It was a foggy morning. As we made our way through the bustling market, we passed by vendors selling an array of local goods from fresh crusty breads to barrels of apples and oranges. Once we arrived at the port, we began to see colorful shops and apartments emerge from the mist. Beyond the clouds hid the rocky inlets just waiting to be discovered.
On our third day in Provence, Helen and I decided to take a day trip to Cassis. We considered staying there before we found some better deals in Aix-en-Provence. It felt nostalgic to be wandering around the south of France with her again, just as we did when we visited Marseille as grad students. Since Aix is inland, we wanted to travel a little further south so we could see the coast. Not wanting to go to a big city during the health crisis, we picked a charming port city known for its calanques, or rocky coves.
The Train from Aix to Cassis
If you’re going on a day trip to Cassis from Aix-en Provence, it is fairly easy to get there by train. However, the voyage requires a connection in Marseille. The two train rides are just under two hours and if you have enough time during your layover, I would suggest walking outside the train station to see a view of the city and the Basilica Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde. The round trip tickets cost just under 20€. From the train station you can take the bus to the stop Casino, which is just a few minutes walking distance from the port.
Le Marché de Cassis
Luckily for us, it was market day when we visited, so we scoped out the stalls for picnic snacks and gifts for friends. Among our market finds were almond and orange cookies, sheep’s cheese aux herbes de Provence, and lavender honey! If you consider yourself a foodie, Provence should be on your list just for the markets. Before heading off to the calanques, we made one last trip to the Boulangerie Lion for a baguette and some other goodies.
The Calanques of Cassis
The calanques are fairly easy to access from the port. Start heading west on Avenue de l’Admiral Gantaume which eventually turns into the Avenue des Calanques. Google maps was accurate navigating us there, but you will probably also see some green hiking signs indicating the path. To get to the first of the three main calanques in Cassis, the path is mostly along the road and without many hills or rocks.
Calanque de Port Miou
Calanque #1 was Port Miou, the easiest to get to and least secluded of the three. In this inlet you’ll see rows of little white sailboats. When we reached Port Miou, it was still quite foggy, but the rocky cliffs we starting to make an appearance. Even on a gray morning, the landscape was awe-inspiring.
We didn’t spend much time here as there wasn’t much to do except admire our surroundings. There were still two calanques we had left to discover and we wanted to get there by lunchtime.
Calanque de Port Pin
The next calanque was Port Pin, which was maybe a 15 minute walk from Port Miou. I would call this an easy to medium hike because it was short, but there are a few steep rocky parts to watch out for. I was surprised how many people were there in February! However, it was during the school holidays and winter in Provence can be warm and sunny. To find a more isolated spot, we climbed on the rocks until we found the perfect patch of rock ensoleillé.
Although it would have been nice to have lunch at the port if restaurants were open, having a market lunch was the next best thing! I had a feuilleté filled with tomato and pepper, as well as some fruit, bread, and cheese. The brebis aux herbes from Corsica was the one of the creamiest cheeses I’ve ever had! I even ate the moldy croute, since the herbs helped balance the funk.
As we ate our market lunch, we basked in the sunlight and enjoyed the views. We watched a group of friends swim in the sparking turquoise waters and I wondered if I should have brought my swimsuit. The sun was finally making its debut as the fog slowly dissipated. Halfway through our lunch, a boat came into the inlet and anchored. Watching the yacht reminded me of my childhood summers sailing off the coast of Maine. It made me miss the days of exploring little islands, inspecting tide pools with my brother as we scoured for hermit crabs and sea-glass.
Calanque En Vau
After our picnic at Port Pin we debated on whether or not to visit the third Calanque, En Vau. It was about a 45 minute hike and was reported to have a more difficult trail than the first two. Although we would have loved to see it, we decided against checking out the third calanque. The first reason being was that we weren’t sure we would have enough time to make it to our train back home since we needed to be back in Aix for the 6pm curfew. The second reason was that we had just hiked Montagne Sainte-Victoire the day before and we didn’t want to strain our legs too much! Maybe someday we’ll go back and even get to jump in that clear, azur water!
Back to Cassis
After getting back to Cassis we decided to treat ourselves after the hike. Although the tartes tropeziennes we eyed in the window of a pastry shop looked mouthwatering, we ended up going with ice cream cones. The clouds had also made their way out of the port, so we were better able to admire the harbor views. Something that caught my eye that was hidden by the fog earlier that day was a castle on a cliff overlooking the city! Helen told me that the Château de Cassis is actually now a hotel! Could you imagine spending your vacation in a castle?
As much as we would have loved to spend more time in Cassis, we had a train to catch. After grabbing a coffee at Grain de Folie and picking out some last minute postcards, we hopped on the train back to Aix. I can’t wait to visit this little town again someday to go on a boat tour around the calanques, swim in the Mediterranean, and sip glasses of the local white wine. Even though the calanques are incomparable, I will say that my favorite colorful Mediterranean town is still Collioure.
I hope you enjoyed reading about our day trip to Cassis and part 2 of my latest Provence adventure! Make sure you’re following the blog to read more about my travels in southern France.
À la prochaine,