Hiking with kids: Calanques National Park

Planning this year’s holiday in France was quite easy. After our last year’s holiday (you can read here about it), there was still a long list of places that we haven´t been to and, moreover, I´ve received other interesting tips (thanks, Martina!). The Calanques National Park was on top of the list. Last year, we saw the limestone cliffs flowing into the sea from the Route de Crêtes view, and when I found out that hiking was possible in this area, I was really happy. And so we set off on our hike the very first day of our holiday.

Calanques National Park

This national park, located between Marseille and La Ciotat, is one of ten national parks in France. It is unique in that it extends both on land and sea (about 90% of its area). Calanques are narrow rocky bays, sometimes referred to as “Mediterranean fjords”.

Getting there

Maps and guides indicate the starting point for the hike the Bestouan car park on the western edge of Cassis (right across the car park, there is a beautiful beach of the same name). From here, it is about 10-15 minutes walk northwest along the Avenue des Calanques to the official start of the GR98 trail, right before the first of the bays, Port Miou. But nowhere is it written that even here is a parking lot, even unpaid.

So while my husband was walking back to the car to park it here (I thought the parking fees in Switzerland were high, but guys, in France, they are even higher! :O), I bought the kids an ice cream in the kiosk. Here I want to apologize to those who had to watch the slightly hysterical scene (ahem, euphemism) when our littlest wanted to hold the popsicle herself (just herself, you understand that ?!) and the frozen colored mass was on her T-shirt and on the plastic chair. Finally, the popsicle ended up in the dustbin after it rolled in the dust on the ground, my husband finally arrived and we could set off.

Calanque de Port-Miou

This bay is the longest (1.5 km) and it´s a harbor for over than 500 ships. From the kiosk mentioned above, a wide trail runs along it (or better to say, above it). On the right, you can see the former limestone quarry (the limestone from here was used for the construction of the Suez Canal or the pedestal under the Statue of Liberty).

Calanque de Port Pin

Then the trail narrows and rises slightly up the rocks, then drops down. To get to the bay named after ubiquitous pines, you have to go down the limestone stairs. Be careful here because it’s quite slippery. Because this bay with a stony beach is the most accessible, there are many people that you have to sidestep walking down the stairs.

We made a short break here, just refresh soaking our feet in the sea, and as the weather wasn´t favorable for bathing (at least not for me :)) we decided to continue on to the third bay.

Calanque d´En-Vau

We had to walk up the rocky path to get to the top of the ridge. Here we met the “eco patrol” and to my question, how far the calanque En-Veu is, I was told that at least half an hour and it was a steep descend.

We had a snack in the shade of the pine tree and, after a thorough consideration, we decided not to continue further to En-Vau. Children might be able to descend to the canyon, but the way back would be very challenging and we definitely didn´t intend to ruin their health (and ours too) the first day of vacation. In addition, we didn´t have enough water with us, and my husband’s shoes were not ideal (forget about your flip-flops and put on at least trekking sandals!).

Me examining the terrain

And so we headed back down to Calanque de Port Pin.

Here we enjoyed a good rest on the beach.

Cruising the Calanques

If you are not a fan of hiking, and yet you don´t want to miss the beauty of Les Calanques, you can take a boat cruise. They depart daily from the harbor in Cassis, and you can choose from several circuits depending on how many bays you want to see (whether three, five, eight or nine). Besides Port-Miou, Port Pin and En Vau, there are Calanque Devenson, L’Oeil de Verre, Sugiton, Morgiou and Sormiou. Of course, with the increasing number of calanques, the time of cruise and also the price also increases (see the information here).

With regard to our littlest, we have chosen the shortest, 45-minute circuit. We sailed on a small boat where we were all 10 tourists so we enjoyed almost private cruise 🙂

And I was very happy when we sailed to the En-Vau bay, that we hadn´t reached during our hike. Even from a distance, I could see the beautiful beach – I believe that bathing here must be a nice experience.

Summary and recommendations

  • Overall, our hike (even with a bathing break) lasted for over three hours. From Port-Miou to Port Pin: 1/2 hour; From Port Pin – the summit above Calanque d’En Vau: 1/2 hour.
  • I recommend this hike (due to the relatively demanding terrain especially in the second part) for children over 5 years of age.
  • I also recommend good and comfortable shoes (at least closed-toe outdoor sandals for kids).
  • Don´t forget to take enough water.
  • In summer, entering the forests can be limited, or even restricted (check this website before). We were lucky because a few days after our visit, the entrance to the National Park was closed because of the increased risk of forest fires.

A guide to a tremendous hike through limestone cliffs in Souhtern France

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