July 3rd, 2015
No visit to the maritime port of Marseille would be complete without getting out onto the very water that has been the livelihood of the ancient city since the Greeks settled there in 600 BC; and the perfect destination for your water excursion would be the vertiginous cliffs and secluded beaches that make up the Calanques National Park, the stretch of fjord-like coastline that lies just east of Marseille.
The sheer, sometimes treacherous trek down to reach some of the narrow, steep walled inlets carved in limestone that plunge down into the Mediterranean can be intimidating and quite hazardous, especially in the hot temperatures, for the less experienced and surefooted hiker, making the accessibility by boat much easier and relaxing for the majority of visitors to the area. Though Dan and I are always up for a good scenic hiking challenge, the soaring temperatures in July coupled with the fact that we would have to lug gallons of water with us to prevent dehydration on the trail easily steered us toward the more leisurely approach.
To admire the geological wonders of the Calanques, meaning creek or rocky inlet, head down to the waterfront of Marseille’s bustling Vieux Port and hop on one of the circular sightseeing boats operated by Croiseries Marseille Calanques. There are several options for tours ranging from the longer Grand Circuit to the shorter Petit Circuit to cruise/swimming combination excursions. Tickets can be bought at the booth found at the corner of Quai du Port and Quai de Belges in front of the bar La Samaritaine.
We opted for the Grand Circuit 3 hour tour since we had the whole afternoon stretching ahead of us with no other plans. The propulsion hybrid vessel Helios that would ferry us to 5 of the calanques: Sormiou, Morgiou, Sugiton, En Vau, Port-Pin, and Port Miou, as well as passing by the Frioul Islands and Marseille’s answer to Alcatraz, the Chateau d’If, had plenty of seating and a snack bar so we settled into our own spacious table up near the bow of the boat just tucked away from the wind.
After the boat left the port and sailed out into the open water, passengers began to gather out on the front deck, cameras and sunscreen in hand to admire the passing landscape and catch a few rays of sun. The water had grown a bit rougher than earlier in the day so I was slightly boat sick as we rolled atop the sun dappled azure blue waters so if you are prone to motion sickness, I would recommend taking the earlier boat for a more pleasurable cruise! The stunning scenery and fresh air quickly provided a welcome distraction though and we happily spent the next few hours admiring the beauty of the Calanques.