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.
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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.
1. Saména is the first "proper" calanque south of Marseille to be designated as such on the official large-scale French map.
It's the first of five west-facing calanques, the others being Mauvais Pas, L'Escalette, Blanche and Les Trous. They are very pretty but not among the more spectacular, though they do have the advantage of being close to the city.
(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.
A restaurant-brasserie, Les Tamaris, has a large terrace overlooking the bay and a menu that includes sea food, Marseille specialities (pieds et paquets, encornets farcis, etc) and wood-fired pizzas. There are also several B&Bs / chambres d'hôtes in Saména: La petite Calanque and Villa d'Orient.
A little further along the road, the Calanque de L'Escalette has a pizzeria, Le petit Port (pictured), with candy-coloured seating overlooking a picturesque deep, narrow inlet.
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.
How to get to Saména: Metro lines 1 or 2, stop Castellane. Change to bus 19 as far as Montredon (the end of the route). Then take bus 20. Or you could walk from Montredon to the nearer of these calanques.
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.
Look out for the rusty remains of the pulleys for the téléscaphe, a bizarre underwater cable car that offered ten-minute rides along the sea-bed here for a year in the late 1960s.
There's really only one dining spot here, but it's quite a good one. The Bar-Restaurant de la Grotte is open all year round and serves pricey but fresh and tasty grilled fish and meat plus pizza and pasta.
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.
From Callelongue, you can do a 2 km / 1.25 mile hike along the coastal footpath (the GR98) to the neighbouring calanque of Marseilleveyre where a pebble beach and a simple bar-restaurant, Chez le Belge, will reward you for your effort.
How to get to Callelongue: Metro lines 1 or 2, stop Castellane. Change to bus 19 as far as Montredon (the end of the route). Then take bus 20 to the end of that route.
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.
It's a 15-minute drive (or an hour's walk) down from the main road through spectacular scenery. When you reach the sea, you'll find a large cluster of houses and cabanons (weekend houses) and a white sand beach.
You can take a short stroll along the front on a well-made path or strike out into the hills. Sormiou is also a popular centre for kayak, paddle-boat and rock-climbing excursions.
Set back slightly from the waterfront (but on a raised slope with superlative views) is the incongruously named Le Château (pictured), a modest restaurant highly prized by locals for its excellent bouillabaisse. You will need to order this in advance, and to reserve a table by phone - tel (+33) 4 91 25 08 69.
A reservation at Le Château has the benefit of enabling you to enter the calanque by car even in the height of summer.
Right on the beach, there's also a café, which is open in summer only.
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.
It takes about 15 minutes, depending on the traffic. There is a tiny pay-for car-park at the bottom.
The calanque is closed to cars at weekends and on public holidays in the mid-season and every day in the middle of summer.
A car park can be found near the entrance to the calanque, from where you can walk down to the beach in about an hour. Another car-park is on the crest of the mountain ridge.
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.
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As you reach the sea, the houses snake inland into the gully and aren't all lined up on the seafront. The upside is that, while still very beautiful, this calanque feels like a lived-in place and not just a weekend tourist destination.
The official site for Morgiou (in French only) contains such delightful nuggets of local history as the fact that in 1452 Good King René sold the calanque to local fishermen for 1200 florins and in 1622 King Louis XIII went there to spear more than 25 tuna fish with a gilded silver trident.
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.
You can rent rooms there too. It's open all year round. Tel (+33) 4 91 40 06 37. Closed Sunday evenings and Mondays.
How to get to Morgiou: Drive past the notorious Baumettes prison to find a car-park at the entrance to the calanque. Or take the metro line 2, direction Sainte Marguerite Dromel, stop Rond-Pont du Prado. Then bus 22 to Les Baumettes (the end of the route).
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.
A small detour en route leads to a belvedere offering superlative views of Morgiou, La Candelle, a spectacular 460 metre (1,500 foot) high finger of rock which dominates the calanque, and an island known as Le Torpilleur (The Torpedo) for obvious reasons.
Sugiton is less likely to be closed in summer than many of the other calanques and is consequently immensely popular with locals.
At the bottom are two small creeks with pebble beaches and coastal paths leading into the neighbouring calanques of Morgiou in one direction and L'Oeil de Verre in the other. There's no bar, so make sure you bring plenty of water.
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).