When someone mentions the South of France, what first springs to mind? St Tropez glamour, Riviera living, celebrities and over-priced cocktails? Not if you know where to head to. Just a ten-mile journey out of central Marseille lie the exquisite calanques bays – boasting lapis-hued waters, soaring cliffs and unspoiled beaches. Here are five favourites.
Of the many calanques along the coastline, this is one of the most easily accessible. Famous for its climbing spots, make sure you bring sturdy boots to enjoy a day scrambling on the cliffs before heading down to the pebbled bay to take in the beautiful view.
Reached by bus, this is a relatively small calanque with restaurants (most will require a packed lunch, with limited amenities) and from there you can walk to the Calanque de la Mounine and the Calanque de Marseilleveyre, following spectacular clifftop trails. Embraced by a small cluster of houses with a pétanque court and tiny jetty, there was once also a téléscaph (a bizarre underwater cable car) here, offering ten-minute rides along the sea-bed. Look out for the rusty remains.
This old fishing cove lies just around the headland of Sormiou with its small restaurant and charming harbour. Go here for more gentle, winding hikes and idyllic swimming spots. Don’t miss the chance to marvel at paintings and engravings inside its magical Cosquer Cave, an underwater grotto dating back to 27,000BC.
Popular with scuba divers, Saména has a small pebble beach which is accessible by steps. Several hiking trails also begin here. Head to the restaurant-brasserie, Les Tamaris, which has a large sun-trap terrace. Order fresh sea food or a wood-fired pizza, or opt for a Marseille speciality such as pieds et paquets and encornets farcis while you overlook the shimmering bay.
Probably the best known of the calanques south of Marseille, this can be reached by a steep, winding concrete footpath. Allow 45-60 minutes each way. If views and vistas are what you’re after, you won’t be disappointed. Take a small detour and scramble up a belvedere to unlock in credible views of Morgiou and an island known as Le Torpilleur. There is no bar here, so ensure you bring enough water with you.