Calanque de Figuerolles –
Just 87 steps takes you straight down to a paradisiacal beach virtually unknown except to locals, the Calanque de Figuerolles. Pristine turquoise blue waters of the Mediterranean sea, red rocks carved by time and nature, and a tiny beach filled with grey smooth rocks await your discovery.
Once you arrive on the beach, in the middle of the calanque (inlet) is the “Ilot du Lion”, a small island where only the most the brave jump off into the depths below. To the right is the unusual rock formation “Rocher du Capucin” sometimes called the “Rocher à la tête de chien (dogs head).
The combination creates a unique natural landscape unlike any other calanque in the area and is very beautiful. I highly recommend a visit if you like getting off the beaten track, you will surely not be disappointed.
The red rocks are actually rather unusual for the area, made up of what is called locally “poudingue” (some say in memory of the puddings found in England). Although the rock looks really fragile, it is actually quite sturdy. It is made of natural cement like material, with embedded river rocks (the same as those you find under your feet on the beach).
Restaurant Chez Tania
Another highlight to the Calanque de Figuerolles is the ideally located restaurant perched just above the beach that offers splendid views of the area from the large terrace. The restaurant was opened in 1956 by a Russian couple (Tania and Igor) who were completely enchanted by the location.
They were so stunned by the site itself, they immediately decided to abdicate from the mainland and declared the location “The Independent Republic of Figuerolles”. Figuerolles means “garden of figs” in ancient provencal, and there is one large fig tree to be found just below the restaurant. Figs (yes, the fruit) are the main form of money, which you can still use to pay for your meal or stay (one kilo equals ten euros). I guess money really does grow on trees after all… Even the official clock time is one hour off that of France. For those wanting to gain nationality to the republic, request for passports can be made in writing – but I would question their validity at a border crossing.
The restaurant, Chez Tania, serves up some of the best seafood to be found in the area all at moderate prices. And if you should happen to have a glass or two too much of rosé, they have a few rooms and bungalows available at very reasonable prices.
Practice your french comprehension skills with this interview of the current owner (Tania and Igor’s grandson), or just look at the pretty scenery :
Here’s a link for a virtual visit of Chez Tania : http://www.hdmedia.fr/visite-virtuelle/hd/cbpQcp5Se-la-calanque-de-figuerolles.html
More things to do
The above should keep you busy all day, but if you are in the area for a few days there are tons more to do in the immediate area. The obvious is to first visit the old town of La Ciotat and its port, but don’t stop there…
Parks and Beaches
The nearby Parc de Muguel is also worth a visit, with splendid green spaces and views. The adjacent Calanque du Petit Mugel is also a good beach choice, or try my favorite website for other calanques in the area if you ware wanting more ideas – https://en.plages.tv.
Scuba Diving and Snorkeling
For the more adventurous, the Calanque of Figuerolles is also well-known for its scuba diving and snorkeling. Figuerolles boasts a site with underground caves right off its beach near the small island. Snorkeling is another activity practiced by many who frequent the site, but the water can be cold so bring appropriate gear.
Rock climbing sites are numerous and varied, including bouldering routes and long top rope runs going down steep cliffs that drop to the ocean – not for sissies or beginners without a guide. There are many guides available for hire who know the area intimately, which is highly recommended if you are interested in this activity. Just remember, once you rappel down – you have to climb back up !
Corniche des Crêtes Route
The stunning drive known as the “Corniche des Crêtes” (D141) from La Ciotat to Cassis (D559) travels a windy (albeit somewhat scary) narrow route crossing over the Cap Canaille (the highest cliff in France) is easily accessible and well worth it. Just make sure you didn’t have those couple of glasses of wine at Chez Tania’s before departing…
For the ambitious, the route can also be hiked by following the yellow markers (Sentier des Crêtes – about 10km and 4h30). Just be careful on days of high mistral winds or extreme heat as the route can be dangerous and closed to both pedestrians and cars. Check website for closure updates.
Easier hikes include the short hike from the Calanque de Figuerolles to the Chapelle de la Garde (If you are feeling lazy, you can also drive taking the Traverse Notre Dame de la Garde to its end ). This hike allows you to discover the quaint little chapel built in the 17th century. Inside are very early ex-voto plaquards (plaquard giving thanks to the Virgin Mary for a perceived miracle). There is one dating back to 1808 from a sailor of the ship “La Baleine” (whale ship) who almost perished in a violent storm that broke the ship’s mast.
Continuing (by foot only) up for a short but steep hike to the summit of Saint-Pilon (116m alt), you will be presented with a most magnificent view of the surrounding landscape with no obstructions to hinder your viewing pleasure.
Access to the Calanque de Figuerolles is relatively simple via the autoroute Marseille/Toulon or Aix/Toulon exit 9, or just use your GPS to find the end of “Avenue Figuerolles” in “La Ciotat” .
There is a small free parking lot available, or you can park anywhere along the adjacent streets – just be respectful of the neighbors. It does get pretty busy in the summer months so getting there early isn’t a bad idea. From the parking lot, look for the stairs that go down to the beach. They are rather steep and slippery from the smooth rock, so be careful and avoid flip-flops on the way down if you can. Definitely forget the high heels if you are going to the restaurant !
PS – The water in the calanque has icy cold patches near the shore due to the underwater streams that dump into the inlet. Be forewarned !
-Girl Gone Gallic