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Cassis and the Calanques

Calanque 2.jpg
The calanque at Port-Miou near Cassis

Today we drove south to the Mediterranean Sea. Our destination was Cassis, a beautiful fishing village about an hour and a half drive from Bonnieux. This is a trip we’ve been saving, and one that was truly a delight.

It was another lovely drive (but then they’re all lovely drives), just in another direction. We made the familiar trek to Aix, passed the limestone peaks of Mont St. Victoire (3297 feet) and Mont St. Baume (3763 feet), and then headed south to Aubagne and Toulon. I was interested to see the area around Aubagne, the home of Marcel Pagnol, the famous Provençal writer and filmmaker. In preparation for our trip this year we watched two films based on his boyhood years: La Gloire de Mon Père and La Château de Ma Mère. And yes, the landscape around Aubagne—bare and very dramatic limestone mountains—was the scenery we had enjoyed so much in the films. It’s a different Provence than our Luberon.

Finally we left the autoroute at Carnoux and soon caught our first glimpse of the sea, the road twisting down to Cassis, right there on the sea.

I was prepared to like Cassis and enjoyed it even more than I had expected, especially on this warm and sunny day. Much of the village is clustered around a small harbor of pleasure and fishing boats, surrounded by an array of sidewalk restaurants and cafes. An old chateau looms overhead on a rocky cliff. And just beyond the harbor is a small beach area, filled with people by lunchtime.

The harbor at Cassis

The village has a casual and laid-back environment. Many people were heading to the beach, carrying towels, beach mats and floats. Kelly wore her bathing suit under her clothes and I carried mine in my back, but we decided to skip the beach today; it was too crowded down there and too many other diversions.

One of the highlights of a trip to Cassis is a boat trip to see the calanques, inlets between steep rocky cliffs that line the coastline all the way to Marseille… kind of valleys in the sea. We decided to do our boat trip early. There were three choices of trips: three calanques (45 minutes), five calanques (one hour) and eight calanques (an hour and a half). Since the “eight calanques” trip was leaving in just a few minutes, we decided to go on the longer trip instead of waiting another hour for a shorter and cheaper trip. This also worked well with our plans for lunch!

We all really enjoyed the boat trip! The scenery was breathtaking, reminding me of another part of the Mediterranean we had visited last year—the Amalfi Coast. The water was bright blue, turquoise in places, made more dramatic by the steep white cliffs and a few rocky islands in the sea.

After leaving the harbor, our boat cruised along the coast toward Marseille, poking into eight different calanques, each slightly different. Some calanques had small harbors with boats; several had beaches. People sunbathed any place it seemed possible. We saw one man snorkeling; another group was fishing. The last calanque (Morgiou) even had a small village. Some calanques seemed very isolated, just a sailboat or two, a person perched on the rocks… perhaps reached only by foot or by boat. We spotted several people hiking along the calanques, an activity that definitely interests us for another, cooler time of year. Later we saw a sign on the door the tourist office that said hiking was totally forbidden today due to risk of fire.

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One of the most beautiful calanques

I sat in the back of the boat so I could take pictures and enjoy the sun. Charley and Kelly started off in the cabin, but Kelly later moved to the open front of the boat. The sea was a bit choppy due to the winds, and as we headed out into more open seas, the waves grew larger and some even smashed into the boat. Several people near where I was sitting were drenched and most of the people from the front of the boat came screaming and laughing back into the cabin. Kelly loved it—no way she would leave the front! She held on tightly and got a bit wet, but I suspect she wouldn’t have minded getting drenched in a big wave. Charley watched her carefully from his place inside.

After the boat trip we browsed the many eating options along the waterfront. Later we saw several interesting restaurants on side streets, but we wanted the environment of being right on the water. This was definitely the place for a great seafood meal. We chose a place that worked for all three of us. I had spaghetti with scallops (big succulent scallops, and a lot of them). Kelly had beef daube. Charley had a goat cheese salad. And then we all splurged on dessert.

I wanted to do the drive along the Route de Crêtes, a corniche road that runs high on the cliffs above the sea from Cassis to La Ciotat with supposedly incredible views. The cliffs are some of the tallest in France. We turned onto the Route de Crêtes, but after a short ways the road was blocked and we had to turn around... much to my disappointment. We suspect the road may have been closed due to high winds. We had just a glimpse of the views from above.

And so we headed back to the Luberon, detouring at Pertuis to wander along the southeastern side of the Grand Luberon, the countryside dotted with vineyards. We stopped briefly in the main square at La Tour-d’Aigues to investigate the impressive ruins of the 16th century château, now housing a museum and a unique venue for concerts. Then we took the twisty road from Vitrolles over the Grand Luberon to Céreste, spotting our new friend Mont Lure in the distance as we crested the top.

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Château ruins at La Tour-d'Aigues

We love the incredible variety of Provence, much of which we experienced today. Within an hour and a half of Bonnieux we have it all: seashore and mountains; farms and vineyards; sophisticated cities and simple villages; prehistoric caves, Roman ruins and ancient castles; incredible cuisine; museums, art, music, and festivals; warm and welcoming people.

This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on August 2, 2006 2:41 AM.

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