Monday, April 22, 2013

Cassis, One of the Most Picturesque Seaside Towns in Provence

If you have been to Cassis, you won't be surprised to know that it's one of our favorite towns in Provence. Thank goodness, it's an easy drive of only 1 hour and half from Sablet to Cassis. The picturesque town is tucked into a curve along the Mediterranean Sea between the calanques (little coastal fjords with tall cliffs), about 20 kms east of Marseille.

In case you don't know, Cassis is a small fishing port on a steep hillside with vineyards and pastel-colored houses which tumble down to the seaside port lined with more pastel-colored houses and shops with 8,000 inhabitants. The port is filled with little fishing boats, yachts and a collection of charter boats that take visitors out to the calanques.

If you visit Sablet, we will take a day trip to Cassis. We like to go on Friday mornings since that is one of the days (Wednesday is the other) the Marché Provençal takes place. That is exactly what we did one Friday last fall, when Shirley's friends and work colleagues Liz, Yvette, and Jennifer, were visiting Provence for the first time.

Cassis Marché Provençal

We try to get to Cassis early in the morning since parking is often a challenge. From time to time, we have to park in a remote lot (Relais des Gourgettes) and hike or ride the navette (shuttle bus) to the port. I should say I get to hike or ride the navette, since I drop Shirley and visitors off close to the port and then I go and find parking.

Brightly colored peppers

I should tell you that the area where Cassis now sits was first occupied between 500 and 600 BC by people from Liguria, a region of north-western Italy, who built a fortified habitation at the top of the Baou Redon. These people lived by fishing, hunting, and farming.


The sellers set up their stands for the Marché Provençal on the square around the Baragnon Fountain. This fountain pays tribute to Pierre Baragnon, owner of the Château de Fontcreuse and Counsellor General who brought fresh water to town via the Canal de Provence in 1892.

Here are a few pictures of the Marché Provençal.

Hat seller in front of the 19th century Baragnon Fountain


Cheese lady

Cassis street

The port is lined with tourist shops, terrace cafés and restaurants which offer a variety of food and prices. As you can imagine, it's great fun to watch people stroll down Quai (dock) Jean-Jacques Barthélémy while you soak up the sun in front of one of the eateries that line the port. Unfortunately, the view is much better than the food so we usually just order drinks.

Tourists walk down Quai Jean-Jacques Barthélémy

As I mentioned, you can arrange for one of the charter boats that line the Cassis port to take you out to the calanques. The tourism office sells tickets for trips that will take you to 3, 7 or 13 calangues. It takes about 45-minutes for a boat tour out to 3 calanques.

A charter boat heads out to the calanques

The Romanesque style Saint Michel Church was built near the port just a short distance from the center of town between 1859 and 1867. Here are a few pictures of the pretty Cassis port.

Cassis port with the Saint Michel Church belltower in the distance

The shops and houses that line the port are all different colors and shapes

The port area in front of Place Mirabeau

Boats in the port

Fishing was the main industry for many years. Now there are only 8 fishing crews which still operate out of Cassis. The town holds a festival every year during June and July in the town and on the docks to celebrate the fishermen, the sea and their patron saint, St. Peter.

Fishing boat

Events include the procession of the "prud-hommes" (regulators of the local fishing industry), the blessing of the boats, water jousts, grilled sardines and anchovies and dancing.

Fishing nets

Shirley and friends pause for picture near the port

You often see locals playing intense games of the Provençal sport known as Boule near the harbor at Gilbert Savon Square.

Gilbert Savon Square

At the outer most tip of the port stands the statue of Calendal. Calendal was a humble anchovy fisherman and hero of a work by poet Frédéric Mistral that recounts Calendal's exploits to win the heart of his true love. His memory is now honored by this statue made of Cassis stone.

The statue of Calendal

There are more shops and restaurants on the narrow streets of Cassis away from the port.

Cassis Street

Thanks to a recommendation from Sara over at Sara in Le Petit Village, Le Bonaparte Restaurant has become our favorite restaurant in Cassis. The restaurant is located on a side street several blocks off the port. There is a small dining room and seating on the street. Le Bonaparte Restaurant is owned by the chef Jean-Marie who has been in business 23 years.

