Hiking Provence’s Côte Bleue – Niolon

Hiking the Côte Bleue…

I always feel so lucky to live in a region with endless choices for hiking and exploring!  As recently as mid-February I was hiking along the Côte Bleue near Marseille thoroughly enjoying the sunshine… Jealous aren’t you???

Much of the Côte Bleue trail closely follows the train tracks built by the military in 1915, and were saved much to the delight of modern-day hikers.  The rest of the trail is often referred to as the “Sentier Littoral” or “Sentier des Douaniers” and was created after the revolution to watch the coast for bandits trying to sneak goods without paying taxes.  The section around Carry le Rouet is flatter and not as interesting.

Provence's Côte Bleue - Calanque de Figuières opposite side - The Côte BleueDirections for the Perpetually Lost…

I really should start a guide-book series for those of us that were born with absolutely no sense of direction.  There’s actually a real term for that – “Geographical Dyslexia,” or “Directional Disability” and it’s genetic (thanks Mom!).  I personally could get lost in my backyard…  Actually I did once, and NO I had not been drinking…  Life before a GPS was awful, but even now with a GPS in hand I can still get lost!

Should you struggle as I do, here are some very thorough directions (with pictures) to help you hike the Côte Bleue Trail without walking in circles trying to find that elusive trailhead.  Trail markers are rare here, and official maps do not always reference all trails, so keep these directions handy.  GGG to the rescue!!!

The Côte Bleue – Itinerary Options

I have hiked the Côte Bleue in both directions, with the tiny and rustic “Calanque d’Erevine” as the destination.  Off-season or weekdays is preferable to avoid crowds.  Remember, if you are taking the train it only stops in La Redonne and Niolon (purchase tickets onboard).

  • Niolon to Erevine (Option 1) – Niolon up into the hills then dropping into the Calanque d’Erevine, then either hiking back the way you came or in a partial loop using a steep trail out of the Calanque. (3 hours roundtrip with shortcut).
  • La Redonne to Erevine (Option 2) – La Redonne (commune of Ensuès-la-Redonne) along the coast to the Calanque d’Erevine (2.5 hours one way), backtrack to return.
  • Méjean to Erevine (variant Option 2) – The official trailhead actually starts in Méjean and not La Redonne.  Travel along the coast trail (1.5 hours one way) and return the same you came.
  • Niolon to La Redonne (Option 1 + 2) – Combine both legs into one long one way hike by leaving your car at one end, hopping the train one stop, and then hiking back (3.5-4 hours) so you don’t have to worry about train schedules.  Stop at one of the many restaurants if your arrival is in Niolon for a well-deserved drink overlooking the coast.
  • Chemin des Bourgailles to the Calanque d’Erevine (Option 3) – Park above the Calanquee d’Erevine in the flatlands and hike down a quick 45 minutes if you are moving fast.  Return the same way you came.  But that’s cheating…

If I could get my sorry *** up earlier, I might actually be able to get some actual beach time naps into the mix before it gets dark!  Don’t be me, try to get an early start!

Option 1 – From Niolon (3 hrs R/T with shortcut – total about 5 miles):

Provence's Côte Bleue - Niolon - The Côte BleueParking:  If not taking the train or bus, park in the lot or along the road at the entrance of the village above Niolon.  If you happen to get there super early, you can try to grab one of the handful of available spots. Try in front of the train station, along the Chemin des Poseurs, or most ideally in the small parking lot at the trail entrance.

