Hiking in Calanques National Park, Marseille

It’s not often that you get an opportunity to hike in a national park just outside a major city. So when I found out about Calanques National Park, within an easy reach of central Marseille, I just had to check it out!

Beautiful as Marseille is, France’s second largest city is still…well…a city. While there is plenty to see and do, I wanted to explore some of the natural beauty Provence is famed for. Calanques National Park provided a great opportunity to escape the bustle of Marseille without straying too far. It also happens to be France’s newest national park, established in 2012!

Day Trip to Calanques National Park

I got up early and joined a throng commuters on the city’s metro system. Armed with a map I got from the tourist info centre the previous day and a large supply of cereal bars from a local supermarket, I felt I was sufficiently prepared.

I got off at Castellane and waited for a bus heading to Luminy, one of the access points for the national park. It also happens to be the location of a large university campus so I spent the next 45 minutes of rush hour traffic with students heading to their morning lectures. Eventually, we reached the last stop and I followed a couple who looked like hikers since I figured they would probably lead me to the entrance to the park. I wasn’t wrong and I soon walked past the sign welcoming visitors to Calanques National Park.

The plan was to hit a few trails and see where I ended up. I did a bit of research online but there wasn’t a lot of information on routes so I figured I would just follow the path! It was a cool October morning but the sun was already peeking through the trees. Marseille’s Mediterranean climate means that even winters here are mild and this was promising to be a very warm day!

Trail in the Calanques National Park
The path inside Calanques National Park

I followed the unpaved path through the woods alongside other hikers and joggers out for their morning run. The path was easy to follow with coloured markers painted on trees signifying different trails. Plaques explained more about the geology, flora and fauna of the area (in French). I soon came out to a fork in the road by one of the plaques. Taking a short detour to the right brought me out to a clearing with a great view of the valley lined by huge cliffs.

Information sign, Calanques National Park
A rock sign with information on local plants
Valley, Calanques National Park
Stunning views of the valley

I continued on, greeting fellow hikers with a friendly “bonjour”, and soon came out to another fork in the road. I took a right and followed the path all the way to a lookout point which afforded stunning views of the area, including the calanques themselves.

Calanques National Park isn’t actually named after an area. Calanques are natural inlets and bays which are flanked by high limestone cliffs and are a highlight of this beautiful part of the Mediterranean coast. These have been formed over millions of years by water flooding steep-sided valleys and collapsing caves, creating these beautiful narrow inlets. Almost 85% of the national park is a marine area!

Morgiou. Calanques National Park
View of Morgiou and the surrounding cliffs from the top of the trail

Calanque de Morgiou

Calanque de Morgiou is one of the biggest calanques in the national park and was a breathtaking sight, especially with a sailing boat dwarfed by the cliffs around it. There is a small village and a marina at the end. It’s famous as King Louis XIII fished for tuna here in 1622, sporting a gilded silver trident! The calanque is also home to the Cosquer Cave, which contains prehistoric paintings – it’s the only known painted cave in the world with an underwater entrance! Scuba divers among you: unfortunately the cave is closed to the public!

Calanque de Morgiou, Calanques National Park
Calanque de Morgiou

Calanque de Sugiton

Calanque de Sugiton was a lot smaller but no less beautiful. It’s one of the easier calanques to access and a path snaked down towards the sea among the cliffs. A small island just off the shore is known as Le Torpilleur (The Torpedo) because of its distinctive shape. In warmer weather, the calanque is popular with tourists going for a swim at the beach and cliff jumping off the rocks. With the sun getting higher, I could definitely do with a swim!

Calanque de Sugiton, Calanques National Park
Calanque de Sugiton

The lookout was very windy so after admiring the views, I headed back to the fork in the road. I decided to follow the trail that snaked along the high cliff walls instead of going down to the beach. I set off along the path, stopping often to appreciate the scenery – towering limestone cliffs on one side and impossibly blue sea on the other.

