This is a detailled guide to the five best calanques south-east of Marseille, based on beauty, accessibility and the range of facilities on offer.
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You can either tour the calanques of Marseille on a general boat trip, taking in a number of them from the sea, or visit them individually. The ones listed below can all be reached by car and/or public transport (metro and bus). Click on the map to enlarge the image.
Road access to the coast will be highly restricted in the middle of summer. And, if leaving your car at the entrance to any of the calanques, be aware that these car-parks will be jam-packed and are all notorious for break-ins during the tourist season.
Do not leave valuables in your vehicle and try to retrieve it before nightfall. Motorbikes are not allowed.
If hiking to any of these calanques, you are strongly advised to arm yourself with sturdy boots and a good map. Find a large-scale IGN map of hiking trails through the Marseille-Cassis calanques on Amazon
If you read French, consider investing in Les Calanques à pied, one in the series of definitive topoguides (illustrated guides) produced by the Fédération française de la randonnée pedestre, the national rambling federation. The one for the calanques offers 28 hikes of varying lengths and levels of difficulty.
Because of the severe fire risk in summer, access is restricted by law between 1 June and 30 September. During this period there are three risk levels: orange (access authorised), red (access authorised between 6am and 11am) and black (access banned).
The level varies according to weather conditions and is set daily at 6pm for the following day.
It's available on the official helpline, tel (+33) 8 11 20 13 13, in English as well as French and published (in French only) on the Bouches du Rhône regional website.
Even on days when access is authorised, the heat - amplified by the sun and reflected by the sea and the white rocks - will make hiking disagreeable in the middle of the day. Plenty of water and protective headgear are essential, as well as the usual equipment.
These calanques were officially declared a National Park in April 2012, and there may be restrictions on certain sporting activities such as hunting or fishing as a result. Click here to read the full rules and regulations governing visits (in French only).
1. Saména is the first "proper" calanque south of Marseille to be designated as such on the official large-scale French map.
(If you're really pushed for time, you could settle instead for the Vallon des Auffes and the adjacant vallons, which are closer to the centre and, essentially, miniature calanques. But that would be cheating.)
Saména has suffered from pollution, formerly from chemical plants in the area which processed products including sulphur and lead, currently from thoughtless day-trippers.
Nonetheless scuba divers continue to frequent it. The small pebble beach is accessible by steps and several hiking trails begin here.
It serves good, very fresh seafood and local dishes as well as pizza and is open all year round (weekends only in winter). There's a small car-park here too, but no beach.
In summer there is another transport option which takes you a good chunk of the way here from the city centre: a boat shuttle service - the "batobus" - which runs between the Old Port and Pointe Rouge.
2. Callelongue is just a bit further. The village of Les Goudes gives you one last glimpse of the Marseille skyline. After that, the coast loops around, you face south away from the city and the landscape starts really to get wild.
The first of the "serious" calanques, Callelongue (pictured) is embraced by a small cluster of houses with a pétanque court, tiny jetty, diving shop and UCPA diving school (the UCPA is a non-profit organisation offering sports activities and training for young people. There's also a tiny sand beach.
The wine list features expensive bottled items but a decent house wine is available, off-menu, by the glass. Don't worry if the outdoor terrace is full, there's a charming, secluded second courtyard tucked away at the back.
3. Sormiou is one of Marseille's best-known calanques. You get to it by car through built-up suburbs and it's a real shock suddenly to enter the wilderness and, when driving back through apparently isolated countryside, to come across the sprawling metropolis on the horizon.
A reservation at Le Château has the benefit of enabling you to enter the calanque by car even in the height of summer.
How to get to Sormiou: Drive south out of Marseille along the coast and turn inland at the roundabout by Bonneveine beach and cross the next couple of roundabouts. From then on, Sormiou is very well signposted. After the entrance to the calanque, a single-track road winds through the pine forest which thins quickly into garrigue (scrubland).
Once past the crest of the mountain range, a spectacular drive down awaits, but there are plenty of hairpin bends, so make sure you are comfortable on narrow mountain roads and have good brakes.
Or take the metro line 2, direction Sainte Marguerite Dromel, stop Rond-Pont du Prado. Then bus 23 to Sormiou / La Cayolle. From there it is about a 45 minute walk to the bottom of the calanque.
4. Morgiou is also very dramatically located, though the route down is not quite as arresting as the one to Sormiou, since it is lined with vegetation with no spectacular views (or drops).
Morgiou is also famed for the Cosquer cave which contains paintings, both of animals and hand prints, dating back to the Paleolithic era. When the sea-level rose at the end of the last Ice Age, the cave was left 35 metres (115 feet) underwater.
Cosquer is the only painted cave in the world with an entrance below present-day sea level. It was discovered by the diver Henri Cosquer in 1985, but its contents were not made public until 1991, when three divers became lost in the cave and died. Today it is closed, to protect both divers and the paintings though these may be viewed on a virtual visit of the Cosquer cave.
In Morgiou a single, simple bar, Le Nautic (pictured), serves drinks (or rather, you have to fetch them at the counter) and meals on a small terrace or in a cosy, homely dining area with faded photographs of the calanque in times gone by.
5. Sugiton is probably the best known of the calanques south of Marseille. The concrete footpath is steep and winding, but also relatively easy and well-signposted, with numerous information panels, some in English as well as French. Allow 45-60 minutes each way.
Sugiton is less likely to be closed in summer than many of the other calanques and is consequently immensely popular with locals.
A nearby beach, Les Pierres Tombées, is still used by nudists, despite being officially closed to public after, living up to the name of the place, a rock fell on a bather in 2006, causing fatal injuries.
How to get to Sugiton: Drive to the university campus of Luminy (there is a large car-park), from where it's an hour's hike down to the sea. Or take the metro line 2, direction Sainte Marguerite Dromel, stop Rond-Pont du Prado. Then bus 21 to Luminy (the end of the route).