France's Calanques National Park: The Ultimate Guide

Ella Butcher | Live the World

August 25, 2023

Experience the awe-inspiring beauty of Europe’s largest peri-urban national park.

In the heart of the breathtaking southern coast of France lies a hidden gem that beckons adventurers, nature enthusiasts, and wanderers alike: Calanques National Park, a protected area of 52,000 hectares where azure Mediterranean waters embrace rugged limestone cliffs. With its stunning landscapes, crystalline coves and rich biodiversity, this coastal paradise is a testament to the beauty that France has to offer. From challenging hikes that reward with panoramic vistas to leisurely strolls along coastal pathways that lead to secluded beaches, Calanques is a haven for those seeking both thrilling exploits and tranquiity. To the west of the park you will find Marseille, France’s second largest city, whilst the smaller cities of Cassis and La Ciotat lie to the park’s east. In total there are 26 calanques, which can seem overwhelming if it’s your first visit, but that’s what we’re here for! Read on for insights into the park's geological wonders, as well as hike suggestions and practical info.

Whether you're an avid hiker, a passionate photographer, or simply someone who yearns for a taste of nature's grandeur, Calanques National Park promises an experience like no other. Get ready to immerse yourself in the allure of France’s stunning south coast, where adventure, tranquility, and raw natural elegance converge. So, pack your virtual bags and let’s go!

Photo by Ishm Kbpah

Getting there

Driving

If you’re driving it makes it easier to do a little road trip and visit several calanques and to go a bit more off the beaten track, with the park being accessible from Marseille and La Ciotat in under an hour, and from Cassis in around 30 minutes. Having said this, parking spaces are limited so driving is not recommended by the park.

There is a car park in les Gorguettes, which is open all year round but it fills up extremely quickly during the summer period. Port-Miou also has a small car park and it is possible to park in front of the Luminy University science campus to access Sormiou, Morgiou and Sugiton.

Buses

In terms of public transport, there are a good number of bus services to the Calanques and due to the lack of parking availability in the park, we would recommend taking the bus. The 21 bus from Marseille and the 100 bus from Cassis stop near some of the park’s entrances, from which point you will need to walk for up to an hour to reach the cliffs.

Listed below are some useful bus lines which will take you into the park:

- For Saména, Mauvais Pas and Blanche take the 19 bus from Marseille to Madrague de Montredon followed by a short walk.

- For the Calanque de Marseilleveyre and the Calanque de la Mounine, take the 20 from Marseille to Callelongue followed by an approximately hour long hike.

- For Morgiou and Sugiton, take the line B1 from Marseille to Luminy followed by an hour-long hike.

- For Sormiou, take line 22 from Marseille to Les Baumettes followed by an hour-long hike.

- For Port-Miou, take the shuttle bus from Cassis. From here you can access this calanque or walk to Port-Pin in 15 minutes.

This map provided by the Calanques National Park shows bus stops, routes and hiking trails which is worth checking out.

On Foot

If you don’t want to take public transport, you can easily walk to the eastern calanques from Cassis, with Port-Pin taking around 40 minutes, Port-Miou taking 25 minutes and d’En-Vau taking 1 hour and 15 minutes.

If you have limited mobility or just don’t fancy walking, a beautiful, and easier, way to reach the park during the tourist season is by taking a boat trip from the Vieux-Port in Marseille or from the Port de Cassis. This is a great idea especially if you only have a day to explore the calanques, as many of the boats take you to several different calanques, with some even stopping so you can enjoy a dip in the azure water.

If you’re an avid hiker or biker, there are plenty of trails leading to the park from Marseille and Cassis. You can easily walk to the eastern calanques from Cassis, with Port-Pin taking around 40 minutes, Port-Miou taking 25 minutes and d’En-Vau taking 1 hour and 15 minutes. From Marseille . Bikers beware though, the rugged terrain makes for a slightly bumpy, albeit doable, ride.

Photo by Catarina Fedorova

Know Before You Go

It’s important to know that there are no water fountains, toilets, shops or bins in the park, be that on the trails or on the beaches, so it’s essential to be well prepared and bring the right footwear if you are hiking, plenty of water, sunhats and protective gear and to keep your rubbish until you return to town. No one wants to be caught out on a hot day!

Whilst the calanques are free to enjoy, during summer months from 1st June to 30th September access can be prohibited due to risk of wildfire. If this is the case, taking a boat trip and exploring the park by water is your best option.

If you are visiting with children or family, it is worth knowing that only Sormiou and Saint-Estève have lifeguards during the summer months.

Money

France uses the euro, and whilst there aren’t any shops in the park, you’ll most likely need some cash if you’re staying nearby.

