley between two cliffs, and finally arriving at Calanque d’En Vau.
Le Calanque d’En Vau
The water here was a spectacular aqua colour, and is dwarfed on either side by cliff faces. It was surprisingly busy for such a long walk (my earlier theory about the further the walk, the fewer the people, did not ring true in this case!). We also couldn’t believe how many people had walked there with parasols, inflatables and loads of bags, while wearing impractical shoes like espadrilles and flip-flops (thongs)!
Spotting a free ledge on one of the cliffs with some highly-prized shade, Ross set up shop while I clambered down to the water to cool down. The water the day before was cold, but this was something else! We had been warned that because of a ‘particularité’ of the region, the water was very cold, but I jumped in anyway and it quite literally took my breath away. It was freezing! Once my body adjusted (or just went numb), it was amazing to be swimming in such clear, clean and calm water. We tucked into our sandwiches (smoked salmon and salad for me, ham and salad for him) made with our delicious French crusty baguettes, Camembert and nectarines, and read our books in the shade. After a couple of hours in paradise, and with the prospect of the awful climb ahead, I suggested we pack up and get the journey back “over and done with”.
I’ll spare you the details of the climb back up, but suffice to say it was thirsty work. So thirsty, in fact, that we returned to our favourite beach bar en route home to quench our thirsts. We high-fived one another for making it back in one-piece and enjoyed the cool breeze, before heading back to the B&B.
One shower and a change of clothes later, we were walking through the cute cobbled streets of Cassis on the hunt for dinner. Although we had treated ourselves regularly throughout our trip, we decided to push the boat out a little further and give the slightly-pricier three-course menu at Fleurs de Thym a go.
Best decision we made; the food was absolutely delicious! The bouillabaisse was the obvious choice for me, given it’s a local dish (originating from Marseille) and also one of my favourites. I honestly couldn’t fault the meal or service, and neither could Ross. Once we finished every last drop / crumb, we placed the meal firmly in our “top 10” of all time.