Mediterranean Sea, Calanques National Park
The views of the Mediterranean are amazing

Calanques National Park

The path rounded Calanque de Sugiton and I got close to The Torpedo and the yachts moored nearby. I saw a couple of tourist boats too – a popular way to see the Calanques National Park throughout the year. Due to the high risk of fires in the summer, access is strictly regulated from 1st June to 30th September and is dependent on weather conditions! I visited only a few days after the restrictions were lifted so I was definitely lucky!

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Le Torpilleur (The Torpedo), Calanque de Sugiton

The path, wide and easy to follow until now, has become a lot narrower and I had to avoid fallen trees and even rockfalls! In places, I had to be careful not to fall down the cliff and into the sea! The trail twisted and turned before coming pretty close to the water, its surface shimmering in the sun. I really couldn’t have picked a better day for my hike!

Rockfall, Calanques National Park
I had to negotiate rockfalls and fallen trees – I am guessing there was a big storm a few days back!
Trail, Calanques National Park
The path got a lot steeper and narrower towards the end of the trail

The cliffs above me seemed even more imposing than before as I reached what looked like the end of the trail. The path (if you could still call it that), rose upwards sharply over rocks and through shrubs and bushes. I decided to keep going for as long as possible and climbed up above a small rocky beach.

Rocks, Calanques National Park
I clambered over these rocks not even knowing if I would find the trail again!
Calanques National Park
Great views as I climbed higher and higher!

Just as I was about to turn around and head back, I spotted something embedded in the cliff itself – metal handles and chains! I definitely wasn’t dressed for scrambling mountains but I wasn’t going to come all this way and turn back! After securing my camera and valuables in my bag, I carefully pulled myself up the rock face using the chains and footholds carved out of the rock.

Calanques National Park
Chains and metal handles to navigate the Cliffside!

It wasn’t particularly tough but one wrong step could mean a very nasty fall to the rocks below – and seeing as I was the only person attempting this part of the trail, I am not sure anyone would come to save me in a hurry!

I continued up the trail and made my way to the top of a large rock. The view from here was just incredible and I just absorbed the scenery for a while. I finished the last of my water and another cereal bar and took stock of my surroundings.

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The trail seemed to continue below, twisting and disappearing around the cliff. As I wasn’t even sure where it led, I decided to not head any further. I was on track to doing an 11km hike and I still had more of Marseille to explore. So, I took a few selfies and started heading back to Luminy.

Calanques National Park
You can see the trail disappearing into the distance but I didn’t go any further!

Navigating the chains and metal ladders on the way down was much more difficult and I almost lost my bag, managing to grab it just as it was about to tumble to the rocks below. After my heart rate returned to normal, I made quick progress and reached the entrance to the park in just over an hour.

I have never heard of Calanques National Park before my visit but it turned out to be one of the most beautiful places I have visited in Europe, if not the whole world! I am already planning to return to find out just where my trail would have taken me.

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A great hike warrants a selfie!

Hiking Calanques National Park – The Travel Lexx Way:

Length: 11 kilometres. This includes the detour to the lookout point and scrambling up the cliff using chains and metal handles. However, it’s easy to tailor this to your ability and available time – this was just one of the many hikes available.

Time: The entire hike took about 3.5 hours. I timed my return trip from the top of the rock where I took my selfie back to Luminy and I covered 4.82km in 1:11:39.  

Difficulty: Easy to Tough. It’s largely flat to the lookout point so suitable for all (even kids) but the further you venture, the tougher it gets. Hiking shoes are recommended as is a map as some parts of the trail are not clearly signposted.

Top Tips For Hiking in Calanques National Park:

  1. Make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks with you – apart from Morgiou, there is nowhere to buy food!
  2. Try and get to the park early. It can get VERY hot here (especially in the summer) so hitting the trails in the morning will make life easier.
  3. If visiting in the summer (between 1st June – 30th September), always check this site for the latest real-time access conditions. Anything other than orange and you might not be able to access the park on foot. If in doubt, it might be best to book a boat trip from Marseille as these run all year round.
  4. One of the best way to explore Calanques National Park is by hiring a kayak and discovering the hard-to-reach beaches and lagoons, making stops to dive into the clear turquoise waters. Hiking is also spectacular and there are a number of trails for all abilities
  5. Bring swimming gear – there are a few beaches and cliffs from which you can jump in!
  6. Calanques National Park is very popular with locals so timing your visit for a weekday will help avoid the crowds. 

