One of the many reasons to visit Marseille in southern France is its rocky inlets that are perfect for hiking, picnicking, and swimming. Even if you are not the hiking kind, the views of the sea and sailboats beyond the distance risk capturing your heart! The most popular calanques are located between Marseille and Cassis, but there are secret beaches and other lesser known trails to be found along the coast.
Before moving back to Paris in September, I spent two years working in a smaller French city called Perpignan, which also happens to be on the Mediterranean. So after a dreary winter in northern central France, the February holidays were creeping forward and I was aching for blue skies and the sea. Even though I grew up near the ocean, I consider myself more of a mountain girl. Yet, after living in a landlocked city for about six months, the water was calling my name.
Last year, I went to Provence for my winter school vacation and saw the calanques in Cassis. I really wanted to go back, especially after seeing fellow bloggers Anne and Kristin’s photos of the Calanque de Sugiton. When brainstorming places, my boyfriend mentioned he had recently seen a French documentary on Arte about a train that went along la Côte Bleue. We thought it would be nice to see a more underrated spot, so after a visit to Nîmes, we hopped on the train and headed to Marseille.
La Côte Bleue
After arriving in Marseille, we barely made it on the regional train to the La Redonne-Ensuès station. You can take the train further up the Blue Coast to enjoy even more scenic views, but we were just visiting for the day and didn’t want go too far. We arrived in the small town around 9 AM and there were just a few others who got off at the same stop we did. It was a cool quiet morning and the sun’s rays illuminated the landscape below, dancing on the ripples in the water. We hadn’t even begun our hike yet and we were in awe of this little coastal town.
Our plan was to hike from La Redonne to Niolon, then catch the train back to Marseille in the afternoon. We crossed paths with a few other families hiking in the morning, and many more once it was later in the day and we got closer to Niolon. Late February in Provence is warm enough to go in the water; we passed by a handful of swimmers and even a couple of paddle boarders during our trek. If I had brought a swimsuit on the trip, I would not have hesitated to go for a dip!
I would say the trails around la Côte Bleue are an easy hike, but become more difficult once you get closer to Niolon, especially since the paths in that area are more trodden and the rocks slipperier. There was one little spot many people struggled to get through that had a rope tied between the branches of a tree that you could hold on to to help get yourself across. My boyfriend joked and said it was like acrobranche (ropes course). Closed toed hiking shoes are ideal, but I was able to walk the trails and climb over rocks in my Véja sneakers.
A Secret Tunnel
I wouldn’t wander too far from the path, but do look out for smaller trails that veer off from the main way because you could find the entrance to a hidden beach! At one point during our walk, we saw some girls who were hiking ahead of us go down some stairs, then through a tunnel. I was skeptical, but my boyfriend urged me to follow them. I still felt unsure until I reached the end of the tunnel and saw a path through the brush. At the end of the path was a hidden little beach spot perfect for a picnic.
We didn’t bring picnic food, however, so we continued on. We were hoping to finish our hike before lunchtime so we could find an open restaurant. Instead of going back the way we came, we decided to walk across – or should I say climb across – some rocks to get to the next beach. My childhood summers playing on rocky islands in Maine prepared me for that moment! When we got to the other side, we happened upon a lovely beach with white pebbles and a crowd of locals bathing in the sun.
Once in Niolon, we found a table outside at the first restaurant we came across. We ordered rosé, seafood, and pizza. In Provence, it’s acceptable to put ice in rosé, even in February! It was a lovely meal after walking in the sun for a few hours.
When we finished our lunch, we had about half an hour left before our train, so we strolled through the village and enjoyed one last view of Marseille from across the water. I can’t wait to come back to this area and hike more of the calanques. Hopefully next time it’ll be for more than just a day trip!
Thanks so much for reading! Love seaside walks and hikes? Check out these coastal trails in the Pyrénées-Orientales, one of my favorite places on Earth:
À la prochaine,