Ken Roberts - - Climbing
earlier in this year
hiking + scrambling seaside Marseille - Cassis
Hiking along the Mediterranean Sea around Marseille and Cassis was very spectacular -- white rock and blue water. Some of the prettiest seaside hiking I've found anywhere. If you're an hiker visiting Provence experienced on not-smooth trails able to navigate with a map, spending time in this area is a must.
But accessing the hikes can get complicated, and there are seasonal closures, so advance planning helps.
Sharon and I got in there together twice: a short afternoon rock scrambling around Callelongue, and a day hiking from Morgiou to Sugiton to Luminy. Another day we did some short explorations of trails west of Cassis around Cap Canaille. I did two longer hikes alone: Callelongue to Col Sormiou, and Cassis to Morgiou. For three of those I used my bicycle to connect the ends of my one-way point-to-point hike. About three years ago Sharon and I had hiked from Cassis to Calanque d'En Vau and back.
Looking forward to getting back there again - (which did indeed the next November).
map: IGN 1:15000 les Calanques de Marseille à Cassis is indispensable for hiking in the Calanques. (but does not cover Cap Canaille).
IGN TOP25 map 3245ET Aubagne - La Ciotat - Massif de la Sainte Baume 1:25000 -- Covers Cap Canaille and much more -- but if the only interest is in hiking Cap Canaille, I'd guess it's simpler to just use the map segments in the Ferriera guidebook.
IGN TOP25 map 3145ET Marseille - les Calanques 1:25000 -- Does not include all of the Calanques, unless used together with 3245ET. Unlike 1:15000 les Calanques, does not show the specific colors of which the individual trail markings are painted.
Les Calanque a pied, de Marseille a Cassis (ffrandonnee.fr - Topoguides, 2007) is more for the gentle + moderate hikes.
Calanques Escalade 6c max, by Jean-Louis Fenouil + Cédric Tassan (www.vtopo.fr, 2009, ISBN 978-2-916972-17-6). Though mainly a guidebook for technical rock climbing, it also has sections for non-technical hikes+scrambles.
Les nouvelles randonnées du vertige, by Pascal Sombardier (Éditions Glénat). Though this book ranges over several countries, it has some good ideas (with big photos + detailed descriptions) for the Calanques. (Sombardier is also the author of Chartreuse Inédite and Chartreuse - Vercors: les randonnées du vertige, with similar hike/scramble/climb routes in the northern French Alps.)
English-language? oddly the English hiking guidebooks for Provence which I've found so far don't have much about the Calanques (perhaps because there aren't many easy hikes here?).
bike: Several of the one-day hikes can be done by using a bicycle on the roads to connect between the ends. Or can do a hike (and swim) in the morning, road-bike ride in the afternoon. (Cap Canaille road Route des Cretes is a very spectacular road-bike ride -- see more info + links)
Ferry boats could sometimes by used to support one-way hikes.
Here's some ideas I'm interested in (west to east):
Marseilleveyre + inland peaks
The main peaks inland roughly NE from Callelongue include Rocher des Goudes, Rocher St Michel, and Marseilleveyre -- big sea views and interesting rocks, several hiking/scrambling options.
Georges + I started at Callelongue, hiked the trail up to Col des Chevres, then to the Marseilleveyre summit, over that and south down to the sea at Calanque Mounne by way of the trail up on the west side of the valley - (with a side trip up to Pas de la Demi-Lune + back) and along the sea back to Callelongue. Fairly long loop, but the Marseilleveyre is the highest summit around the western Calanques, and it has a great view over the city of Marseille by the sea.
* more distance along the sea if go south from Marseilleveyre directly down the valley (instead of staying higher on its west side). But likely the views are not as good as on the trail up on the west side of the valley.
* shorter return (and interesting but with no seaside hiking) if take trail from east side up to the Pas de la Demi-Lune (but not across it) then down the ridge on east side of Rocher des Goudes, then cross to west side and down to Callelongue.
* ? I assume there's some way to climb the Marseilleveyre from something like the north side ?
* Callelongue > NE up to Col de St Michel and across it > S-SW to sea -- not sure what the route over Col de St Michel is like.
* Callelongue > Pas de la Demi-Lune and across it > down to sea -- not sure what climbing the northwest side of Pas is like: I'll guess more difficult scrambling than its southeast side -- and then the loop time+effort would be fairly short in comparison with its difficulty level.
of course could do similar loops using the shore trail instead of seaside rock scrambling -- or some mix of scrambling and trail.
? could continue even further E to the “ancient battery” just E of Calanque de Marseilleveyre, then ? Green trail 3 partway up Grand Malvallon, then ? NW on Yellow 2b over Col de la Galinette ? [ didn't try most of that ]
seaside rock scrambling: It's easy to spend lots of time on this and not cover much distance -- so I suggest set a cut-off time to allow plenty of time to finish the rest in daylight.
