A few years ago I spent time on the Côte d’Azur and discovered some of the best photo locations were located around Cassis, where I was staying. I had a week filled with scenic walks, hiking, drives along the Mediterranean coast, and an excursion to a famous prison off Marseille. This seaside town is an excellent choice to consider staying especially if you’re looking for lots of photographic opportunities and some outdoor activity.
Table of contents
- Photo Locations Around Cassis
- Exploring And Photographing Cassis
- 1. Walk The Sentier du Petit Prince
- 2. Walk To The Calanques
- 3. Cruise The Calanques By Boat
- 4. Drive La Route des Crêtes (Cassis-La Ciotat)
- 5. Sail The Mediterranean Sea To Château d’If
- 6. Walk To Pointe des Lombards
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Photo Locations Around Cassis
In the past, I had only visited Cassis for part of a day—-to take a boat ride in the Calanques, or to have lunch overlooking the harbour. Those visits were too short and it was a much nicer experience staying in Cassis for a week. I had a relaxing, unhurried time, and it gave me the opportunity to really see the town and explore the surrounding area where I was able to take some of the best photos during my trip.
Exploring And Photographing Cassis
If you’re in the fishing village of Cassis for a week, you’ll no doubt take some time exploring the town and especially the harbour. Visiting the centre of Cassis on market day will be especially rewarding for photographers (and shoppers looking for knick-knacks and antiques).
When I was there one Sunday the“vide-greniers” (“empty attic”—like garage sales) were set up in the main square and there was a regional boules competition by the harbour. I enjoyed photographing the event, views of the harbour, and shops along the cobblestone streets.
The most impressive photographs, however, were from the walks, drives, and cruises I took. Do you want great photos from the south of France? Here are 6 locations near Cassis that I highly recommend:
1. Walk The Sentier du Petit Prince
One of the first walks I took was the Sentier du Petit-Prince. This walk is dedicated to author and aviator, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who wrote the book, “The Little Prince”. On July 31, 1944 after taking off on his ninth reconnaissance mission from Corsica, Saint-Exupery disappeared between Cassis and Marseille in the Frioul archipelago. In 1998 his bracelet and a piece of fabric from his flight suit were found and in 2000 remnants of his plane were recovered; however, his body has never been located.
Signposts Along The Way
- A signpost tells about “the most beautiful and the saddest landscape in the world” and that this was the location of “sa marche vers Dieu” (“his walk towards God”). Photographers will love this easy, scenic route which takes you from the centre of Cassis to Presquile (the Port-Miou peninsula). and it only takes about 2 hours (return).
- There are additional signposts along the way, explaining how the Calanques were formed over 200 million years ago and how limestone was mined from the Solvay quarry up until 1981. Calanques are narrow inlets, like fjords, and the limestone walls rise high above the Mediterranean.
- Another signpost shows pictures of “rather discreet animals” you might see along your walk, including “Le Couleuvre de Montpellier”, the Montpellier snake which is the largest in France. It can exceed 2 meters in length and fortunately, I did not see any. They say it is just “impressive but not dangerous” but I don’t care. I did not want to meet up with one!
Along the route you will pass Port-Miou, which is one of the first stops (Calanque de Port-Miou) when you hike the 3 Calanques.
2. Walk To The Calanques
As I wrote in a previous post, I spent almost a full day hiking the 3 Calanques (approx 15 kilometres over 7 hours) which are located very close to Cassis. I actually chose Cassis as my base because I wanted to hike in Le Parc National des Calanques. It was one of the best outdoor activities I’ve ever done in France….and also one of the most difficult, certainly when heading towards the last Calanque, Calanque d’En Vau. Parts of the route are very steep, so you have to be prepared with the right clothing and footwear and lots of water and food.
If you want to do some major photography and you are physically up to it, definitely hike the Calanques. The scenery is breathtaking and you just cannot get such great views from a boat, down below. Check out this post: Hiking The Three Calanques: Calanque de Port Miou, Calanque de Port Pin, and Calanque d’En Vau.
3. Cruise The Calanques By Boat
One of the most popular activities for visitors to Cassis is to take a boat tour to see the Calanques. I would certainly recommend this if you are unable to hike the Calanques. The boat approaches the cliffs but is not allowed to get near the beaches. Many people hope that the tour boat can just “drop them off” at a beach; however this isn’t possible. In fact, the only way to hang out at one of the beaches is to hike to the Calanques or rent your own boat and anchor it nearby.
