It’s no wonder Cézanne, Matisse, Signac, Camoin, and even Braque sought out the stunning blues and greens of the calanque flanked 10-mile coastline in the Mediterranean that goes from Cassis to Marseille. The sparkling cerulean water, pure hues and unique rock formations, steep walls of limestone, dolomite and carbonate strata that rise up on the coast and line the inlets known as Les Calanques, make this not only a dream destination for artists, but also one of the finest rock climbing venues in France. To properly explore them, however, you either need a boat, or a good pair of hiking boots, some climbing equipment and an expert guide.
The great thing about this remote spot on the Provence shoreline is that it is also nearby multicultural historic Marseille and the gorgeous Cassis fishing port, Virginia Woolf’s “little paradise”. Therefore, the perfect combination of nature and culture can be planned into a once in a lifetime trip, where of course, the focus should definitely be on exploring the region’s stunning calanques.
Furthermore, you don’t even necessarily need a lot of rock climbing experience. The variety of walls and places to visit are such that you will find a perfect spot to start if you are a newcomer to the climbing scene, and also, an ideal place to challenge yourself if you already have some rocks under your belt.
Maxence Horvath, an IFMGA mountain guide whose specialty is climbing in Les Calanques, was just four years old when he started this sport. Why does he love it?
“I love rock climbing for several reasons. The first and main one is probably that it is, more than a sport, a lifestyle and guideline in my life. It helps me stay focused on what’s important for me, and guides me in my choices. The sport itself is an amazing challenge in terms of dealing with one’s own limits.”
He knows the region like the palm of his hand, and has crossed Les Calanques from Marseille to Cassis and back. Just like Woolf, he’s also found paradise on Earth in this breathtaking location. Good thing he’s willing to show us the way!
If you are relatively new to climbing and are looking for a simple day-hike close to Cassis, the Port Miou is the closest to the city, and Port Pin is a nearby calanque with a small pirate bay that you can visit in the day. From there, if you border the coast in the direction of Marseille, you will arrive at Pointe d’en Vau which leads to the real looker of the region, the stunning Calanque En-Vau, with slightly higher cliffs than Port Pin and according to Maxence “the most beautiful of Les Calanques”. This spot should definitely be on your list and you can book a guided trad climbing day with him to arrange the best itinerary for your level.
The most remote calanques and the most challenging climbing opportunities can be found midway between Cassis and Marseille. The Plateau de Castelvieil is a gorgeous and remote calanque following En-Vau that is ideal for those who prefer exploring nature sans people. Then, further up is the Calanque de Devenson, one of the most challenging in the region with 6a and 6b climbing ops. It is also a great spot for multi-pitch climbing, along with Concave, another remote calanque with stunning views. And, if you want to make it extra special, you can try this tour with an overnight on a portaledge in the middle of the wilderness!
Going in the direction of Cassis to Marseille, next up is the gorgeous Morgiou calanque where some fishermen still live and practice ancestral fishing rites. Plage Sauvage is a little beach in the area, great for a dip in the emerald green sea. Then, moving further up, after passing an old fort, is the Sormiou calanque with beautiful Alep pines all around and rocking boats in the harbor. These calanques both have nearby restaurants and are also more frequented by adventurers and tourists alike. Check out this guided 1-day climb above the sea in Morgiou, and this one in Sormiou!
Continuing up towards Marseille, Les Goudes is another spot that Maxence recommends for its stunning sights and also for its great sports climbing opportunities. Although Les Calanques is known as a trad climbing destination, sports climbing, which means bolts are already placed in the rocks you will explore, is also possible in some spots. Apart from Les Goudes, you will find good sports climbing opportunities in Buoux which is in the region close to Marseille but further inland, not on the coast.
Another great place to visit in the region, a bit further away from the coast, is Sainte-Victoire near Aix en Provence. In the words of Maxence: “A lot of foreigners come to Aix to visit, as it is a very touristic and nice place, and the mountain next to it has amazing potential for single pitch or multi-pitch, trad or sport.” Check out the climbing day trip he offers to this breathtaking spot.
When is the best time of the year to visit Les Calanques? Year-round! The winter, however, is great for rock climbing as it is not too cold, and bearable under the rays of the gleaming sun.
Rock climbing is a fantastic sport: “The top benefits are: a brand new point of view on nature, which will give you tons of ideas for new trips. You will also feel much better in your body, as it is a very complete sport”, says Maxence.
There are few places in the world like Les Calanques to try this exhilarating activity. Whether for a day excursion, or a week-long climbing adventure, it is well worth booking a tour to experience the stunning views as seen from the cliffs of Les Calanques.
We have a great range of guides that offer fantastic rock climbing trips in Les Calanques. Make sure to check them out and start planning your adventure today!
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