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In Cézanne's Footsteps: Les Calanques and Aix en Provence 1

Walking in Cézanne’s Footsteps: Les Calanques and Aix en Provence

Overview

Explore the Calanques National Park where gleaming white limestone cliffs form a stark contrast with the deep blue sky and the turquoise Mediterranean Sea. The Calanques coastline offers a unique landscape of beautiful fjords and dramatic cliffs, small ports and wonderful panoramic viewpoints. The 10-mile stretch of coast between Cassis and the city of Marseille features France’s highest sea cliffs and a series of calanques: fjord-like inlets carved into the white limestone, accessible only by boat or on foot. You finish in style in Aix en Provence, atop the narrow spine of the Sainte Victoire mountain, immortalized in the paintings of Cézanne, from where an uncomparable panorama is unveiled.

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Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Marseille / Optional Trip to Frioul Islands

Arrive in Marseille. The ferry takes you to Chateau d’If island from the picturesque port, famous for the novel The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (30 min crossing – ticket not included). Another 15 mn ferry crossing takes you to the Frioul Islands, a wilderness oasis just 4 km off Marseille’s coast. Rare plants are sprinkled around the sun-bleached walking paths with Marseille’s great viewpoints and swimming opportunities along the way. Return by ferry to the Old Port. Dinner on your own and overnight in Marseille. 

Day 2: The Calanques of Cassis | 12 km

A 30-min private taxi transfer (included) takes you to the Route de la Gineste, from where you will start your walk to the Col de la Gardiole pass, high above the Calanques of Cassis. You’re now among garrigue vegetation of shrubs and aromatic herbs, their perfume concentrated by the penetrating Mediterranean sun. Soon you find a shaded and deeply encased valley that descends in tight serpentine trails towards the sea, and here you reach the Calanque of En Vau. A short but steep climb follows this through the jagged limestone to reach the Calanque of Port Pin, a narrow finger-of-an-inlet complete with a sandy beach, the perfect stop for your secluded picnic. The third Calanque is Port Miou, over a kilometre long but ultra-thin, lined on both sides by picturesque sailboats sheltered in this quiet cove. You walk straight into the centre of Cassis, a small village set on the Mediterranean, just a handful of narrow streets, and restaurants huddled tightly around its port. Overnight in Cassis.

Day 3: High Cliffs of Cap Canaille | 12 km

You begin your walk in Cassis, on a small country lane surrounded by vines. Then via a wide track, you climb towards Cap Canaille. At just under 400m Cap Canaille is the highest sea cliff in France and one of the highest in Europe. Facing the vast expanse of the Bay of Cassis and the Mediterranean Sea is a memory you will never forget. From here, the walking path follows the cliff edge (without getting too close!) as you make your way along the impressive coastline. Your walk leads into the adjacent town of La Ciotat, with its stunning port, naval construction site, and sandy beaches (and you’ve earned a swim!). Then, take a taxi in La Ciotat for a transfer back to Cassis (easy to find in the centre). The transfer is not included, around 30-35 EUR per car (make sure to have cash with you).  

Day 4: Aix en Provence (Rest Day)

Market every morning at the “town hall” square, and BIG market on Saturday morning in Aix en Provence. It’s a free day of leisure with a morning stroll around Cassis. In the early afternoon, you are transferred to the beautiful city of Aix-en-Provence. Aix is a lively university town and unapologetically bourgeois: regal stone fountains line the Cours Mirabeau, behind which 17th and 18th-century mansions now house chic shops and banks. A labyrinth of winding streets in the centre of town unveils a wealth of historic buildings and squares.

Day 5: In Cézanne’s Footsteps: Sainte Victoire Mountain | 10 km

A short private taxi transfer (25 min, included) takes you to the start of your walk at the imposing foot of the Sainte Victoire mountain. It’s here that the impressionist painter Cézanne tirelessly painted landscapes, immortalizing the mountain ahead. A jagged spine soars to the 1000m summit, and that is your day’s goal. Though it may look imposing, the climb is steep, but there is no scrambling involved. On a clear day from the summit, the snow-peaked Alps are visible to the north and the Mediterranean to the south. Once at the top, you descend direction south to the village of Vauvenargues, where Pablo Picasso found his eternal rest. A local bus will take you back to Aix en Provence for the last overnight (not included, 20 min, tickets 2-3 EUR pp). 

Day 6: Departure

The tour ends after breakfast.