The Trip

What:  The stunning Calanques National Park, within easy reach of Marseille, is France’s newest, established in 2012. The calanques – natural inlets and bays flanked by imposing limestone cliffs – are unique geological formations and offer stunning views.

Where: Calanques National Park is easily accessible from Marseille, France’s second largest city.

Getting there: Take the metro to Castellane and get the No. 21 bus all the way to Luminy (allow 45 mins in rush hour). The trail starts a few hundred metres from the bus stop. Bus No. 24 goes to Luminy from Ste. Marguerite Dromel station. Once on the trail, you can head down to the beach at Calanque de Sugiton or head to a lookout point with stunning views of Calanque de Morgiou.

calanques

22 thoughts on “Hiking in Calanques National Park, Marseille

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Thanks guys – it’s timely as this would be a great time to explore the area before it gets too hot in the summer!

  1. Angie (FeetDoTravel) says:

    Strewth Alexei, what a story … and what a journey! Talk about going off-road; a hike turned into a climbing adventure, darn good job you caught your bag! But your daring, inquisitive nature produced some stunning photographs of the gorgeous scenery; absolutely breathtaking. Interesting fact about the calanques, I had never heard of this name for limestone cliffs before, or this National Park but this is somewhere that needs to be visited. Thanks for teasing us scuba divers as well 🙂 Pinned for future reference #feetdotravel

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Angie, I can just imagine you guys getting excited about the prospect of an underwater tunnel and hidden treasure at the end! Maybe they will reopen it one day but it’s to protect the paintings! Thanks – the hike really was great and the climbing made it adventurous!

  2. jenn | By Land and Sea says:

    This sounds like a great way to spend half a day! I love the views and that so much of this park is by the water. With the range being from easy to tough, it really sounds like this is a place everyone can get outside and enjoy themselves!

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Thanks Jenn – yeah there is something for everyone here which I really liked! Would love to go for a swim next time too!

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Kayaking here would be incredible! I didn’t have time but I would definitely do it next time I am in Marseille!

  3. SamH Travels says:

    As I am sure you know, I love hiking and this looks like a place I would love to visit. Marseille is on my to do list so I have pinned this hike for future use. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  4. Wangui says:

    Oh wow…..those views of the Mediterranean are amazing. The trail goes through a very scenic route. Thank you for such a lovely article…. regards from Kenya

  5. tracy collins says:

    What an amazing place!! Totally gorgeous and sounds like you had a great hike though I am not sure I would have attempted the chains (actually I know 100% I wouldn’t) so its great to see your photographs. I love Provence anyway but this is somewhere I had not even heard of. #feetdotravel

  6. Only By Land says:

    There are some important tips here, the most important being that there is nowhere to buy food in the park! Your photos of Calanques are wonderful and colorful and have inspired me to visit!

  7. Kreete says:

    Alexei, I am in love with this hike you described and want to come with you if you ever return! I can’t believe you did all of that in just a short 3,5 hours! My inner scuba diver said damn it when you mentioned the underwater entrance to the cave is closed. Like why would you even mention it and get my hopes up haha! Awesome photography and as always, the compulsory selfie is cute too

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Yeah, I was actually thinking of doing a longer one from Luminy to Cassis so I’ll wait for you to do it! Sorry to play with your emotions like that haha! Thanks for checking it out!

  8. David says:

    Staggeringly beautiful landscapes. I remember you messaging through photos as you went and I was jealous then as I am now. Calanques clearly deserves far more attention because it’s a clear treasure of the south of France. Shame I missed it on my recent visit to nearby Nimes. Next time!

  9. Tay says:

    Wow, these photos are breathtaking! Thank you for such a detailed post about the hike, I would definitely want to check this out if I’m ever in the south of France! 🙂

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