  1. From the top parking lot, make your way down the road (careful!) past the train station and the train overpass.  Continuing straight along the “Chemin des Poseurs” to the end of the street and a tiny parking lot.  This is the head of the trail.
  2. Follow the trail along the tracks that soon heads towards the first viaduct. There’s a tiny beach there for those interested (Calanque du Jonquier), otherwise continue on upwards into the chalky rocky hillside. Cross (and admire) the small stone bridge and continue always upwards.
  3. Once at the top, there is a fork in the road.  It leads either straight onto a dirt path that passes the ruins of a small bunk house, or onto a wide gravel fire and rescue road that goes upwards towards Fort Niolon.  Take the wide road. Take a quick wander around the fort to enjoy the amazing views, particularly spectacular from the outside front of the fort facing the ocean.  Really quite breathtaking, perfect for a zen moment.
  4. Continue right along the wide gravel path, ignoring the green arrows that scamper up the rocks and just take you back to the fort (I just had to look!). After about ½ mile or so you will reach a wide junction with a dirt path going left, a path going downward and back, or continuing straight on the same path towards a hairpin turn going towards the right. Here you have a choice, choose according to your preferences and time allowances
    • Ignore the junction altogether and continue further along the wide gravel path. Much easier and leisurely, but also longer by about 2 miles.
    • Take the narrow trail on your left that quickly forks with a steep rocky trail downwards (kind of looked like it was just from runoff to me). Quicker but a little hazardous because of the scree and steepness. You end up next to the ruins of what was a small stone building or tollbooth.
  5. Depending on your choice, if you took the steep route just skip this section. If you went the easy route, continue on the wide gravel road and travel another mile or two.   You will at this point come upon another obvious and large intersection that sits right above “Erverine Valley”.  You know you are in the right place when you spot the first electrical poles descending into the valley.  Follow those electrical poles and that 4×4 dirt and gravel road down.  Keep on going, it took me a total of an hour to get to the bottom at a leisurely pace.
  6. The electric poles stop where two houses reside – one new and one looking like it was never quite completed.  Pass those houses and continue down the path on your right, the path now not quite as wide and descending more deeply into the spectacular canyon.
  7. After a while you will see the ruins of what looks like a small stone house or tollbooth with a trail going up just beyond it on the left. This is where that shortcut would have dropped you off (or did).
  8. Continue onward, you are not there quite yet but the scenery gets more and more beautiful with a lovely sea breeze drifting between the rocky cliffs.
  9. Eventually you will see a tunnel carved out of the mountain on your right. Now you know you are really close.  You can either enter the tunnel to take the stairs (rather pointless and seemingly more dangerous), or just continue down the steep scree trail to the viaduct.
  10. Underneath the viaduct, a tiny piece of paradise. Calanque d’Ervines – yay!  Just be extremely careful getting there.  That final last bit of trail is steep, rocky, slippery, and questionably safe.

    For the return trip, you have a few choices…

  11. You can backtrack exactly to get back to your starting point, just allow enough time.
  12. Take the shortcut mentioned above by the small stone house/tollbooth ruins. I recommend the shortcut to save a bit of time, especially if it is getting late and dark.  The trail is a little safer going up than down, just prepare to be huffing and puffing on your way up (about 15-20 min).
  13. You final alternative is to take the trail that follows the coastline back to Niolon. The trail to Niolon is not always well indicated, but it is the most scenic option.  Be forewarned as there is some concerns around safety.  Locals say it is completely safe, but then they have been wandering these hills since they were but wee little folks.  Others I met said they would never do it again.  Apparently rock fall has blocked the tunnel above the Calanque du Riflard forcing you to ignore the trail on the left and instead diverge around the tunnel hauling yourself through an abyss in the boulders above the ocean… not my kind of fun. There are also narrow sections with sheer drop offs and no protection, steep sections with scree, and areas where the rocks are worn smooth and slippery as silk.  This section is especially beautiful but not always well-kept up, so do keep to the trail.  Be especially careful from the Rocher du Moulon to Calangue Jonquier (dangerous).   Should you choose this route, the narrow trail begins to the left of the viaduct along the cliff and continues onward.  Some hikers just free climb up the large boulder from the beach to catch the trail.  The path has eye hooks pounded into the cliff where there used to be a rope handrail (but no longer).  The views above the beach are truly beautiful views from there, but I decided to turn back soon after as I am chicken wee-wee and a little scared of heights.  Not ready to die just yet, too much still to explore…

If you missed it, make sure to check out “Provence’s Côte Bleue – Nothing less than sublime…” for lots of extra tips.  For the remaining itinerary options, just keep reading to my next blog post “Hiking Provence’s Côte Bleue – Options 2 and 3“.

Happy Travels,
-Girl Gone Gallic

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