Weather

Being on the coast, the climate in the Calanques is fairly regulated and doesn’t tend to get extremely hot or cold. The South of France is known for being warm in summer, regularly reaching temperatures up to 30 degrees celsius, whilst during winter temperatures can drop to 4 or 5 degrees celsius. During the summer months it is rare to see more than a few days of rainfall whereas during spring and autumn you will be more likely to encounter rain, although it shouldn’t be a huge problem if you’re wanting to visit at these times.

Photo by Sara Goldsmith

Hiking

The Calanques National Park is a hiking hotspot and its criss-crossing trails, views over the cliffs and wildlife spotting possibilities attract eager hikers from far and wide. The hiking season is from October to late May but we would say that late summer and early autumn is the best time to go as you will miss the crazy mid-summer heat but will still catch the water while it’s nice and warm. Within the park, there are plenty of trails in the Massif de Marseilleveyre, an area with mountains, incredible canyons and the Marseilleveyre peak that provides stunning views over the Mediterranean sea.

Calanque de Sormiou to Calanque de Morgiou Loop Hike

A moderately difficult hike with a distance of approximately 7.5 kilometers (4.7 miles), this loop hike takes you through two beautiful calanques, Sormiou and Morgiou, offering stunning coastal views and the opportunity to experience both sandy and rocky beaches. It's a great way to get a taste of the diverse landscapes in the park.

Calanque d’En-Vau Hike

This popular hike leads you to Calanque d’En-Vau, one of the most picturesque calanques in the park. The round trip consists of a 7 kilometre (4.3 miles) trail which provides panoramic vistas of the coast and offers a rewarding view of the calanque's turquoise waters. It is a moderate to difficult hike but it is so worth the sweat!

Photo by Benoit Deschasaux

Sugiton and Calanque de Sugiton Hike

This well maintained trail is perfect if you’re looking for a moderate hike. The round trip of approximately 5.5 kilometres (3.4 miles) takes you to the Calanque de Sugiton, offering beautiful coastal scenery and various viewpoints. It also has options to explore different parts of the calanque if you want to go further off the beaten track.

Calanque de Port-Miou to Calanque de Port-Pin Hike

One of the easier hikes in the park, this trail starts at Calanque de Port-Miou and takes you to Calanque de Port-Pin. With the hike being approximately 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) one way, you will have plenty of time to relax on the rocks and swim at Port-Pin before heading back.

Calanque de Morgiou to Col de Sugiton Hike

This longer hike consisting of a 12 kilometre (7.5 miles) round trip takes you from Calanque de Morgiou to the Col de Sugiton, offering panoramic views of the coastline, calanques, and surrounding landscape. It's a challenging hike but rewards you with breathtaking scenery.

Pas de la Demi Lune Hike

A staple hiking trail and ideal for those who want a moderate difficulty, this popular semicircle shaped path is located on the Massif de Marseilleveyre and stretches from Callelongue to the Calanque de la Mounine. The hike connects to other trails which lead to nearby calanques such as the Marseilleveyre, so you can reward yourself with a beach trip after your great effort.

If you’re not so much of a confident hiker, or want to be led by a guide, book a spot on this Guided Hike from Marseille, which involves 2 hours of walking, an hour for swimming in the crystal waters and amazing views of the Frioul and Riou archipelagoes.

Photo by Antoine Rakotozafy

Best Calanques near Marseille

Before diving into the coves, first let’s take a look at some of the islands and archipelagos in this areas. Off the coast of Marseille is Le Frioul, a collection of 4 islands - Pomègues, Ratonneau, If and Tiboulen - which are home to a vast array of flora and fauna, as well as several footpaths which give access to small creeks and magnificent views. From the Vieux-Port you can catch the Frioul-If boat which takes about 20 minutes. For a true breath of fresh air you can also book a Boat tour to a Frioul Island from Marseille where you can explore the picturesque islands and bays and dive from the boat into the blue waters.

Calanque de Marseilleveyre

A large and relatively remote calanque with a small shingle and sand beach as well as a seafood restaurant bar. This popular cove is located at the base of the Marseilleveyre mountain, with many hiking trails connecting it to the summit, making it a perfect place to visit if you want to combine a hike with some beach relaxation.

Calanque de Sormiou

One of the most famous and easily accessible and the largest calanque in the national park, the Calanque de Sormiou’s beach with clear blue waters attracts swarms of visitors every year. Slightly further back from the beach, behind the few houses that exist in the cove, is a nice restaurant with incredible views over the sparkling waters. Sormiou is also a popular destination for snorkelling as the area to explore is pretty large, with a reef near the main bathing area containing sea grass and rock and teeming with plenty of pretty fish.

