What we colloquially refer to as the Calanques of Cassis is actually part of a National Park, a protected site where access is strictly regulated, due to the high frequentation and the risk of fires. Since 2022, it is mandatory to book in advance, in order to have access to the Calanque de Sugiton and Pierres Tombées during the high season. You can access the National Park by car, on foot, or by sea (only by private boat or kayak/SUP).
If you’re wondering what a “calanque” is, you should know that it’s a beautiful and unique type of inlet found along the Mediterranean coast. These narrow and steep-walled valleys are formed through either erosion by rivers or the collapse of caves that have been partially submerged by the sea. They are typically made of limestone or other carbonate materials and provide a breathtaking landscape for travelers to explore.
After visiting Cassis during our first summer on the French Riviera, we decided to explore the Calanques of Cassis / Marseille by kayak. As we did not know the place at all, we preferred to book a guided sea kayak trip from Cassis, which allowed us to leave from Port Miou, passing through the Calanque de Port Pin to finally make a swimming stopover of 35min in the En Vau Calanques. There are day trips organized as well, but with a toddler who couldn’t come with us (participants must all know how to swim) and was therefore kept at home, we preferred to opt for a shorter one on that occasion.
Kayak trip to visit the Calanques
After scouring the kayak rental providers in Cassis and guided outings, I chose to book a trip with Destination Calanques. The reservation process was simple and the site very clear, and I particularly appreciated the detailed confirmation email, full of important information for the outing to go well. I was actually contacted by phone a bit later and our reservation had to be postponed for the next day, but that was no issue for us.
Arriving by car in Cassis
Against all expectations, there was no traffic on the way (nor on the return drive), however, as the summary email had warned us, it is almost impossible to park in Cassis… As we arrived very early, we first tried to find a place near the place where we were meeting the kayak guides, rather than parking at the Gorguettes car park and then taking the shuttle. It’s an interesting option that we would have chosen in plan B, but fortunately we were able to park in the private car park of the Presqu’île. The price is 10€ per day (4€ for a motorbike), payable only in cash. Once parked, we had plenty of time to apply sunscreen before reaching the meeting point, a 10-minute walk away.
National Calanques Park closed…
When we arrived in Cassis, a sign frightened us a little: “Parc National des Calanques closed today, access prohibited”. Despite our anxiety at this message, the fact that we were not contacted by the provider of the kayak trip made us believe that the ride was not cancelled.
We were right indeed, as when the Park is closed it is still possible to navigate. On the other hand, it is forbidden to land on the beaches or to climb on the rocks. So no problem for our kayak trip… apart from the wind: the reason for the park’s closure. We paid 84€ in total for 2 people for the kayak outing.
Departure of the kayak trip in the Calanques
Once we arrived at the meeting point at the end of Avenue des Calanques, where there are public toilets and a snack bar (closed that day, surely because access to the Calanques was forbidden) we waited for the rest of our group before picking up a large wet bag, our life jackets and our paddles, and descending a small rocky passage to arrive in Port-Miou. Port-Miou means “better port” because it is protected from the wind. There, we put the kayaks in the water and started our guided trip.
Calanques of Port-Miou, Port Pin and En-Vau
Unsurprisingly, we got caught up in the splendor of the Calanques from the very first minutes of our 3 hours trip. These three creeks (Port-Miou, Port Pin, and En-Vau) are magnificent, the steep rock formations are incredible, the history they contain intriguing, and we understand both the popularity of the place and the urgency of protecting it from mass tourism or, at least, from irresponsible tourism.
The water was translucent, alternating from dark blue/green to intense turquoise. The two small parts of the crossing unprotected from the wind, where the kayak is roughed up by waves and where you get caught in the foam and endure the wind in the face for about ten minutes (but nothing too bad when you’re used to paddle in the harbor of Toulon in the middle of winter) were quickly forgotten!
We made a brief stop at the bottom of the Calanque de Port Pin and I personnaly would not have refused to linger there longer. It was almost empty (4 other people at most when our group was there!), beautiful with translucent water, and incredibly peaceful. But I think that the popularity of En-Vau makes it more “selling” to stop for a swim there.
Swimming stopover in the Calanque d’En-Vau
“You are lucky that the Park is closed, if it were not, there would be around 400 people here”: the tone is set.
En-Vau the magnificent is far from being as peaceful as Port Pin, and many visitors are illegally lounging on the beach, on the rocks from which they jump, and some even in motor boats (without a license) inside the delimited zone – and yet we discover En Vau in the middle of summer with attendance 10 times lower than normal.
Clearly we were really lucky, and I think the experience wouldn’t have been so great if the beach and waters were populated with hundreds of people. Obviously the place is incredible and it has never been so easy to enter the water, at a glorious 27°C (80°F). As it is forbidden to dock, we swim around our kayaks to cool off, trying to imprint this magnificent place in our memory and dreaming of having it all to ourselves.
End of the kayak trip in the Calanques: return to Port-Miou
The return was faster despite our tired muscles and a barely more cooperative wind. We drank in every second of beauty that the Calanques offered us on this hot August day. Don’t make the same mistake as us: take enough water (1.5L) and reapply sunscreen after swimming! We disembarked at Port-Miou where the effort was not over, as we still had to get the kayaks back to the meeting point… Also, do plan something to snack on after the ride: we were starving!
Useful information for a kayak trip in the Calanques
Check the weather and forecast:
- Hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, swimsuit
- Water shoes or shoes that can go in the water and preferably closed (rather sneakers than flip flops)
- 1.5L of water and snacks (nothing that will melt)
- A waterproof case for your phone if you want to use it for taking pictures
- A gopro or a waterproof action cam if you have one: we were a little disappointed to only have my phone to take photos with great precautions…
- A mask or swimming goggles, possibly a snorkel, for the swimming break