Calanques National Park (Parc national des Calanques) is a French national park located in Bouches-du-Rhône, in Southern France. It was established in 2012 and extends over 520 km2 (201 sq mi), of which 85 km2 (33 sq mi) is land, while the remaining is the marine area.
It is located stretching between Marseille, Cassis and La Ciotat. Several of the park’s best-known features include the Calanque de Sormiou, Calanque de Morgiou, Calanque de Port-Miou, Calanque de Sugiton, as well as the Cosquer Cave. Some of these are considered the best beaches in Cote d’Azur or French Riviera.
Clarification: A calanque is a cove, an inlet.
How to get there?
The park is big enough to have multiple entrances and towns around. Marseille is the biggest city nearby (France’s second-biggest), having an airport, an important port and plenty of options for accommodation.
However; I would recommend visiting Cassis first, and therefore entering the park from the East side. Cassis is a picturesque fishing port which is known for pebbly beaches, Calanques and limestone cliffs. The harbour features pastel-coloured buildings, sidewalk cafes and restaurants.
Bestouan Beach is a great spot for a quick visit before or after the park. It is a beautiful pebble beach with good space for swimming, facilities, restaurants, and a great view of Cassis. It is also less crowded than the main beach in the town; however, in high season is not easy to find a space, and even less a car space nearby.
And which is very important is that there is public parking in front of the beach, called Parking Cassis Bestouan – EFFIA. So my recommendation is to start early and leave the car there. The car park is not bookable online yet, although its website indicates it is coming soon.
Hiking trail and best beaches
The map above shows a concise route from the parking lot to the most beautiful beach in the park, Calanque d’En-Vau. This route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths, as google is not accurate on this. However; it shows a 3 stage route that passes 3 beaches. (An official interactive map of the park can be found here)
The first beach on the east side of the park, Calanque de Port-Miou, is only 17 minutes away by foot (1.2 km) from Bestouan Beach. This area offers a number of hotels and villas, in case you want to stop for a night or more. Some of these are Villa Cassis, Cassis Lodges, Le Vent des Dames and La Villa De Port-Miou.
Calanque de Port-Miou is quite small and it is full of yates and boats, so it is not the best beach to spend time. It does offer a great view of the Mediterranean and the yacht clubs, and it is the starting point of the actual footpath within the national park. It is also the starting point of some of the kayak tours.
The second stage (point B to C on the map above) it is easy and follows the way of the Calanque de Port-Miou to the Mediterranean. You will find many yachts and boats on your left, and some of the highest maritime cliffs of Europe above the sea on your right. The length of this stage is 1.37 km and takes around 17-20 minutes. The last part goes well inside the park and it is surrounded by vegetation and cliffs.
You will then reach the Calanque de Port Pin. There is a sand beach and a shingle/pebble beach, and natural stone wall terraces know as “restanques” behind the beach, where people lay down and enjoy the sun or shade. It is relatively easy for non-hikers and families with small children to get there, so it is normally crowded. It is only 40 meters wide and has very good spots with a shade under the pines and protection from the mistral.
The last stage of our route was the hardest, which goes from Calanque de Port Pin to the most beautiful Calanque, d’En-Vau. This section goes deep into the national park and it not that easy at all. Expect to walk by limestone cliffs, rocky uneven footpaths, slopes of all kind and little human intervention (signs/help), as you can see in the pictures below.
This part is 1.87 km, but you will need at least 40 minutes to get there. Some areas are easy, but you will need to climb and jump over a couple of rocks at least. I suggest you go well prepared: hiking boots or good trainers, water, suncream, hat/cap, food. You may want to bring more stuff if you are planning to spend the day in the Calanque, such as towel and sandals (it’s a pebble beach).
So after approximately 40 minutes (and up to an hour), you will finally get to Calanque d’En-Vau. This is not a standard beach at all, it is actually a kind of secret swimming cove. An inlet of turquoise water, surrounded by limestone cliffs and nature. Unspoiled and protected from humans, as you can only get there by foot or boat.
The water is very cold, even in summer. So it is going to be quite refreshing after hiking. The beach area is not too wide, but it is deep and there is plenty of space to swim. There are also rocks on both sides where you can spend some time and rest, or dive.
If you are planning to go further and reach the next Calanque, you are looking at a day’s hike, and it can get more difficult. The path near Devenson rises to 300m above the sea. Morgiou is 20 miles from Cassis, and if you continue you will probably want to carry on to Marseille instead of returning to Cassis. Do not forget that Camping is prohibited all over the National Park and there are no facilities.
One of the best ways to explore the National Park, and to get to the Calanques, is by kayak. We did not have time to book so we hiked, but we will be back for it. Other boats and vessels are available as well, but they are not allowed into the inlets, so you cannot actually reach the best parts of the Calanques.
Two companies offering kayak tours are Destination Calanques Cassis Kayak and Kayak Cassis. The former offers kayak for renting and the full trip/tour with a guide. The latter offers the same plus a hiking tour as well. Both websites are in French only so you may need a translation.
- Catamaran Cruise & Lunch/Brunch in the Calanques National Park (GYG, Viator)
- E-Bike Ride from Marseille to Calanque de Sormiou (GYG, Viator)
- Cassis: Three Calanques Tour by Electric Mountain Bike
- Calanques National Park Snorkel and Scuba Dive (GYG, Viator)
- Cassis Half-Day Trip from Aix-en-Provence
Alternatively, if you just want to see a Calanque with all the facilities and by driving your car, you can go to Restaurant Le Château in the Calanque Sormiou.