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Les Calanques de Marseilles
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Jed Augustine
(jaugusti) - F

Locale: Appalachians/Rockies
Les Calanques de Marseilles on 02/02/2009 18:03:26 MST Print View

This is a trip I took to the Calanques of Marseilles with three buddies back at the end of November. I posted about thoughts concerning risk management and group dynamics immediately after the trip. Instead of rehashing those topics, I'll just leave the option for you to read the thread here if those topics interest you. I hope you enjoy the report!


Map of the area. Bottom right is France. The "A" marks Marseille. Top right is a rough trail map; our maps were not so great (guidebooks with no contour lines and few landmarks) so at times we just decided to read the land, not the map. The red line is the Day 1 trail, the blue line is the Day 2 trail. The background picture is Marseilles and the surrounding area. If you make a square out of the two coasts, the top of the picture, and the right side, the Calanques would be pretty much the whole bottom part of the square. Access is by public transit! One standard sized bus takes you most of the way there, to what is pretty much the outer edge of contiguous civilization (This is the left end of the blue line, which is Day 2's hike). After that it's all coastline and wilderness on a mini bus until a tiny fishing village named Callelongue (the beginning/end of Day 1's hike, the red line), which is a quiet town with just a heck of a lot of character. If Dustin Hoffman were a town, he just might be this one. Maybe Jeffery Rush.


Me on the TGV waiting to leave Paris. It is kind of disturbing how quickly piracy can take root. This train is part of a service called iDNight that goes all the way to Biarritz in the southeast, Perpignan in the south, or Nice in the east over night. This was taken around midnight. The train's slogan is "iDNight, le train qui bouge la nuit" (iDNight, the train that moves the night!). It's basically a night club on wheels. Or atleast a part of it is. Y'all can bouge all y'all want, I'm gonna sleep. That was easier said than done.


Seven hours later, the sun rises. High speeds trains make for aesthetically blurred pictures. Ya know the saying, "Red sky at morning, sailors take warning. Red sky at night, sailor's delight"? Keep that in mind.

dawn train

A slightly clearer photo.


This sunrise was incredibly dynamic, starting as a sort of neon blood red and getting gradually more subtle as the dawn came. As the splendor of the sky petered out, the beauty of the land grew more and more as we approached Marseilles.


Me at the terminus of bus #1, waiting for bus #2 to come. Marseilles in the background.


Same scenery, slightly to the left, sans moi.

Strike a pose

Alan and Shaji and parts of Callelongue 'twixt the two. Shaji's action hero pose pretty much established the mood for the day.


Same scenery, sans people. This gives a good overview of the geography and topography, and vegetation of the area. Geologically, it is just a wonderful area. This from Wikipedia: "Calanques are actually remains of ancient river mouths formed mostly during Tertiary. Later, during glaciations, as glaciers swept by, they further deepened those valleys which would eventually (at the end of the last glaciation) be invaded with sea and become calanques. Their composition can greatly vary depending on their location: The Marseilles calanques are formed from tertiary limestone."


LÎle de Maire (Mayor Island). No explanation for the name; apparently its always been uninhabited, except briefly for mineral exploration. Its less than a kilometer long, so not much to explore. I love this and the other Islands. They're like the spiny spines of lizards popping out of the ocean.


You can see the steepness of the cliffs here; nearly vertical. The angle of my back is about the same as that of the cliff. Can you name 3 BPL forum favorites in this picture?


Tromping down the trail. What a romp! Alan decides to thumb a ride.


Some of the hearty vegetation of the Calanques. The limestone here is pretty typical of of the rock formations there. Coming from the States, where my experience with big, open rocky areas was mostly granite and shale, I was expecting each of the wrinkles in the rock to be at least loose; no dice. This stuff is extraordinarily hard.


Love leaves at our lunch stop.


Alan walking a geologically convenient cut in the rock. Did I mention it was windy? Boy howdy, it was. We were dealing with a constant 25 mph blast with gusts of 35 mph.


A nice example of what coast walking is like here and a good showcase of the kind of vegetation growing; all low-lying, shrubby stuff. The trails are all rocky, no smooth dirt trails here! This may be because the winds are so high that they carry all of the small stuff away.


I couldn't find a name for this, but it speaks for itself. There is an earthen mound about 30 feet behind the photographer about 10 feet high. We were standing on it admiring the sea when a particularly strong gust of wind came along and carried my glasses off of my face . A true "Oh #*@&!" moment. We searched, fearing they had blown into the sea. Luckily they were found, about 5 feet from the murky deep. Yikes!


Morgan on the edge of a 50 foot cliff next to la Calanque de Podesta. The water was a beautiful aquamarine not captured in the photo (somewhat visible in the photo below). From here the trail would go from winding along flat coastline to a steep incline--I want to say 30% at times-- up a drainage. It may have just seemed steeper due to the extremely loose limestone scree which made walking a slippy slidy affair. Anyone have any suggestions for the best way to walk up this stuff? It is, of course, a joy to run down, and made our trip back much faster and so invigorating that we forgot the earlier frustration.


Another photo of le Calanque de Podesta from up the drainage. There are three islands out there: the small mound on the left is "Le Grand Congloué," the spiky one is "L'Île de Riou," and the low-lying island in front of it is l'Île Calsereigne ou Plane." Despite its relatively small size, Le Grand Congloué has seen the most action of any of these islands, having claimed two 2nd or 1st century B.C. ships and, it is claimed, the wreckage of the P-38 plane of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of the beloved, "The Little Prince" ( in French ).


