Sunday, March 1, 2020

A fall visit to Cassis, a picturesque village along the Mediterranean Sea

Cassis is a picturesque town a little over 1 and 1/2 hours from Sablet snuggled at the bottom of a steep bowl of land along the Mediterranean Sea between calanques (little coastal fjords with tall cliffs), about 25 km east of Marseille.

Cassis is on a steep hillside with vineyards and pastel-colored houses that tumble down to a seaside port lined with more pastel-colored houses, shops and restaurants with 8,000 inhabitants.

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 Baou Redon. These people lived by fishing, hunting, and farming.

If you go, I recommend you 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.

Port area where Quai des Baux and Quai Saint-Pierre meet

Cassis remains a small fishing port but the fishing boats now share the harbor with yachts and a collection of boats that tourists can book for visits to the nearby calanques. You will see traditional wooden fishing boats known as pointus tied up along the Quai des Baux.

Pointus, traditional wooden fishing boats tied up along Quai des Baux

The port is lined with tourist shops, terrace cafés and restaurants which offer a variety of food and prices. It's always great fun to watch people stroll down Quai des Baux while you soak up the sun in front of one of the cafes that line the port.

Restaurants along Quai des Baux

The fishermen sell their morning's catch quayside on tables near their boats. The selection changes daily as choice is selon arrivage (dependent on what they catch) that day.

Fisherman selling his morning catch quayside on the Quai des Baux

Over the years, many artists and writers have been attracted to Cassis. Frédéric Mistral, the Nobel Prize-winning author and defender of Provençal language and traditions, took a great fancy to Cassis, even though he was not a native of the town.

The writer famously declared, in Provençal, "Qu'a vist Paris, se noun a vist Cassis, pou dire, ‘n'ai rèn vist'." "He who has seen Paris but not Cassis can say, ‘I haven't seen anything'."

Cassis harbor

The Mediterranean coast near Cassis is known for the calanques ("fjords"), a series of white limestone rocks scored through with deep valleys that extend for almost 20 km (12.4 miles) along the Mediterranean between Cassis and Marseille.

A fun activity for Cassis visitors is a boat trip out to the calanques. There is a kiosk on Quai Saint-Pierre that sells tickets for all the charter boats that line the Cassis port for trips out to 3, 7 or 13 calanques. It takes about 45-minutes for a boat tour out and back to see 3 of the closest calanques.

Port Miou seen in the picture below is the closest calanques and easiest to reach from the center of Cassis. The Romans used Port Miou as a harbor. In fact, its name comes from the Latin portus melior: the best port. It's the deepest and most sheltered of the calanques between Cassis and Marseille.

The calanque of Port-Miou

Port Pin is the smallest and most intimate of the three calanques of Cassis. It is surrounded by Aleppo pine trees typical of this part of the Mediterranean.

The calanque of Port-Pin with its sandy beach surrounded by Pine trees

Port Pin boasts a small sand and shingle beach and the water here - emerald or turquoise depending on the light - is very clear and perfect for swimming.

A tourist boat leaving the calanque of Port-Pin

Limestone rock formation at the entrance to one of the calanques

En Vau is the most spectacular of the three calanques closest to Cassis and also the most difficult to get to. Extremely steep, it's popular with rock-climbers, there is a little shingle beach.

Entrance to En Vau calanque

Entrance to Cassis harbor

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.

Cafes and houses along Quai Jean Jacques Barthélémy

Besides its stunning location and the calanques, Cassis is also famous for its wine. When you exit off the A50 auto route, the road down to Cassis is 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.

By the way, 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.

We have visited Cassis many times but never drove the route des Crêtes. So when Shirley and I went to Cassis last fall, we decided to drive to La Ciotat by way of the route des Crêtes and go back to Sablet that way.

The route des Crêtes (a generic term meaning "road across the crests"), is a 15 km (9 miles) stretch of road, that takes you between Cassis and La Ciotat, with 360 degree views over some of the most superb scenery in Provence along the way.

The route des Crêtes is closed to traffic (and hikers) on days of very strong wind and/or when fire risk is high. There are road signs as you approach it from Cassis and La Ciotat that will let you know if the road is open.

On the route des Crêtes between Cassis and La Ciotat

If you have comments or questions about Cassis, or elsewhere in Provence, please leave your comments below or send me an email at my address below.

If you are thinking about a trip to the South of France including spending time in Provence, we invite you to visit our website. Our house is available for rent by the week or more. We still have some weeks open in April, June, and August. You can reach us for further information by sending an email to


  1. Michel, any sand beaches in this immediate area. We've only found them in Antibes

  2. Thanks for reading and for your comments. There are 4 main beaches in Cassis, the Grand Mer Beach which is the largest and closest to the main village, is a combination of sand and pebbles, leaning more toward the latter. The others are pebbles or rocky. We have found sandy beaches near Montpellier.