Le Bonaparte Restaurant

Here are some pictures of pretty houses away from the port.

Pretty shutters on a Cassis house

A window full of plants in Cassis

Pastel colored houses in Cassis

A view up Quai Jean-Jacques Barthélémy toward the center of Cassis

The Maison des Baux Castle was built in 1381 by the counts of Les Baux and refurbished last century by Mr. Michelin, the boss of the company that makes tires and publishes the famous Green Guides. Today it is privately owned and partially converted to a luxury B and B.

Maison des Baux Castle

Once you exit off of the A50 autoroute, you will descend to Cassis on a winding road that goes past vineyards planted on steep hills between olive groves and country houses above Cassis. The wineries of Cassis produce red, white and rosé wines but it's the white wines for which the appellation is best known. We like Cassis white and rosé wines a lot.

Don't confuse the wines of Cassis with crème de cassis, a sweet black currant liqueur, a specialty of Burgundy which takes its name from black currants (cassis), not this town.

A view down a Cassis street with Villa Maureque in the distance on the hill

The Cassis Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée wine region is unique in the Provençal wine region because 75% of its production is white wine. The soil is primarily limestone which is particularly suited to the cultivation of Clairette, Marsanne, Ugni Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc grapes which are the major varietals of the AOC. Grapes are harvested by hand.

A pastel colored bar with flags festooned on the top floor

Cap Canaille which rises up between Cassis and La Ciotat, is one of the highest cliffs of Europe at 399 meters (1,309 feet) and the highest cliff in France.

There are four public beach areas in Cassis. The Grand Mer beach is the main beach near the center of town and consists of sand and pebbles. The beach pictured below with the great view of Cap Canaille is Bestouan beach and consist of pebbles and rocks.

Cape Canaille

Thanks for coming on my visit to Cassis. I can't wait to return to Cassis when we are back in Sablet in a few weeks. Have a great week. Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt.


  1. What a lovely post on one of my favorite towns!

  2. That looks like an absolutely wonderful place to visit. I hope it's on the itinerary when we come to see you!

  3. Barbara - Thanks! Cassis is definitely our favorite seaside town so far. There are a lot more for us to explore and I look forward to doing that in the months and years ahead.

    Greg, Jennifer and Julia - You can count on it!

  4. You know I love Cassis! I've been dreaming about it lately. I need to get back, walk along the quay and then hop over to Bonaparte's for some fish and white wine :)

  5. I have heard so many wonderful things about Cassis, and now I have lovely pictures to go with them! :) Hopefully I'll get to visit one day.

  6. Sara - We love Cassis and thanks to your recommendation, we know we can have a very good lunch at Bonaparte. We will be back there in a few weeks.

    Camille - You need to organize a trip to Provence and see this part of France. Lots of good food including baked goods and pastries and great wine. Not sure about local beers since we are not beer drinkers. Cassis would be a highlight of your trip.

  7. So true Michel, Cassis is one of the best towns around! I can't wait to spend many more days there this summer... and your photos really capture the magic of the place, great post!

  8. Greetings
    can anyone please tell me what are the beaches around Cassis as I am thinking of going there this year with my partner.
    We went to Sanary sur Mer last year but we really did not like the town beach and are looking for somewhere with a secluded beach with some trees and greenery not far from the city as we are without a car
    Many thanks

  9. Hi there! I clicked on you via Sara. A couple of coincidences have forced me to comment here. First, I rented a house in Sablet last summer with my girlfriends. It was up a little lane that had a beautiful view of the town. Loved it! Also, this summer I'm headed to California and I just booked the Holiday Inn Express in none other than Windsor! Perhaps you could recommend a restaurant?

  10. Er...just noticed that you actually own a restaurant there.

  11. Tuula - Thanks so much for the sweet feedback. Maybe one of these days we will have to do a meet-up in Cassis.

    Zoe - There are four public beaches in Cassis. The one near the main port is sandy and easy to get to. The problem is parking.

    Liza - Thanks for stopping in to check out my blog and for leaving a comment. Definitely a small world. I will email you with some restaurant suggestions. Hope you will stop by often.