Cassis (pronounced “Ca – see”) is a small port town on the western edge of Côte d’Azur, about a 30 minute drive or train ride from Marseille. If you’re trying to decide where to rank Cassis on your list of places to visit on your next trip to France, consider the words of Frederic Mistral, Nobel Prize laureate, ” Qu’a vist Paris, se noun a vist Cassis, pou dire: n’ai rèn vist” (“He who has seen Paris and who hasn’t seen Cassis can say: I have seen nothing”). A weekend in Cassis, France means wandering down charming streets lined with pastel-colored buildings, taking a dip in the warm Mediterranean Sea, and dining al fresco with a view of colorful pointu boats in the harbor.
It’s easiest to get to Cassis via Marseille. The train from the Gare de Saint-Charles takes about 20 minutes and costs about €6.
Once you reach the Cassis train station, there is only one bus that runs about once an hour between the station and the town. When we hopped off the train and realized the next bus didn’t come for another 30 minutes, we decided to make the downhill walk into town. We were rewarded with sweeping views of vineyards and mountains in the distance. If you luck out with better timing, Casino is the main stop in Cassis.
A walk through Cassis
The town centers around the quai, where fishermen bring in fresh catches to sell each morning. At the restaurants and cafes lining the port, you’re indulged with beautiful views of the port, lined with colorful pointu boats. Up above, you can see the Château de Cassis perched atop a cliff, a fortress turned 5-star hotel. And towering over it all is the grand Cap Canaille.
We got to brush up on our “Bonjours” and “Mercis” as many of the locals do not speak English. It was refreshing to feel like a foreigner in a foreign country, and that you were visiting their town, and not catering to tourists.
The pastry shop Sucr’E Délices on Rue Alexandre Gervais may have converted me from a pain au chocolat obsession to a pain au raisin one. Thankfully Puyricard, an artisan chocolatier from Provence, filled my chocolate void.
There is a pétanque court (similar to bocce ball, if you’re more familiar with that) also by the quai, where we watched a few games while eating ice cream. We found the gelato horrendously overpriced (€4.50 for two scoops, and this isn’t Italy), so we bought a box of Magnum bars for a fourth of the cost, which we enjoyed just as much.
We spent some time at both of the two main beaches in town. Plage du Bestouan is a few minutes walk northwest of the port. It was surprisingly comfortable for a rock beach (and delicious, if you ask our mini man, who couldn’t keep the comfortable, hopefully clean rocks out of his mouth). Though it’s not a nudist beach, it is France, so keep that in mind. Plage de la Grand Mer has a nice sand strip to relax on, just a few minutes walk southeast of the port.
A walk through the market
During a weekend in Cassis, France, you’ll get to catch the Friday morning market, which is surprisingly good for a small town. It’s incredibly picturesque in the morning light as you see rows of cheese, meats and olives, stacks of bread, and flowers packed all around the fountain. One vendor had Christmas color wheels of cheese, one mixed with basil, and the other tomato. The basil cheese was some of the tastiest cheese we’ve ever had! This market is generous in the samples they offer, so before breakfast we’d already tried a variety of cheeses, sausages and biscuits.
We stopped here on our way to hike Les Calanques. Because most food is sold by the kilogram (even the bread!), it made it easy to buy just enough for two sandwiches to pack with us on the trip.
A walk to the west: hiking Les Calanques
We’re always looking for a good hike, and the two main hikes out of Cassis did not disappoint. Heading to the west, you can hike to the first three Les Calanques: Port-Miou, Port Pin, and En-Vau. See more information about hiking Les Calanques in our post here.
If you’re not feeling up for the hike, or missed the cut off in the busy summer times, there are a number of companies that offer boat rides. Prices hover around €20. You can visit the first three in a quick 45 minute trip, or go as far as all nine. While on the hike, we saw the boats rumble up to the edge of the calanque, idle for about a minute as the boat turned, and then head back out. If you prefer to have more time to savor the view, hiking or kayaking are better options. Check out our post on Les Calanques for hiking specific information.
A walk to the east: hiking Cap Canaille
If you want to conquer the highest sea cliffs in France, then hiking Cap Canaille is a must do. We had amazing views of the town, Les Calanques, and pure ocean and sky as far as the eye could see.