21 Jul, 2015
Imagine a French seaside village almost all to yourself and the locals.
We sidestepped the crowds and the costs of the Riviera and headed to Cassis, a dot of a fishing village. Life continues here with an authenticity rarely seen in the world of hop-on, hop-offs and selfie sticks. Our morning café au lait and evening Kir were sipped amongst real live French people both residents and visitors. The neighbouring tables sometimes leaned over for a chat and an enquiry as to our origins. Chefs shook our hands at dinner and we felt a warmth that is scarce in the big tourist magnets of the world.
Cassis fits snugly between two natural beauties, the Calanques and the Cap Canaille (the highest maritime cliff in France). The croissant-shaped natural harbour is full of colourful wooden fishing boats. Little vessels of aesthetic perfection and such dainty proportions that my cynical eye imagined that they were there to create a faux and photogenic nautical scene. Faux they were not and the next morning saw them bouncing back from the roller coaster swells full of abundant catches which were sold portside to highly discerning locals and restauranteurs.
The Calanques are steep-walled narrow inlets that have formed probe-like penetrations along the coastline between Marseilles and Cassis. A boat trip to view these fjord-like channels is a breath-taking jaunt hosted by charming and salty sea dogs. The expedition showcases a dramatic spectacle of natural beauty, colour, sound and texture. Hewn from limestone, the pale geology contrasts magnificently with the varied greens of the surrounding Aleppo pine and myrtle trees. The starring role however is taken by the myriad colours of the great waters. Extreme and sudden depth variances of the ocean are held in a basin of white limestone four hundred metres thick and upon a carpet of Posidonia Meadow. This plant which grows at one metre per century is known as the lungs of the sea for its natural filtering effects of the marine environment. The aggregate of these elements results in a rainbow of indigo, sapphire, turquoise and aqua hues that are as otherworldly as a scene from The Avatar. If you are lucky there may be a guest appearance of the resident pod of dolphins who escorted us playfully back to shore.
Cassis is an idyllic low-key seaside holiday. Highlights include the excellent hiking and walking opportunities, precious bistros serving local fare, portside bars for sundowners and late nights, and sublime swimming and boating. It is the perfect platform from which to launch yourself into some further Provençal exploration.
At a classic in the genre of beachfront hotels
Hotel de la Plage Mahogany
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