Photo by Slim Mars

Calanque de Morgiou

The Calanque de Morgiou, located between Sormiou and Sugiton, is a popular destination thanks to its peaceful atmosphere and fishing village atmosphere. A great spot for swimming and snorkeling due to the relatively deep waters, on your visit you can explore the azure waters or chill out on the small beach. Join the paths going up behind the beach to arrive at Sugiton, passing the Blue Cave (La Grotte Bleue), a magical little creek created by fallen rocks whose water is mystically illuminated during the morning.

Calanque de Sugiton

Another popular snorkelling spot, the Calanque de Sugiton is also known for its hiking trails, diverse plant life and rugged rocky landscape. Here you will find two creeks, each with a small shingle beach surrounded by high cliffs and looking out to an island called Le Torpilleur (the torpedo). Take your pick of the many hikes boasting panoramic views of the coastline, including one which starts near Luminy campus in the 9th district and takes about an hour to reach the calanque.

Photo by Hugo Vidal

Calanque Blanche

Nowadays there aren’t many calanques that remain anonymous to the public, but in this lesser-known one you can find peace and tranquility. The Calanque Blanche is more understated than some of its neighbours and in spite of its easy access and proximity to Marseille, this creek is extremely quiet. Descend the wooden steps to reach a tiny beach with gorgeous clear waters that make for a lovely quiet swimming stop on the Chemin des Goudes trail.

Calanque de Saména

Marking the entrance to the area known as the “terrestrial heart of the park”, the Calanque de Saména was the very first calanque and was also the location of a settlement of Catalonian fishermen between the 16th and 19th centuries. This quaint cove is definitely one of the quieter places to visit in the park and is perfect for a swim, but pay attention to the water, especially if it is windy, as the waves can get a little choppy here and it is unsupervised.

Where to Stay

Budget: Staycity Aparthotels Marseille Centre Vieux Port

Air-conditioned studios 550 metres from the port.

Mid-Range: Mercure Marseille Centre Prado Vélodrome

Rooms in a hotel on the southern side of Marseille with a terrace, bar and metro links to the city centre.

Luxury: Sofitel Marseille Vieux Port

Stylish rooms in a hotel next to the old port featuring 3 terraces, a restaurant and free access to a spa.

Photo by Kodex

Best Calanques near Cassis & La Ciotat

Calanque Port-Pin

One of the smaller calanques, Port-Pin is a deep cove in an idyllic setting featuring a sandy beach with pebbles. Take refuge from the sun in the shade of the pines and admire the long creek full of swimmers and boats. As it is the easternmost calanque, you can easily hike there from Cassis, although its accessibility does mean that it can get very crowded in summer. Here’s an interesting little fact: the light beige “Cassis stone” found in the old quarry which neighbours the calanque can be found almost everywhere in Marseille; from the paving of the squares, to the base of the monuments and the edge of pavements.

Calanque d’En-Vau

Often considered one of the most magnificent calanques in the national park, the Calanque d’En-Vau has turquoise waters and a shingle beach which are sheltered by the plunging walls of the grand cliffs. Once you are in the water, the seabed drops quickly, making this a popular snorkelling spot for those who want to get a glimpse of stunning wild fish. D’En-Vau is easily accessible from Cassis, meaning that it can get overcrowded in summer and on the weekends, but the truly spectacular scenery makes it a must-see if you are exploring the park or staying in Cassis or La Ciotat.

Photo by Thomas Aubaud

Calanque Port-Miou

The Calanque Port-Miou is located near Cassis and is a former quarry which is now a stunning sheltered harbour filled with azure water and up to 500 boats at any one time. Although Port-Miou does not have a beach, it’s irresistible calm waters are perfect for diving and is also an ideal destination for those with reduced mobility as the short walk from Cassis is relatively easy. An ideal spot for boating and kayaking, if you want to see Port-Miou and the rest of the park from a new perspective, why not try this Guided Kayak Tour of the Calanques of La Ciotat and paddle through the park’s waterways to discover the creeks of La Ciotat, Cap Canaille, L’Ile Verte, Figuerolles and Mugel?

Where to Stay

Budget: Renovated Fully Equipped Studio

A renovated, fully equipped studio a 19 minute walk from the Calanque du Grand Mugel for 2 to 4 people featuring air conditioning.

Mid-Range: Best Western Premier Hôtel du Vieux Port

A contemporary hotel located on the old fishing port of La Ciotat offering a rooftop swimming pool overlooking the bay.

Luxury: Hôtel Les Roches Blanches Cassis

A 5-star hotel offering a seasonal outdoor swimming pool with stunning views out to sea and a restaurant.

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