The Beautiful Calanques of the Côte Bleue
The Calanques of the Côte Bleue, those fjord-like inlets carved into bright white limestone, are part of the lesser known stretch of coastline located west of Marseille in the protected “Parc Régional Marin de la Côte Bleue”. The region is called the “Côte Bleue” (Blue Coast) in reference to its tantalizing deep turquoise blue waters, and is very popular with snorkelers and divers.
This is off the beaten track at its best! These hidden beaches are mostly unknown to tourists… This is where you will find the locals on any given sunny afternoon. Tiny quaint fisherman’s villages and pleasant petite ports, I love how authentic the area feels. Time really has stood still here…
The few articles found often cite the Côte Bleue as less desirable than its counterparts east of Marseille (Cassis and beyond). Perhaps they have never actually visited? They just don’t want to share their secret? Or the locals scared them off???
You can decide for yourself, but in mind opinion the Côte Bleue is nothing less than sublime…
Short on Time?
If you are vacationing in Marseille and just want a quick peek at the Côte Bleue, then hop on the train and get off for lunch with a view at Auberge du Mérou or La Pergola (make sure to reserve a table). You can easily hike over to the Calanque de la Vesse by taking the steps on the left towards Marseille that link it to Niolon. Train direct from L’Estaque in 20 minutes, or allow about 30 minutes from Marseille-Saint-Charles with a transfer in Miramas.
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 enjoying the sunshine… Jealous aren’t you???
Much of the 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.
Many of these Calanques are accessible only by foot or by boat, but I just don’t happen to have a boat in my tiny apartment! If you do, by all means explore by boat. Otherwise, please…
DO NOT hike in the rain, during a Mistral, under the hot sun, or on high fire risk days.
DO check that the trail is not closed due to fire risk (www.bouches-du-rhone.gouv.fr)
DO wear proper hiking gear, and sunscreen plus a sun hat.
DO bring lots of water and snacks to keep your energy up.
DO be careful as the rocks are so worn they are slippery, and there are many sheer drop offs.
So many choices…
- Car – This area isn’t very car friendly, unless of course you like seriously windy narrow roads with steep drop offs. Your best bet is to leave your car at the outskirts of the village as parking is regulated, and that may actually be your only option depending on the time of year. If you do drive, take “Chemin de Méjean” as far as you can towards “Calanque du Grand Méjean” and use your creativity to find a parking spot. There’s a small parking lot along the train tracks above Petit Méjean, so you can try plugging “101 Chemin du Méjean, 13820 Ensuès-la-Redonne” into your GPS (not tested).
- Train – You can reach the “La Redonne-Ensuès” Station and the “Niolon” Station by TER, the local regional train. They call this route the “Train de la Côte Bleue”, but it’s just the same train as the regular TER with a few more stops. Check the schedules carefully as not all trains stop everywhere, and there are few trains in the off-season. The train is most scenic from L’Estaque to La Redonne (15 minute ride), but after that it loses much of its charm. There are no additional stations between Niolon and La Redonne. Tickets are purchased on board from the SNCF employee, but often it’s such a quick trip that often you will not have time.
- Both Car and Train (my favorite option) – Leave your car at either La Redonne or Niolon, and hop the train in the opposite direction for just one stop. Hike leisurely back, knowing your car is safely waiting for you at whatever time you do arrive.
- Bus – “Les Bus de la Côte Bleue” – from Ensués/La Redonne to Grand Méjean (Ligne C6), from l’Estaque to Niolon (Ligne C7) from Marseille to Ensués (Ligne C8). Purchase tickets onboard for less than 1 euro each, check schedules on www.lepilote.com.
- Boat – Even if you don’t have a boat handy, why not hire one?!!! There are many options with departures out of Niolon, Carry-le-Rouet, and Marseille. With skipper, or pilot your own.
- Kayak – For those sporty types. Why not consider the 17km kayak itinerary from Carry-le-Rouet to Niolon instead of hiking? Allow a full day if you want to really enjoy the area.
Detailed pictorial directions are coming up in my next blog. Until then, here’s a sneak peek for all you couch surfers to tantalize you with the wonders awaiting you…
Don’t wander off too far – pictorial itineraries “Hiking Provence’s Côte Bleue” perfect for those with a directional disability (like me) including Option 1 followed by Option 2 and 3 (and a cheat) are coming up next!
-Girl Gone Gallic