Cassis: Day 3 – A boat tour

Since we were already in the south of France, we figured we’d pay a visit to Nice. It was an hour-long, uphill walk to the Cassis station. The last stretch of the walk was on a shaded path along vineyards.

Upon reaching the station we found out that the tickets would cost a little north of 35 € per person. Also the 11:00-ish train to Nice was not running due to scheduled repairs on that route. The next train in two hours would’ve given us very little time in Nice, so gave up on the whole idea.

We walked back to the town proper through a different route that took us through another set of empty streets.

The first two days of our trip had been so windy that the boat tours to the calanques had not been running regularly. While the winds were still strong, the tours seemed to be running on schedule now. We took the hour-long tour that would cover three calaques. The boat had seating in the front deck but initially we weren’t allowed to sit there as the waters were rough. As we approached the calanques, the wind died down a little and we could go there and take pictures.

The view inland from our last stop in Calanque d’En Vau was magical.

It was amazing to see full-sized trees growing between rocks that surely must provide only scant nourishment.

We took a late but leisurely lunch and headed to the pebble beach. I love the sound of the sea but find everything else about being at a beach boring. I happened to have a black marker on me so I spent my time drawing faces on pebbles and tossing them into the water.

The rest of the day was over in blink. We took dinner at our apartment with a glass of local rosé, and packed a bit for the journey back home the next day.


Cassis: Day 2 – A hike through the calanques

After a lazy start to the next day, we decided to go for a trek through the famous calanques of Cassis. It was a short and a largely uphill walk to get there. The sky was cloudless and the sun unrelenting, but for most part, the road was shaded by pine trees and a cool breeze kept the temperature very pleasant. Elegant villas dotted the route.

As we approached the main trekking path, we spotted Port-Miou – a long creek well sheltered from wind by hills of limestone where hundreds of boats are moored throughout the year.

A little placard warned us that the trekking path right in front of us was in bad repair and recommended that we take the path marked in stripes of white and red (looked to me like Polish flag) instead. Well, as a child they drill into your head to not take the easy road, so obviously we took the path the sign did not recommend. We got pretty far and discovered that the path wasn’t as bad as the sign had made it out to be. Besides, the views were breathtaking.

After a few minutes, the rocks turned very smooth and slippery. We realised that the shoes we were wearing might have been great for walking in a city or trekking on a dirt path but they offered very little purchase on the smooth limestone of the calanques.

We backtracked to the sign and took the other route it had recommended. This time we got even further and eventually descended through a rough and rocky terrain down to a small beach. It was surrounded by hills covered in pine trees. Little waves were gently breaking at the shore. The place had all the ingredients of a popular picnic spot for families.

During our descent to the beach, we had spotted another path that would take us back to the town. Since it didn’t involve walking over slippery rocks, we took it. There weren’t many trees shading the path and the bright April sun was very warm on our backs. We had read that large swathes of calanques are closed between July and September because of high risk of forest fires. Walking through this landscape right out of a spaghetti western, it was easy to imagine how warm and dry it would get in a couple of months.

It was extremely windy when we came back. The sky was clear but the sea looked a little rough. We spent the evening in our apartment reading our books, while outside the wind howled and rattled our windows – the perfect soundtrack to accompany The Game of Thrones books.

p.s. The calanques offer such perfect camouflage to the doves, you almost worry that you’d step on one. Fortunately, they are not as lazy as their city dwelling cousins and still remember how to fly.

p.p.s. Spring in Cassis should be over soon, but while we were there, the flowers looked happy:


Cassis: Day 1

After offering us a glimpse of spring, the weather suddenly turned very cold here. And by very cold I mean wet snow, sleet, hail, winter-jacket and mulled-wine cold. Quite coincidentally, the wife had a trip to Cassis in south France planned out for the worst part of that week. I personally don’t mind cold (those who know me would even go so far as to say that I quite savour it), but even I was glad for a change of scene.

A short (1h40m) flight from Amsterdam got us to Marseille Airport. Once there, we figured out how to use the SNCF (France’s state-owned railway company) ticket vending machine[1] and procured ourself a train ticket to Cassis.

At roughly 9.90 € per person, the ticket wasn’t expensive, but the journey involved two stops. Our first stop was the Marseille Vitrolles train station – a short airport shuttle ride from just outside the arrival gates. The Marseille Vitrolles station is merely a couple of open platforms rather than a proper train station. Behind us was a patch of hilly land covered in rank grass, short trees and wildflowers. While in front of us was a dramatic, cloudy sky and a view of the sea beyond.

Another short ride from here got us to Gare de Marseille-Saint-Charles, a proper, big-city station with several lines, a mini shopping complex, and a beautiful façade. The station was very crowded. Amidst the hubbub, two boys were noodling Für Elise on the piano in the arrival hall. There was a huge McDonalds inside the station, but in a country renowned for its cuisine, it felt criminal to visit it. We settled for a fresh baguette sandwich from a small café instead.

From Marseille-Saint-Charles, our train got us to Cassis within 30 minutes. We had booked an apartment in Cassis. Our host picked us up from the station and dropped us to the apartment. It was a little cloudy and windy when we arrived. Our host apologised profusely for the weather and mentioned that much better weather was forecast for the next day. If only she knew about the weather we had just left behind…

Cassis is a small town of about 10.000 residents. Most of the town’s big restaurants are along the town’s small but busy harbour. Most buildings are 2-3 storied, their roofs covered in terracotta tiles and façades painted in shades of ochre. I found them very pleasing to look at, especially against the backdrop of the blue mediterranean sky. We walked a bit along the harbour and came across a park where people were enjoying a game of Pétanque.

There were two well provisioned supermarkets in Cassis. We procured basic ingredients for next morning’s breakfast from one of them and walked back to our apartment through empty streets just behind the harbour.

When we stepped out again after a short nap, the clouds had been pretty much swept away by a strong wind. The sky and the water looked nothing like they did just a couple of hours ago. It was almost as if our bed had gone adrift while we were sleeping and we had arrived at some other Cassis.

We paid a brief visit to the beach and we were amazed at how clear and blue the sea was.

We ended our evening at the lighthouse – surprised at how late the sun set (8:30 PM!) even this far south from Amsterdam – but nonetheless grateful for the extra light!

[1] In this day and age of touch screens, the only means of navigation SCNF’s vending machines offer is a knob that you turn to make a selection, and a button that you press to confirm it. We couldn’t find a way to change the language from French either. However, once we got over these handicaps, it was surprisingly easy to make a purchase. The screens are remarkably well laid out. The constraint of the knob-and-button navigation enforces a certain “linearity” to the flow of user through the various screens which keeps you from getting lost.