The plants got bigger and more varied as we move up the drainage. You can kind of get a sense of the incline here by looking at Shaji, who is the figure lower down the trail, reclining on his back.


Alan holding a sprig of rosemary. When the winds died down for a moment, the air was extremely fragrant. Apparently sage, juniper, and myrtle grow abundantly. Corsica, which is found down south in the Mediterranean Ocean, shares much of the Calanques' geology and climate, and is called "the Scented Isle". I guess this is the scented coast!


The intensity of the sea. Honestly I'm a little lost as to what these islands are, but they may be l'Île de Riou in back and l'Île de Jarre (left) and l'Île de Jarron (right) in front. L'île de Jarre is where the ship the Grand Saint Antoine was quarantined, unfortunately only after bringing the plague to Marseilles in 1720, where it would persist for 3 years. The ship now lies at the bottom of the sea next to the island, where it was rediscovered in 1978 by divers. I tell ya, Wikipedia sure has its uses!


A look up the drainage. I believe those peaks are a part of the Massif Marseilleveyre. A climber's paradise, I tells ya. Alan can be seen sitting towards the middle of the photo.


A cave that Morgan and I found.


Peering inside the cave.


Action shot! Alan takes a picture of me on my way up the drainage. You can see the quality of the, er, trail(?). There must be lots of little rock slides in here. Does anyone have any idea what that plant with the red berry looking things is?


This is looking up to the cave we found earlier. Our direction of travel was sort of up past the cave with a vector towards the upper left corner of the photo. We finally made it up the drainage and to a pass, where the wind was frighteningly fierce. We briefly took in the view, got frightened and chilled as our sweat rapidly cooled after the hard uphill, and took off down the mountain.I got to teach scree running, which my friends did not believe was possible. Simply put, we enjoyed a long good scree run down the mountain, which quickly raised everyone's spirits. This photo is taken from an extraordinary valley, nearly a canyon, sheltered from the elements by the steeply sloping geography on either side. The light was breathtaking as the sun set through the canyon, where we could see trees twisting and turning as they attempted to pry a living from the dense rock. Concave half caves could be seen in the steep rock walls. As we descended, the forest grew thicker and more fragrant around us. The air warmed as the wind died. We arrived at a spot clear of undergrowth, the ground springy like it can often be under thick, tall pines. We sat and enjoyed the silence, so strange after the 35 mph howl of Mediterranean wind we'd sat in just 30 minutes prior. The valley opened up and the forest slowly thinned as we drew nearer the sea and returned to the already trodden trail.


This is Alan standing next to one of the mega-succulents found in this area near Marseilleveyre, an inlet, I suppose a calanque, with one or two buildings that looked a lot like crab shacks. Note the colorful flowers all around.


Shaji wields his bamboo half-staff as we head back into the sunset. He found this stick when we first hit the trail. He carried it the next day. He brought it back to Paris. For all I know, he took it back to the states. As far as I can tell, it served no purpose. God love 'im!


Sunset over the Mediterranean.


The last pink as the sunset passes in Callelongue.

Conquered wall

The following day, having taken the first bus to its terminus, we decide to head into the Massif de Marseilleveyre instead of waiting for the second bus to Callelongue. We'd just climbed this wall and, being beginner climbers, it was a glorious thing.


Unfortunately not a good picture, but just to show how there really are forests here!


Shaji reposes with his trusty half-staff with the summit of Marseilleveyre in the background (432 m / 1296 ft). This was, unfortunately, about an hour before sunset.


Unobstructed view of Mount Marseilleveyre. We ended up on the opposite flank as the sun was setting, climbing down class 3.5ish sections of trail.


Hiking along. Our destination is to the top right. We were going fast, trying to figure out the fastest, safest way back. The forward scouting party came back reporting that going over and down the summit would bring us back to town faster.


Not sure what is conveyed in this expression! My rising blood pressure?


Another view of l'Île de Riou, and l'Île Calsereigne ou Plane out in the ocean. Also note the trails in the valley in the foreground of the picture, and the cave/concave weathering on the middle right of the picture.


Sunset view of Marseilles from Mount Marseilleveyre.


Alan next to the cross at the summit.


The "couche de soleil" begins.


Is it stupid to be on a summit at sunset in an unfamiliar area known for tough scrambles? Maybe. Was it gorgeous? Absolutely!

Edited by jaugusti on 02/02/2009 18:27:49 MST.

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: Les Calanques de Marseilles on 02/09/2009 17:30:06 MST Print View

Thanks for sharing photos from a very non-typical, but beautiful location with us. It looked like great day hiking. Do they allow camping there?

Jed Augustine
(jaugusti) - F

Locale: Appalachians/Rockies
Re: Re: Les Calanques de Marseilles on 02/10/2009 06:54:12 MST Print View


The French guidebook I have for the area says that bivouacking is allowed, but not camping. There must be some distinction for the French, though I don't understand it! If someone could explain that I'd much appreciate it.

Some other general recommendations offered by the book include:

Access to the area is forbidden between the first of July and the 2nd weekend in Semptember, and when the wind is above 40 km/h.

Bring lots of water, as there are no sources in the area

Maps for the area in the IGN series "Plein-Air", Les Calanques, at 1:15000.

No fires.