The national park „Les Calanques“ is considered as one of the most beautiful coastal regions in France. In good weather, it’s not only worth hiking in this park but also to do canoe tours. Its close location to the city Marseille and Cassis makes the national park very accessible for people traveling with public transport means and with inflatable boats. With its countless rock bays, the azure waters and gorgeous beaches, the tour offers you a perfect combination, which is a good alternative to most paddle tours on lakes or in the common coastal regions.
This tour will lead us from the idyllic port-town Cassis to the port metropolis Marseille. Both cities are already worth a visit and the arrive with the kayak in the old and traditional harbor of Marseille is something very special – a perspective that most tourists don’t get. By a route length of 12.5 miles (20 km) and with some breaks we should plan at least 9 hours for the complete tour. For everybody that doesn’t feel like doing the whole tour, there is also a good possibility to do only the half of the tour. At some spots there are quite good exit points where hiking trails lead directly to a bus stop.
Key facts about the paddling tour
9 -12 hours
local bus service
no traffic noise
high rock formations and bays, azure water
The best time to visit the Calanques is from April to June and from September to October. In these months there are pleasant temperatures and the risk that the national park is closed due to wildfire risk is low. In midsummer the national park is closed on many days. This is the case when it is very hot and extremely windy. If you want to do your paddle tour anyway in midsummer we highly recommend you to be flexible and spend some more time in the region. Every evening the national park administration announces on his site if it will be closed or accessible to the public. For that reason, it is important to take a look at the site in order to save yourself the way to the park.
Weather conditions for sea kayaking
Good and stable weather conditions are very important for sea kayaking. Especially the coast of Marseille is known for its strong wind periods. Therefore, it is highly recommended to plan several days for the trip and to choose the day with the best weather conditions. Marseille and Cassis but also the region itself offers a lot of beautiful spots that are worth a visit. If you don’t know if the weather conditions are good enough, you can also call a kayak rental and ask if they organize tours on this day.
An inflatable kayak is the best choice for the tour. In this way, you will have a great flexibility and you don’t have to paddle back to the start point where you need to return the boat. If you prefer renting a kayak, you could for example to the rental station C.S.L.N. The rental fee is quite high. The daily rental for a two person kayak is 70€. If you go paddling on a regular basis the question is if it is not a better long term investment to purchase an inflatable kayak.
For canoe tours on the coast are life jackets compulsory. Everybody who doesn’t wear one acts irresponsible. On the sea the weather can change quickly and there is a potential risk to overturn. Especially on steep coasts, which you will find also in the Calanques, an exit is only possible on a few spots. For long paddle tours on open water in regions with high temperatures you should not forget to take your sun cream, sun classes and headgear. On banks and beaches you will see many people wearing neoprene shoes because the water is full steep and sharp rocks. So, everybody who has sensible feeds should consider wearing those shoes.
At the same time, you should not forget to plan enough food and drinking water for the whole trip. There are two restaurants on the tour path but they are not regularly open and their offer is not the great French cuisine we would expect.
Getting to Cassis via Marseille
The starting point of our tour will be Cassis, a small idyllic harbor town at the Cote d’Azur. The next big city is Marseille, which has very good transport connections. Either you arrive directly at the Airport Marseille or you arrive at Paris and take a high-speed train, which takes only 3h 20min. With the low cost train company Ouigo you should be able to find tickets under 50€ if you book in advance. Depending on your trip, there are also direct trains from Spain and Germany where you can sometimes get really good offers.
When arriving at the Airport in Marseille, there are two possibilities to get to Cassis. Either you rent a car and you can go directly to Marseille or you use the public transports. For all those who don’t want do the complete is a rental car a most comfortable and fastest way to get to Cassis. Not too far away from the entry point for the boat there also good parking opportunities. For everybody else who wants to do the complete tour to Marseille, should better take the public transports to Cassis, in order to avoid coming back to Cassis after for the car.
