– You’re going to Marseille? You definitely have to visit Cassis! – Caroline casually dropped her travel advice as I told her about my plan to visit Marseille. When the girl that travelled around Australia for a year in a camping bus speaks to me about where to go, I listen. The fact that Cassis is a neighboring town speaks much about Caroline’s fascination for Marseille. But that is another story for another day.
Fun fact: If you are from any other parts of France but Provence, you will most likely call this town ka-si (blackcurrant). But since Occitan is a traditional language of Provence, this town is locally referred to as ka-sis.
Cassis is most renowned for its calanques (coves) – where the sea cuts deep into narrow rock cliffs, creating little hide-away beaches where pointy Mediterranean pines flank crystal blue water. The coves in Cassis are parts of a terrain with similar formation that spans along the southern coastline between Marseille and La Ciotat.
A rather uninteresting one-hour drive from Marseille took us to Cassis, where massive and oddly flat-top limestone ridges cut violently into the deep blue sky. Most cars making a turn into Cassis are tourist cars, and they all come here for Port-Miou and Port-Pin. During summer, you are not allowed to park right by the cliff. We had to bring our car to a designated parking lot. Had to, because it’s quite far (half an hour hike) from Port-Pin and because it costed a stark 8 euro. The area is marked “private property” so I could only hope that our overpriced parking fee would go to the people that actually conserve this place.
The hike gave a gradual first impression and well-rounded appreciation of the landscape before arriving at the most breathtaking scenes. Just remember to bring hiking shoes – a lesson I soon learned during a never ending struggle to climb rocks in thong sandals amid pity looks from passers-by.
My husband and I went first to Port-Miou, a deep, narrow bay for boats, before arriving at the amazing beach of Port-Pin on the other side of the cliff. Many people took the rocky, dry path that skipped Port-Miou and lead straight to Port-Pin. However, since it was my first time here, the longer walk down to Port-Miou let me stay close to the stunning blue water and enjoy a rare moment of peace. The expensive sailboats that orderly crowded Port-Miou became a part of the landscape and classes of fish swimming freely close to shore told me that this water might be undisturbed most of the time.
By noon time, we reached the tiny and crowded beach of Port-Pin. The best time to be here is between noon and 5pm when the water is warm and the sun is directly atop. Outside of this time window, it can get quite shady and cold in between the cliff. Fortunately, the turnover was high as a lot of people only took a short break on the beach before continuing with their hike. Tanning spots filled and opened up quickly.
Nature surely not give you a comfortable tanning bed in Port-Pin so be sure to bring a thick towel. The beach is covered in stones – not smooth pebbles but rough, sharp edged stones. A few meters into the water, it’s a completely different story as the stone turned into smaller grains and, eventually, silky smooth sand like that in the South of Thailand. Immersing into the crisp, fresh, cold and perfectly pellucid water gave me a uniquely invigorating feeling that made all stress and tiredness become a blur.
We could have continued further West to Calanque D’En Vau – Port-Pin’s identical twin – where the beach is slightly wider and the water no less stunning. Unfortunately, my thong sandals gave up and typical holiday laziness kicked in. We gave up half way and went back for a final dip in the Port-Pin instead.
Climbing back to the parking lot at around 5pm, we drove into town just in time for apero. The boardwalk surrounding the bay is crowded with restaurants, bars and street vendors. This place would be a bazaar at the season’s peak in July and August. Since we chose to go to Cassis in early May, the traffic was quite bearable. Grab a beer or a glass of wine at a happy-hour bar, take an ice-cream to go, or book a table to try the popular moules-frites (mussels and french fries) – there are more than one way to end your already-perfect day in this stress-free heaven. I had the most delicious melon ice-cream by chance in Cassis. Note to self and to non-French speakers like me – if given a choice, buy ice-cream from a Glacier and not a Glaces, as the former makes his own ice-cream and the latter is a trader that sells ice-cream made by someone else. If you booked a room in town, feel free to stay out and get drunk until late on the scenic boardwalk. But if you’re there for a day trip like us, better slow down on alcohol as the ride back is nothing close to the splendor of Cassis.