[…] that you absolutely must see when in Marseille, it’s Les Calanques. (I even published an entire post dedicated to these beauties and how to visit them.) Forever and ever, this will stand as one of the […]
There are few places in the world that simply take our breath away and make us feel small in the most magnificent way. There are places that make us feel like we’re living in a postcard and perhaps we’re looking at a green screen. The calanques in Marseille are truly some of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in my life. The calanques refer to the majestic rock formations jutting in and out of the Mediterranean sea. It’s the perfect place to take a hike, picnic or swim. There are multiple calanques in southern France. If you’re headed to Marseille or even the south of France, I’d highly recommend adding the calanques to your itinerary. Best of all, it’s accessible by public transportation. If you’re itching to see these breathtaking sights, look no further: here’s how to take a day trip to the calanques from Marseille.
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What is a calanque?
The word calanque translates “rocky inlet.” It’s definitely not a phrase we use often in English, but think massive rock formations lining the sea. The Calanques National Park is located in Marseille and nearby towns. There are a dozen or so different calanques. My favorites are Calanque de Sugiton, Calanque de Callelongue and Les Goudes.
Do I need a car? Can I get there by public transportation?
No, you don’t need a car to visit the calanques in Marseille, and yes, you can get there by public transportation. Here’s how to get to four different calanques using public transportation in Marseille.
How to get to Calanque de Sugiton
From Vieux Port, take either Metro 1 or 2 to Castellane. From Castellane, leave the metro station and take bus B1 toward Campus de Luminy. Hop off at stop Luminy PN des Calanques. It takes about 40 minutes. Here’s the Google Maps route. Once you get off the bus, you’re right at the entrance to the park.
How to get to Calanque de Callelongue
From Vieux Port, take the metro to Castellane. Exit the metro and take bus 19 to Madrague de Montredon. This journey should take about 40 minutes. Here’s the Google Maps route.
How to get to Les Goudes
From Vieux Port, take La Navette, or the city boat, to Point Rouge. Then at Point Rouge, switch boats to head toward Les Goudes. Here are the hours on the RTM website. However, the boats do not run yearlong. Be sure to check that the boats are in service during your visit. Tickets for la Navette to Les Goudes cost 8 euros.
If the boats aren’t working or they’re not your thing, you can still get to Les Goudes by bus. It’s similar to the route for the Calanque de Callelongue. From Vieux Port, take the metro to Castellane. Exit the metro and get onto bus 19. Take the bus to the Madrague Mont Rose stop, and then switch to bus 20, which you’ll take to Les Goudes. Here’s the Google Maps route.
How to get to Le Frioul
Le Frioul is an archipelago right off the coast of Marseille and is easy to get to from downtown Marseille. From Vieux Port, take le Bateau that goes directly to Le Frioul. The boat ride is direct and takes about 25-30 minutes. Be sure to buy your tickets in advance as you need to book a specific time. Tickets for the boat to Le Frioul are around 11 euros.
What time of year should I visit the Calanques?
Personally, I prefer visiting the calanques in the spring or fall. The weather usually isn’t too hot, and even still, the hike warms you up enough to be ready for a swim at the end of the hike. In the summer, it can be extremely hot in Marseille, and that can make hiking unbearable and even dangerous. However, on a nice summer day, you certainly can take a nice hike and finish off with a swim at the calanques.
Marseille is known for its intense winds called Le Mistral. In the wintertime especially, these winds can be brutal and can make your hike less than ideal.
What should I do at the Calanques?
Whether you’re a hiking aficionado or sun bum, there’s something for you at the calanques. You can enjoy some unbelievably gorgeous hikes, snack on a charcuterie picnic and dive into the Mediterranean from a rocky cliff. The Calanques National Park even has an app you can download, and you can explore its maps, 20+ hiking routes and wildlife and plant information. Here’s what you can do and which calanque I recommend for each activity.
Take a hike
My favorite calanque hike is easily the Calanque de Sugiton. Not only is it simple to access from downtown Marseille, but it also has breathtaking views. After taking the path from the parking lot, you’ll come to a fork in the road. You can head right and hike up to the summit (belvédère), or you can head to the left and hike down to the water (Puget – Gardiole). For an easier, shorter version, head up to the summit (belvédère), and then head back. This hike is less steep and is adapted for more ability levels.
For the longer, harder version, go down to the water, and bring your swimsuit. Here are more detailed instructions with photos. You can also check out the app. As you get closer to the water, it gets steeper and slicker. What makes this hike harder is hiking all the way back up after getting to the water, ha! I like to wear my swimsuit underneath and pack a picnic and towel. If you do both the summit (belvédère) and the descent to the water (Puget – Gardiole), this hike will take about 3-4 hours. If you just hike to the summit and back to the parking lot, it takes about 2 hours.
My next favorite hike would be the Calanque de Callelongue. It’s also fairly accessible from Marseille. This hike is also stunning but less strenuous. Once you get off the bus (see directions above), you’ll find the trailhead across the road. Follow the red trail markings, and the hike will take 1.5 to 2 hours.
Pack a picnic
If you’re looking for the best picnic spot at the calanques, look no further. I enjoyed a picnic with my friend Kelly and this amazing picnic backpack at the Calanque de Sugiton. We hiked up the summit, and instead of going down to the water, we enjoyed our sandwiches near the summit.
I also recommend picnicking at le Frioul or during your hike at the Calanque de Sugiton.
Enjoy a swim
If you’re looking for a good swim at the calanques, I’d recommend going to the Goudes. However, this is a rocky, cliff beach, and is less suited for small children. My friends and I like to jump from these cliffs of the Goudes and swim in the bay. I also really enjoy swimming at the Calanque de Sugiton in the middle of the hike.
Another great place to swim on your day trip to the calanques is le Frioul. It’s a short boat ride from the heart of Marseille, and you can even explore Fort Ratonneau, which dates back to the 1880s but was used by the German army during World War II. From Fort Ratonneau, you can enjoy one of my favorite views of Marseille.
What should I pack?
Can I take a boat tour of the Calanques?
Yes! When my family visited me in Marseille, we didn’t have time to go hiking in the calanques. But I still really wanted them to see one of my favorite Marseille sights. Solution: we took a boat ride through the calanques. If you’re less of a hiking type or don’t have the mobility for a several-hour hike, no worries. Taking a boat ride through the calanques is a great way to enjoy the sights, without figuring out how to get there, hiking for several hours, etc.
My family and I booked a boat tour with Croisières Marseille Calanques. They have several boat tour choices, and we opted for the L’Essentiel des Calanques, which was about 2 hours and hit the highlights of the calanques. They also offer boat tours that are longer or even include docking so that you can swim.
An overview on the calanques
I’ve been to multiple countries and have traveled extensively throughout France, and truth be told, the calanques are absolute stunners. If you’re anywhere near southern France, you must add a day trip to the calanques to your itinerary. Whether by boat or by foot, to picnic or to hike, these rocky inlets will have you drooling.