Most of the beautiful calanques, or mini-fjords, along the Mediterranean are confined to day-trippers. This small, historic hotel-restaurant is one of the few places to spend the night.
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It offers breathtaking views across the bay towards Marseille, is easily accessible, has its own excellent restaurant and remains open all year round.
Foreign tourists gravitate towards the more famous calanques south-east of Marseille, such as Morgiou, Sormiou or d'En-Vau, which can be visited on day trips (Morgiou also has a very small bar/B&B, Le Nautic). Rugged and spectacular, these highly regulated areas were declared a National Park in April 2012.
By contrast the Blue Coast calanques such as La Vesse, Niolon and Ensuès la Redonne - which are not included in the park - have a much lower profile and the atmosphere of intimate, informal, lived-in villages.
Less ostentatious but equally lovely, they're easy to get to, by train, sea or road. L'Auberge du Mérou is 30 minutes from Marseille. It attracts locals and commercial clients, is a favourite destination restaurant and has a small business conference area.
As a result, and exceptionally for the region which can be very quiet in winter, this enables both the hotel and the restaurant to keep going outside the peak tourist season. It's even open for a gastronomic Christmas Day lunch or New Year's Eve supper.
There are just five tiny rooms with porthole windows and slatted doors intended to evoke ships' cabins. Four have showers; one has a bath. They are comfortable, very basic and reasonably priced. All of them have sea views and are in the heart of the village.
If you are car-less, you can easily get there by rail on the Blue Coast train line. Note, however, that the last train to Niolon leaves Marseille at around 8.30pm, and so you wouldn't be able to go out for a night on the town.
Other downsides: The rooms open directly onto the road, which has no through traffic but can be noisy in summer from passing visitors. They're also underneath the restaurant, and so won't be totally quiet until after 11.00pm - a problem which won't arise if you go up there for a slap-up bouillabaisse dinner (you're advised to book ahead for this).
In high summer, parking is impossible in the narrow streets and in any case the village is closed to outside traffic at weekends. It's a steep ten-minute walk down from the visitors' car-park. However, the Mérou's shuttle bus can ferry you down the hill (and, more to the point, back up again).
By the way, in case you're wondering, a mérou is a grouper and is reputedly inspired by the owner's resemblance to the said fish.
Visited September 2010 (and often thereafter)
Where: L'Auberge du Mérou, Calanque de Niolon, 13740. Tel: (+33) 4 91 46 98 69.