What to Expect

Accommodation

You will be staying in welcoming 2 and 3-star hotels in Marseilles, Cassis and Aix en Provence. We have carefully hand-picked all places and regularly monitor their quality. We have tried to choose accommodations that offer friendly service, clean and comfortable rooms and local flavour. Hotel upgrade is also possible with a supplement.

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Hotel Carre Vieux (Marseille), Hotel Le Cassiden (Cassis), Hotel Le Caravelle (Aix en Provence)

Hotels are subject to availability. In case a particular hotel is fully booked for your desired dates, we will replace it with a hotel of equal value and quality level. We will provide exact accommodation details to you upon booking confirmation. Supplements are possible during the Grand Prix of Castelet (end of June) and the Cassis marathon mid October.

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Hotel Oceania (Marseille), Hotel La Rade (Cassis), Hotel De France (Aix en Provence)

Hotels are subject to availability. In case a particular hotel is fully booked for your desired dates, we will replace it with a hotel of equal value and quality level. We will provide exact accommodation details to you upon booking confirmation. Supplements are possible during the Grand Prix of Castelet (end of June) and the Cassis marathon mid October.

Meals

Breakfasts are included. You can pre-order packed lunch at your hotel or stop to buy groceries in the villages along the route. Dinner is available either from the restaurant in your accommodation or restaurants in the village/town near your hotel.

Difficulty & terrain

The walks are not long (up to 4-5 hours per day). The tour is suitable for people in good physical shape, used to regular exercise, and who can handle slowly walking uphill for about 2 hours at a time (read more about difficulty grades). This itinerary is not recommended for people who are afraid of heights. There are some steep ascents and descents on the island paths and the coast. From Cassis to La Ciotat, though, there is always at least a meter between you and the cliff edge, and you should be careful along the path. The wind gusts can be very strong. Finally, on the Ste Victoire walk, from the starting point, the walk looks daunting, straight up the spine of the Sainte Victoire, with no respite until the top. You will climb for 2-3 hours, but it’s all relatively steady, with no cliff edges and only a very short section of scrambling to reach the cross at the pseudo-summit. You may choose to avoid that section if the winds are too strong. WALKING POLES We recommend using walking poles for this holiday. Poles are helpful to increase power going uphill, but especially to relieve your knees going down hills. Walking poles takes some time to get used to: we recommend that you walk with them before coming to Provence. The trails are easy to follow. We will provide you with detailed road notes and maps, and you can call our 24/7 local assistance phone number anytime. More detailed info on route navigation will be included in your holiday information pack.

When to go

This trip is available from the beginning of March until the end of June and from 1 September until 15 November. The flexibility of self-guided holidays means that there are no fixed dates, and you can start your trip on any date within the season. The tour is not arranged in July and August as the trails are closest due to fire risk. In September, access may be restricted in the Calanques mountains if the risk of forest fire is high. There is a risk that the paths may be forbidden as of noon on any given day, or in exceptional circumstances, the paths may be forbidden altogether. Information is available at 6:00 pm for the following day from the local prefecture.

Getting there

FCO up-to-date travel advice

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By plane

The best place to fly in and out is Marseille Airport; you can also fly to Nice, Toulon and Paris.

By train or bus

You can also visit SNCF for up to date train schedules.

Inclusions

Included

  • Pre-departure info pack and detailed road notes and maps (a hard copy provided at the first hotel – 1 set per room)
  • 5 nights accommodation in private en-suite rooms in comfortable 2 or 3-star hotels
  • 5 breakfasts
  • Day 2: transfer from Marseille to the beginning of the walk in the Calanques  
  • Day 4: transfer from Cassis to Aix en Provence
  • Day 5: transfer from Aix to the start of your walk
  • Luggage transfers when changing hotels (1 piece up to 20 kg per person)
  • 24/7 phone assistance by our local office/representative

Excluded

  • Airfare and connecting land transfers
  • Lunches, dinners, drinks and snacks
  • Boat and bus tickets; other transport on the spot
  • Travel insurance (required – get a quote online)
  • Personal expenses
  • Entrance fees for attractions and museums
  • Local tourist taxes and entry fees (payable on-site)
  • Any items not explicitly listed as included

Options, extras & supplements

  • A supplement applies to members of a group who require a single room
  • This holiday is available for solo travellers; a supplement will be charged as accommodation and luggage transfer costs are not shared (we never mix and match – solo travellers will be accommodated in single rooms)
  • Hotel supplements are possible during the Grand Prix of Castelet (end of June) and the Cassis marathon mid October.
  • Extra nights can be booked on request
  • Dinners can be booked on request
  • Hotel upgrade is available for booking

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