Overlooking Cassis and the harbor entrance from Cap Canaille

Cassis is too tourist oriented to ever be called a "small, quaint fishing village forgotten by time", but it is small (relatively), it is quaint, and it is a fishing village. But it is much more than that.

Situated a mere 30 kilometers (about 18 miles) east of Marseille, Cassis is technically too far west to be considered on the Riviera (or even the Cote d'Azur for that matter). Although it isn't as crowded as some of the better known spots on the French Mediterranean, it has enough sun-drenched beaches to be an attractive beach resort.

The coast around Cassis is largely rocky cliffs punctuated by narrow steep-walled inlets called calanques and the occasional pebble beach. The terrain rises rapidly going away from the shore toward the mountain crest behind. The landscape appears to be a light green as the limestone outcrops protrude everywhere through the darker green vegetation.

Cassis' small harbor is protected by a sweep of peninsula with a public beach on the outer shore. The mouth of the harbor is further protected by a sea wall which narrows it to a mere 30 to 40 feet. A small lighthouse guards the tip of the sea wall. The concrete quays are lined by pastel colored three- and four-storey buildings, many housing seafood restaurants. In the mid-morning, the local fisherman can be seen selling their day's catch from the sterns of boats tied up at quayside.

Buildings along the Quay

Dominating the eastern side of the bay of Cassis, the massive red sandstone promontory called Cap (Cape) Canaille rises sharply out of the water. It makes for an impressive view from the hotels and private homes that line the west side of the bay. It is especially attractive to sit on a hotel balcony drinking some of the local wine and watching the last rays of the sun fade from the cap.

Also spectacular is the view from the top of Cap Canaille back toward Cassis. Take the A50 toward Toulon, and turn right on the D41A. The road goes past vineyards up to the top of Cap Canaille, then follows the top of the ridge along the ocean arriving eventually in La Ciotat.

Cap Canaille

On the west side of the bay of Cassis, along the route Port-Miou just outside the entrance to the harbor lies the Plage du Bestouan (Bestouan Beach). Across the street, directly behind the beach lies the aptly named Mahogany Hotel de la Plage du Bestouan. This modern, multi-story hotel provides an excellent vantage point from which to watch the sunset. Nearby, the smaller Les Roches Blanches provides a more elegant and more intimate, if slightly more expensive, place to enjoy the views.

Cap Canaille over Bestouan Beach

The beach, typical of many French beaches, is composed of small to mid-sized pebbles. It can be uncomfortable to walk or lie on. Wear sandals and either bring some kind of pad to lie on or vie for one of the spots on the concrete patios located near the wall at the back of the beach. In late May, the beach was crowded on Saturday and Sunday, but nearly deserted until late afternoon on Monday.

Another very popular attraction is the calanques. These are long, narrow inlets with steep limestone cliffs on either side. They penetrate the rocky coastline like narrow fingers, providing access in some cases to isolated sandy coves suitable for picnicing or swimming. In other cases, they provide a safe moorage for myriad pleasure boats.

Overlooking Calanque Port-Miou

From the west side of Cassis, it is a relatively easy hike for the able-bodied to reach the nearest calanques of Port-Miou and Port-Pin. To appreciate the sheer beauty of the calanques, however, one should take one of the frequent boat tours that leave the harbor almost hourly. These tours take a small boat to visit four calanques in around two hours. Along the way, you may also see scuba divers or sea kayakers enjoying the relatively calm waters.


Copyright 2002 Harry B. Rowe