Green trail: spectacular, tricky navigation, includes some rock scrambling. Committing -- once you're in the midst of it there's no way to re-connect with the GR98 except to make it out to one end or the other. I lost the trail at least twice -- there are some "false leads" worn in by previous confused hikers (and by rock climbers with seeking different objectives). So read the 1:15000 topo map carefully as you go -- even better is to also have a good GPS track.
continue further East than Col de Sormiou? Obvious goals further E could be Calanques de Morgiou or Luminy. My feeling is that doing some Callelongue rock scrambling and the Green trail along the way made it plenty exciting just getting to Sormiou. Seems unlikey that the trail thru Calanque de Sormiou to Morgiou is as exciting as that - (anyway that can more easily be done as a separate loop from Col de Sormiou or les Baumettes or the Chemin de Morgiou road). Finishing at Luminy makes the parking easy, but requires a long section away from sea views.
The end of the peninsula along the southwest side of the Calanque de Sormiou can be reached by either a hiking/scrambling route or a by route with technical climbing and rappeling sections. The hiking/scrambling route crosses to the southwest side of the Col de Lui d'Ai, then down to a ledge along that side to within 30 meters of the extreme end of the peninsula, then return the same way. Perhaps there might be some alternate trails more along the crest of the ridge to provide some additional variety, but we didn't check those.Very spectacular and interesting.
We encountered some short tricky scrambling moves and a short exposed section with a cable hand-rail. (Perhaps at one time there was a chain hand-rail going the last few meters to the extreme end, but that was not there when Sharon and I did it). Most of this hiking/scrambling could be done without needing a day with calm sea. Sharon and I did the "complete tour" around both sides of the peninsula, but the northeast side definitely requires technical rock climbing skills + equipment + experience, and a calm sea: see more.
Driving to the start of the road at Les Baumettes is tricky in itself. We were glad we had a GPS to guide us thru the streets of Marseille to it. Allow extra time, be prepared for difficult narrow streets - (or instead take bus or taxi).
The high point of the road is not the same as the "Col de Morgiou" crossed by the hiking trails.
Loop hikes: Looks to me like the loop hikes with Calanque de Morgiou can all be done just as easily from parking higher up away from the sea (like there's a small number of spaces at the high point of the road, and a short ways west from the high point -- or the much larger parking lot at the beginning of the road just S of Les Baumettes. On busy days and seasons, get their early while there's still parking places available (otherwise try parking at Luminy)
One-way hikes starting from Calanque de Morgiou: options: (a) bus to les Baumettes and walk to Calanque M (note that there's a hiking trail that avoids much of the narrow road); (b) taxi down to the sea; (c) park as for Loop hikes above, then walk to the sea; (d) drive the road early in the morning with less traffic, drop off people, then one person drives back to the higher parking and hikes down (or runs down the road) to rejoin the others.
Finishing one-way hike at Morgiou: Leaving a bicycle down by the sea doesn't help much because the road is so steep. And it commits you to finishing at Calanque de Morgiou village, while leaving the bicycle by one of the higher parking areas allows more options of how to finish the hike.
We finished at Luminy, which enabled Sharon to avoid more down-walking while her knee was recovering, then rode our bicycle to parking near the high point of the Morgiou road. But after all the exciting spectacular hiking we had a long slog on unpaved roads to Luminy -- and not simple to navigate the various roads to which one of two parking areas in Luminy if did not start from Luminy. (At the start I first drove Sharon down to by the sea at Morgiou so she could avoid down-walking on her recovering knee.)
Next time I think I'd finish by hiking W from the top of Calanque de Sugiton to Col de Morgiou, make a loop back to the parking along the Chemin de Morgiou road -- to avoid the complexity of car-bike shuttle with Luminy.
Slight trickiness in finding the alternate more interesting trail underneath the Falaise des Toits: When climbing north out of Calanque de Sugiton, we hit an unpaved road. There we made the unexpected move of turning right to go southeast down the road for a ways, then turned left off the road to follow the red trail up to the cliffs, and it soon goes roughly northwest underneath the overhanging cliff ("falaise" in French), then roughly north climbing up a little couloir, then moderate to reach an unpaved road, turn left on that road toward Luminy - (can later turn off the roads onto trail toward Col de Morgiou).
Main advantage of Luminy is that it's easy to drive to big parking areas - (or I suspect there's regular bus service). Note that there's at least two parking areas by hiking trailheads, so be clear on which one you're using. In case you need to ask directions, it helps to know which school or college of the university it's near.
Disadvantage is that Luminy is a sizable distance from the sea. On the other hand the trails are mostly gentle or moderate, which is good if want to avoid impact on knees + ankles.
(bicycle on the unpaved roads could be very helpful in cutting down the time of gentle-moderate slogging)
But it's not simple to navigate the various roads to which one of two parking areas in Luminy if did not start from Luminy. Make careful use of IGN 1:15000 Calanques map (and a good GPS track couldn't hurt). Be clear about which of the parking areas in the university you're trying to reach (and if you need to ask directions it helps to know the name of the specific college or school it's near).
