While on vacation in the beautiful city of Marseille in southern France during this past February vacation, I also made a day trip over to the calanques de Marseille with the other teaching assistants I was traveling with.
Technically known as “rocky inlets” in English, the calanques are famous for their deep valleys and gorges, along with incredibly clear and turquoise Mediterranean waters. There are around thirteen of them in total, spread out along the coast of Marseille and up towards Cassis, a nearby town. Plenty of tourists come to visit the calanques every year, whether to hike, swim, and otherwise soak up the warm sun of southern France.
Although I’d been over last year in March, I was interested in going back this time around. The calanques are simply too good not to visit, and plus, I only got to visit one of them (calanque de Sugiton) last time. The teaching assistants and I had planned to check out two of the calanques (Sormiou and Morgiou), neither of which I’d been to yet. With that said, I was looking forward to going!
The first morning in Marseille, we caught the 9h30 bus from the rond-point du Prado, taking the 45-minute ride over to the stop about a kilometer or two from the entrance of the national park of the calanques. Weather was certainly in our favor that day: cloudless blue skies, warm sun, and temperatures of 15-18 degrees Celsius (around 59 to 64 degrees Fahrenheit) which was so much better than the 7 to 8 degrees Celsius (44 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit) back in the north of France.
Our itinerary was to have us start at the calanque de Sormiou and wind our way around to the calanque de Morgiou to finish the hike. In total, it would be around 8 miles (13 kilometers) of exploring what the nature reserves had to offer.
At first, the trails were pretty wide and straightforward to follow: less than half an hour into the hike, and we already reached the calanque de Sormiou, as viewed from above the cliff. It was lovely, with its crater-shaped bend taking in crystal-clear Mediterranean waters. We also saw a small beach or resort town along its coast, although that, being February, there probably wasn’t a whole lot of tourists, let alone things being opened for the winter season.
We continued onward to calanque de Morgiou, with the trail slowly thinning out as we were literally scaling along the face of the cliffs. At one point, we took a small lunch/snack break along the edge of one of them, munching away on our sandwiches, chips, and waffles (not very healthy, but with all of the exercise we did that day, it burned right off!). At the same time, we admired the views while soaking up the much-needed sun. And of course, we took many, many photos (ended up being a photo-shoot kind of day for us!).
For most of the first half of our hike, we were basically climbing up the slopes of the cliffs until finally, we reached a viewing point for the calanque de Sugiton, which I’d been to the previous year and personally find to be the prettiest out of the ones I’ve visited. In essence, it’s what makes the calanques de Marseille so worth going. The carved-out, pointed cliffs, the crystal-blue waters…again, the calanques de Sugiton offers plenty of dramatic, jaw-dropping views enough to mesmerize you for the entire day.
Once we had arrived at the vantage point for the calanque de Sugiton, we were ready to finally make our way directly to the calanque de Morgiou. We were at the highest point at that moment, and the only way to arrive at our destination was by going down.
…and so we did. However, what was supposed to be a leisurely hike down to the calanque de Morgiou turned out to be one of the most testing experiences I’ve ever had. Mind you, I was in the Cinque Terre in Italy last May hiking as well, and had some physically-exhausting moments (at one point, literally climbing the face of a hill), but this time in Marseille certainly beat that by a mile (or eight).
Perhaps it was the route that we’d decided to take, but it was terrifying. Seriously, it was so steep, as we zigzagged along the narrow pathway suited for one person at a time. The ground was not very stable, for there were lots of tiny pebbles on the road and if you weren’t careful, you could slip on them and eventually fall off the cliff (I’m not exaggerating; it was that bad!). Admittedly, all of us had at one point stumbled a bit while hiking down, even though we were taking extra caution not to. Some parts were so treacherous that we even had to use our hands to hold on to nearby rocks and branches just to get down. Never before had I done something so physically demanding while on vacation, let alone put my life in danger!
After what seemed like hours, we finally made it down onto actual land, aka the harbor of the calanque de Morgiou. Granted, it only took us two hours, but my god, those two hours were incredibly stressful- I was on such an adrenaline kick after that! I don’t foresee myself doing that again anytime soon, but at least I can say that I have a story to tell back home about it.
We didn’t stay too long at the calanque de Morgiou, since it was already late afternoon (around 16h30), so we just sat by the harbor, looking at the ships docked there. Surprisingly, we saw small jellyfish bobbing around in the water, which I hadn’t expected! While fairly small, the calanque de Morgiou was nevertheless quite picturesque in its seaside-resort feel.
Finally, we were ready to head to the bus stop and take it back to the city center of Marseille from the calanque de Morgiou. However, we’d miscalculated that the bus stop would be about five, close to six kilometers (3.1 to 3.7 miles) from the harbor, where we were at. Already tired from the thirteen or so kilometers we’d just hiked throughout that day, we nevertheless made the trek over to the bus stop, scaling a couple more strenuous hills before finally hitting civilization in the residential Morgiou neighborhood and getting the 18h40 bus back to the center. It was a quick ride back, and after stopping in a grocery store for dinner foods, we made our way back to our hotel, utterly exhausted but feeling accomplished.
Even though we must’ve hiked about close to 20 kilometers (12 miles) that day, and although my calves and knees hurted like crazy the following day, I was glad to have visited the calanques de Marseille a second time around, even checking out two new ones in the process! Really, they are worth the trip over should you ever decide to visit Marseille, for all its nature makes for a great contrast with the hustle and bustle of the urban city center.
More to come later: I’ll be posting the second part of my adventures in the city center of Marseille soon! 🙂
— The Finicky Cynic
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