When taking the public transports, you have to take at first the shuttle bus from the airport to the central station of Marseille (look here for departure times). A one way ticket costs about 8€. If you take also for your trip back the plane from the airport you should get a return ticket at the same time since both together costs only 13€ (in French: Ticket aller/retour). From the central station St. Charles in Marseille you take a direct train to Cassis. The journey takes about 15min and costs around 5€ (see here for departure times). Please take into account that the train station in Cassis is not located in the town center. In addition to that, the entry to the national park is again a short walk away.
For the way to the city center there is a bus line M01 where you get off at the stop Belsunce. Since the bus is only stopping if somebody wants to get off or get on, you should tell the bus driver before that you want to get off at Belsunce. Alternatively, you could also walk the way to the center, which takes you about 15-20min. By the way, if you are planning a bit more time for your trip it’s definitely worth spending a day in Cassis. This small idyllic coast town has got a really nice port promenade and some beautiful beaches.
From the bus stop Belsunce the way to the national park is quite well indicated. On the way to the national park you will pass by the beach Le Besouan. If you like you could already start your kayak tour from there. Otherwise, we recommend you to go to the first Calanque Port Miou, which is a really quiet and good place to set your inflatable boat in the water because it’s a little port for sailing boats and small yachts. So, not too many tourists will be around on the beach and you have got enough space for inflating the boat.
Our tour from Cassis to Marseille
First of all you need to exit the Calanque Port-Miou, which is a quite long bay. On the way out of the port with its countless boats the bay is getting larger and larger and you will start to see the beautiful rock formations on the left and right side.
On the left side you will also see the impressing red cliff Cap Canaille with a height of 392 meters, which is one of the highest cliffs in France. We will then turn right to continue our way in direction to Marseille. From now on, we will have this red cliff for a quite long time behind us and it’s definitely worth to turn around with the boat from time to time to enjoy this panoramic view.
After a three quarters of an hour we will get close to the first Calanques Port-Pin and Calanques d’en Vau, which are both really impressional. You should definitely head to one of them in order to have your breakfast or to go swimming in the morning as long as the beaches are quite empty.
For our part, we made a stop at the Calanque d’en Vau, which is one of my all-time favorite bays in the national park. The bay is enclosed from both sides from high cliffs, which creates already a special feeling when entering it. Once arrived at the beach and looking to the wide sea you really get the feeling of being in a paradise. The beach is quite big and there are also some spots in the shadow.
Those who prefer relaxing the sun on the beach compared to a the sporting challenge could also consider the option to spend half the day at this bay and to do the way back from here. Already on this way from Cassis to the Calanque d’en Vau you see the whole beautifulness of the national park and the journey was worth it.
For those who decide to continue has to go to their right-hand side when leaving this bay after the break in order to head to the Calanque Sugiton. When paddling comfortably it will probably take you about 2 hours to get there. Sugiton is one of the most visited Calanques in the national park. On the one hand it is easily accessible by hiking paths, which are also served by a bus line going directly to Marseille. On the other hand, Sugiton has a very special charm the little rock island in the middle of the bay.
Depending on the weather and the season there will be quite a lot of people, which are laying in the sun on the beach and jumping from the cliffs into the water. We made also a little stop at this bay to go swimming and to have our lunch.
The perfect national parc for hiking enthusiasts
Thanks to the countless hiking paths it could be a good idea to spend a bit more time in the national park. Up from the high white cliffs you will have stunning views over the sea and the bays. Due to the bad indication we highly recommend you to get a hiking map, such as the one from IGN.
Do you rather prefer having lunch in a restaurant? In this case you should make a stop at Calanque Morgiou, which is the bay right after Sugiton. There you will find a little fishing village and a restaurant called Bar Nautic. The best of the restaurant is definitely the terrace with the view of the sea. Please consider that the restaurant is closed on Sundays and that in the evening they only serve drinks.
At the entrance of Calanque Morgiou there is also on of our big highlight of this tour: the Grotte Bleue. Before the trip you should have a look at the map to see where exactly the cave is location because its small entrance is really difficult to see from the distance. Since the entrance of the cave is quite small and low, there is not much day light entering the cave. Most of the light gets only through the water to the cave, which seems to make glow the water beautifully light blue. It’s possible to go inside the cave with your inflatable boat but you have to lower your head quite much when entering. When there are little waves you have to be careful and when you have the impressions that the waves are too strong, you should better not go inside with your boat.