Spectacular seaside hike with some rock scrambling -- good choice for maximum views + closeness to sea for minimal slogging. I've explored it twice, will gladly go back more times. Several variations possible -- bring the !GN 1:15000 Calanques map.
The loop I'd think of doing next time with Sharon would be to go out by way of the Blue trail which follows the coast between Calanque de Port Pin and Calanque d'En Vau, meet the GR98, then side trip down into Calanque d'En Vau, then return to Cassis by the GR98 trail.
Possible side trip to the Belvidere d'En Vau (west of the Calanque) -- remarkable viewpoint of blue sea and white rocks.
? Might also be possible to scramble on steep loose rock directly between the Blue scenic trail and Calanque d'En Vau -- to make going down into Calanque d'En Vau a loop instead of side trip [ didn't try that ]
Note that cannot normally park by the start of the trail at Port-Miou, but the walk on the streets of Cassis from the obvious parking to the trailhead is pretty. On busy days and seasons, get their early while there's still parking places available. Bring lotsa coins for paying for parking in Cassis.
Remarkable seaside cliffs, but a much longer loop from Cassis than d'En Vau.
I didn't do it as a loop, but here's how I think I would try it: From Cassis, roughly west on GR98 to past Calanque d'En Vau. Turn off onto Green trail to go more south close to shore, then west to Aiguille de l'Eisssadon, then to les Falaises du Devenson. At junction with GR98, turn right to go roughly east back toward Cassis. On the way back, side trip to Belvidere d'En Vau recommended if time, also possible non-GR98 sections of the Calanque d'En Vau loop (above).
spectacular challenging hike with some routefinding complexity -- IGN 1:15000 Calanques map very valuable (perhaps also a good GPS track). Various spectacular alternate routes + side trips possible -- I did not try all of them.
I got the idea for doing this hike from the Lonely Planet Walking in France guidebook, which has lots of valuable ideas for hiking in France - (but I would not try following the map + directions in the book without also using the IGN 1:15000 Calanques map).
I started from Cassis on the GR98, did the Blue scenic trail from Calanque Port Pin to near Calanque d'En Vau (but did not go down into Calanque d'En Vau, because I had done it before and wanted to be sure I had time for later segments) then GR98, then side trip to Belvidere d'En Vau, then Green trail thru Aiguille de l'Eissadon and les Falaises du Devenson, then a long ways on GR98 trail until it met an unpaved road, crossed that onto Red trail down underneath the Falaise des Toits into Calanque de Sugiton, then the obvious trail to Calanque de Morgiou. Hiked the trail (and road) up to near the high point on the Chemin de Morgiou road, rode my bicycle over Col de la Gineste back to Cassis.
What I did not do was try the Red trail closer to the sea starting a bit west from the Devenson cliffs -- stayed on the GR98 instead.
If not sure about time, I think it makes sense to skip the non-GR98 sections further east closer to Cassis, because those could be done instead as a loop from Cassis.
Luminy versus Morgiou finish? Luminy is easier, but it's still a long slog from the junction choice point, and misses going thru the beautiful and interesting Calanques de Sugiton. My feeling is that if you're going to the trouble of setting up the shuttle logistics for the one-way hike, then it's worth including the Sugiton - Morgiou segment.
Navigation: What made it tricky is that there were so many other trails and unpaved roads crossing and joining and forking away from the trail I was trying to follow.
We only tried the first short section of this on a rainy day -- looked promising -- but it was too muddy -- sticky clay mud.
It's supposed to be possible to hike out along the seaside a ways under the Cap Canaille, then return on a higher trail to a different point further east along the road -- hope to try that sometime on a dry day.
There's no way go hike the seaside all the way from Cassis to la Ciotat.
Parking: We got there very early morning on a bad-weather day, so there were some spaces off-street right next to the stairs going down to the Arene beach. But I sorta doubt that's legal. There's pay parking nearby on the street, and more pay parking a bit further west by the sports stadium. I suspect that if you park in a place where you're not paying, you're in some locals-only space which is not legal for you. Bring lotsa coins for the parking.
The trail along the cliffs of Cap Canaille is kinda famous for its views. We didn't hike on it, because it was a rainy day. We drove our rental car on the Route des Cretes road which goes near the cliffs. That road is also famous for its views, and we rode our bicycle on it once on a sunny day and agreed with its fame. The road touches the trail at one of more points. From what we could see, the trail has some short steep rough sections.
The main section of the trail isn't very long (? 4 km ?) and likely it's straightforward to set up a car-bike shuttle.
Extensions: A trail also starts from the Route des Cretes lower northwest toward the Cassis end. From what we could see it was more moderate and smoother than some of the steep sections we saw higher south + east. Didn't see much parking near the start. Another possibility is to start all the way down in Cassis and hike up, first on some narrow steep streets, then perhaps a ways on the Route des Cretes road.
We've heard there's some side trips south or north off the trail, but didn't get to check any of that.
See the guidebook.
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