The Calanques are located south east of Marseille along a stretch of Mediterranean seaside cliffs. The Calanques (translated as “the Creeks” in English) are a series of narrow ocean inlets that wind their way in through the rocky coastline. The inlets feature small protected bays, beaches, and excellent hiking trails. Many of them are accessible only by boat or on foot. They are popular recreational spaces, and are protected as part of the Parc national des Calanques. The Calanques stretch out over 20 km of coastline between the cities of Marseille and Cassis.
Below is a good image that shows what the Calanques look like from the ocean as you’re going by on a boat.
Neil and I set out on a boat tour of the Calanques on a beautiful Sunday morning.
Here he is!
We were excited to see the docked boats from the inside of the harbour! Notre Dame de la Garde can be seen in the distance as we are leaving Vieux Port.
In the picture below, the steeple of the white church located at the end of our street in Le Panier can be seen.
Wind, rain, and glaciers carved the white limestone rock of this area into coastline valleys and caves. During the last glacial period 19,000 years ago, sea levels were 135 metres lower. As the planet’s temperature rose, so did the sea levels. Water flooded the deep valleys and thus the Calanques were formed.
The very hard white limestone is referred to as the “pierre de Cassis” (Cassis rocks). They are made from the buildup of seashells over millions of years at the bottom of the ocean. Cassis stone has featured in such construction projects as the quarries of Marseille and Algiers, the Suez Canal, and the base of the Statue of Liberty (quarried from Port Miou). The brown rock, ochre, is a softer sedimentary limestone and was used in the building of Fort Saint Nicolas and Fort Saint Jean.
Looking towards Pointe du Vaisseau.
Nearing the approach to the Calanque de Sormiou.
Entering the Calanque de Sormiou. Lots of beautiful scenery to take pictures of in here!
Looking back out towards the open ocean.
I loved the rich blue (and occasionally green) colour of the water.
Now entering the Calanque d’En Vau with its beautiful cliffs covered in pine trees.
This is at the Pointe d’En Vau. We’re leaving the Calanque d’En Vau and are now headed towards the Calanque de Port Pin.
Below is the entrance to the Calanque de Port Pin. It is named after (more of) the beautiful pine trees on the cliffside.
Below is a good picture to show how the inlet narrows the further you go in.
All right, time for us to turn around and head back to Marseille.
I wasn’t sure at first why one of the tour guides moved everybody seated in the back of the boat inside. This would soon become apparent as we gathered speed.
Now that’s a big wave!
Zipping by the Chateau d’If.
Want to race?
All right, I’m feeling a little relieved to be getting back into the calmer waters of Vieux Port.
Although we didn’t see it on this tour, there is a spot along the Calanques of particular historic note. The Cosquer Cave, located in the Calanque de Morgiou, contains prehistoric cave art dating back to 27,000 B.C.E. including outlines of human hands and paintings of animals. There were even drawings of penguins from 19,000 years ago, when the climate was much cooler. The cave was inhabited during the Paleolithic period (known less formally as the Stone Age) when sea levels were much lower. The entrance to the cave is now located 37 metres (121 feet) underwater, and then requires a further trek through a 175 metre ( 574 feet) tunnel, so visiting it was out of the question. But it was interesting to learn about, and the city museum had a good audiovisual feature on it, if you’re in the area and want to find out more.
Below are a couple of images I found on Wikipedia to provide some more information about the Cosquer Cave. The first is a depiction of the entrance to the cave. The second is an example of the cave art, in this instance, the outline of a human hand.
It’s interesting to consider all of this history, prehistoric, ancient Greek, and Roman, as you are touring the Marseille coastline. It was fun to actually get on a boat and tour the area by sea, as has already been done by humans for thousands of years. I don’t think you can really appreciate a port city until you get on the water. This tour was a great way to do that.