We are then continuing in direction to Marseille where we pass by the Cap Morgiou which impresses by its high steep cliffs. On this cape there are still the remains of an old fortress, from which the French defended themselves during the English invasion at the Napoleonic times. Unfortunately, the fortress is not visible from the water. In addition to that, there is the entrance to the Henry-Cosquer-Cave at this cape in 37 meter underwater. The cave contains a dry room overwater with prehistoric rock art engravings, dating to 27,000 years before present. For these reasons Morgio is representing something mystical with its various history it can tell.
From Morgiou we didn’t make any stop on the bank. We preferred staying on the boat for a little break and enjoying the great views. But actually you can find still enough bays where you can easily land. The Calanque Sormiou, Calanque de Podestat or the Calanque des Queyrons are for example great bays to do so. All these three bays have a really nice beach. Nevertheless, in term of time you have to decide where and when you want to make your stop because it’s impossible to stop at every nice bay.
The closer we get to Marseille the better we see also from far away the islands. Due to their small size and the rocky landscape on them, they remind me on abandoned places from adventure movies. If you feel like landing again for a snack or for having dinner, you can do so by heading to the Calanque de Marseilleveyre or the Calanque de Callelongue where you find a restaurant. At Marseillevery you have the better view but the only main dish is spaghetti Bolognese. In contrast, the Italian restaurant La Grotte at Callelongue offers a greater choice of food and a better ambience.
Callelongue marks also the end of the national park and therefore a potential point of exit with your inflatable boat if you don’t feel like making all the way to Marseille. There is a bus stop at Callelongue where you can take the bus line 20 to Montredon. In Montredon you can then take the bus line 19 which takes you directly to the Marseille’s city center.
For everybody else who decides completing the whole tour has to plan at least additional three hours to get to Vieux Port, the old harbor of Marseille. I have to admit that the last third of the tour is not exciting as we were used to the stunning cliffs in the Calanques. In the distance, you can see Marseille which is quite impressing but you get quickly the feeling that you don’t get any closer because it’s still quite far away. The last half an hour is however really fun. You are paddling close to the coast and you can observe already the city life, see people hanging out on the beaches and rocks or seeing how ships are arriving or leaving from and to North Africa. The entrance to the old harbor during the sunset was finally a very special moment to me because it was just a beautiful scenery since you are arriving in the heart of Marseille. Since it’s not very easy to find an exit point in the old harbor you can see our exact exit point.
Three ideas for additional activities near Marseille and Cassis
For all those who planed several days for the trips, here are some thoughts about other great activities you could do.
Les Friouls and Château d’If
The Friouls are a small island group close to Marseille, where you can get in 15 minutes by taking the ferry. You find a great nature on these islands with little beaches, a small village, old bunkers from the 2nd World War, ruins of an old hospital or castle-like complexes. The small island with Chateau d’If is well-known thanks to the count of Monte Cristo.
City tour in Marseille
For France Marseille is a very different city. On the one hand the city is unfortunately quite dirty and there are problems of high crime rates. But on the other hands Marseille is the synonym for multicultural mix and its charming Mediterranean flair. If you have the time you should definitely discover this city a bit.
Day trip to Avignon and Arles
The Friouls are a small island group close to Marseille, where you can get in 15 minutes by taking the ferry. You find a great nature on these islands with little beaches, a small village, old bunkers from the 2nd World War, ruins ofThe Provence is not far away and if you have one day left we have a great plan to see two beautiful cities. Arles and Avignon are easily accessible by train and Arles is just on the half way to Avignon. So in the morning and early afternoon you could visit Arles and in the late afternoon and evening you can visit Avignon. Arles has got a lot of Italian and Spanish influences with its colosseum and the Amphitheatre. In contrast, Avignon is a very typical French city in point of architecture. The pope palace and the famous bridge of Avignon make the city as one of the most visited cities in France. an old hospital or castle-like complexes. The small island with Chateau d’If is well-known thanks to the count of Monte Cristo.