Cassis (pronounced “Ca – see”) is a small port town on the western edge of Côte d’Azur, about an hour 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”).
This tiny town offers much to explore in its charming alley-type streets lined with very French, pastel, shuttered two-story buildings and even more in the natural beauty of Cap Canaille, one of the highest maritime bluffs in Europe and the highest in France, and Les Calanques, a series of narrow, steep-walled inlets with clear aquamarine waters.
There is only one bus from the station in Cassis that runs about once an hour, so 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.
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, if not more.
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
Cassis holds a market every Friday morning, 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.
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. Check out our post on Cap Canaille for hiking specific information.