- When I went with a friend years ago, we did the 1-hour tour and to be honest, I liked it more than my friend did. The Calanques kind of looked alike after a while, certainly from sea level. Up top; however, is a different story. The views change constantly.
Boat Excursions To See The Calanques: The boat excursions visit 3, 5, 8, or 9 calanques and vary in length from 45 minutes to 2 hours. In 2019, the cost ranged from 16 € to 28 €.
4. Drive La Route des Crêtes (Cassis-La Ciotat)
A picturesque drive is from Cassis to La Ciotat on the Route des Cretes (Crests road) which is high above Cassis to the east. The journey was much nicer than the final destination. When I got to La Ciotat, I just saw an ugly harbour so I turned around and went back to Cassis. I know I didn’t give La Ciotat a chance and will have to go back.
This is a spectacular drive that is only about 15 kilometres and could take you 30 minutes but you’ll need much longer because you’ll want to keep stopping. The drive is along the coast (take the D141) and it winds a bit but it’s not crazy. You’ll be driving to the edge of Cap Canaille, the highest sea cliff in France—394 meters above the Mediterranean Sea.
- The panoramic views of the Mediterranean are worth a stop and just be careful as the cliffs don’t always have railings. There are actually a number of stops with places to park. You’ll easily see Cassis and many places along the coast.
- If you’re really up to it, consider hiking in the area or biking along this route. Just be forewarned that it can be challenging partly due to the incline, but also because of the wind.
You can walk the Route des Crêtes. It will follow the same route (D141) as driving; however, it will be off road, steep, and at times, rocky. In addition, while it is only a distance of 12 kilometres, it will take at least 3 hours (one way). I’d suggest driving and then walking on one of the trails. [See the FAQ below for information about when to go].
5. Sail The Mediterranean Sea To Château d’If
Château d’If is a former prison that was made famous in the novels by Alexander Dumas, such as “The Man In The Iron Mask” and “The Count Of Monte Christo”. As I wrote in this post, Château d’If the equivalent to Alcatraz in the United States, but the prison cells here were more like dungeons.
- The prison was built in the 1500s and forget about the comforts of home. It’s all concrete with no central heating. Not a place to be imprisoned. It had its share of famous prisoners and there is a comprehensive display describing the prison’s history.
- I’d definitely recommend an excursion to Château d’If because it is so close to Cassis. Besides the visit to the prison, the boat ride over from Marseille is very scenic and enjoyable. You’ll get great views of Marseille and better close-ups of Château d’If.
I bought my ticket when I arrived; however, in high season, you might consider booking your boat ride and entrance to the prison in advance. Driving to Marseille from Cassis takes about 35 minutes and there are tolls. [See the FAQ below about getting to and parking in Marseille].
Ticket Prices: There are two separate tickets when you visit Château d’If. The boat ride is about 11 € return and the château entrance fee is about 8 €.
6. Walk To Pointe des Lombards
I was intrigued to visit the 13th century fortress, Château de Cassis which is located east of the harbour high on a hill. It was taken over by the Lords of Baux (as in Les Baux) and through the centuries it has changed hands and has been built up and also destroyed.
Today the property is privately owned and you cannot visit the Château which is now a hotel. But the route to the Château provides lovely views of Cassis along the way and at the end. The final destination is Pointe des Lombards. It takes about 30 minutes one way.
How to get to Pointe des Lombards: start at the harbour, on the east side and take Quai des Baux, which is the promenade. Along the way you’ll see signs that say, “Traverse du Château”. The road turns into rue Marcel Barthélémy. Turn right on rue Gambetta, left onto Place Montmorin, and then follow Promenade des Lomards all the way to the Pointe.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
I took the train from Lyon to Marseille and picked up my leased car. From there I drove to Cassis. It was only a 50 minute drive southeast. Hopefully your hotel or home has free parking because parking is not easy to find in the centre of Cassis.
Try to drive the Route des Crêtes from Cassis to La Ciotat on the D141 in the afternoon. The sun will be behind you the cliffs will be lit up by the sun. You’ll get much better photographs. The sun won’t be in your face.
The boats leave from Marseille’s Vieux Port, so you likely want to park nearby. There is a large, underground parking lot called Marseille Vieux Port MuCEM, right by the Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean (MuCEM).
If you want to visit the best photo locations around Cassis consider staying in this village, especially If you’re looking to spend a week on the French Riviera. There are many easy paths to take or you can hike the more challenging Calanques. Add in boat rides from Cassis or Marseille and drives along the Route des Crêtes and you’ll encounter many panoramic lookouts and opportunities to take superb photos.
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