France hiking Travel

Hiking the Calanques of la Côte Bleue in Provence

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.

Calanques

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!

Hiking Trails

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,

Camden

P.S. Check out my vlog for more glipses of la Côte bleue !

10 comments

  1. Hi I’m coming to Argeles Sur Mer in September for a visit. I’m also considering moving there from Canada. I really enjoy your articles and am including several of your activities in my adventures while I’m there. Can you tell me if you liked living in Perpignan and if you did no, why not? I’m going to explore that city since it has a lot of the things I’d need if I move there to live full time. I am going to look at Carcassone also and the towns inland from Argeles Sur Mer. I need an area where I can get by on my english until my french is good enough and is close to an area where I can take french lessons. Any advice you can provide would be greatly appreciated:)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! It wasn’t the perfect place for me to live personally. I loved the historical charm, the endless sunshine, the fresh local produce, the mix of cultures, and the proximity to the mountains and sea. What made it tough to live there was the political tension, poverty, and small size of the town center (once you get out of the historical center it’s not quite as pretty and there isn’t as much to do since it’s mostly residential – however there is a lot to explore in the region).

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  2. I didn’t really have much experience/interest in hiking until I discovered the calanques de Marseille when I first visited in 2016– since then, I look forward to a scenic workout on my travels! I’ve only done the main hikes closer to the city (e.g. Sugiton, Sormiou…), so la Côte Bleue interests me to check out someday!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t done the main hikes yet, but they are on my list. I have to say I also love getting a good hike or nature walk in when traveling as well – it feels so refreshing after spending a lot of time sitting in planes, trains, and busses!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The light in your photos is just beautiful. I was in Marseille on Easter weekend and the mini cruise to the calanques from the Vieux Port was very popular. Not being able to do everything, I settled for the Frioul islands, but already the charm of the inlets is there.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I did a similar route on the Cote Bleue before leaving marseille 💙💔
    So beautiful !! Your post reminds me that I promised a “part two” post of calanque hikes… maybe this will be the year I finally finish it ?! 🙈

    Liked by 1 person

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