For a few more months, winter will persist, and Northern California will experience its wet season. The rain starts out beautiful but rapidly turns gloomy. While I wait for the spring and summer’s nicer weather, I think back on the day trip I took to the French seaside town of Cassis in September, when the sun shone over one of the most lovely sites I’ve ever seen.
I reserved a seat on a 25-minute van trip with a small tour group that departed from the lively Aix-en-Provence city center. Our tour guide was excellent, telling us local lore and interesting historical information as we went.
Captivating Cassis, southeast of Marseilles, ticks all the tourist boxes if you’re looking for beach charm (which explains why its so crowded in summer). Since I went in September, there weren’t as many people there, and of all the excursions I took while in France, this one is one of my top favorites.
The small but well-liked town of Cassis is located on France’s southern coast. I had to stop and catch my breath as I got out of the van since it appeared to be a scene from a movie at first and not a genuine location. With its boat-filled harbor, tiny shops, cafes, and lovely beach, it is incredibly appealing.
You’ll find less visitors if you explore the cobblestone lanes and back alleyways that are up and away from the harbor’s main drag, which is where I spent an hour exploring while enjoying a wonderful takeout crepe from a local seller for lunch.
I was the lone female tourist with her backpack and camera who was trying her best to blend in but was immediately seen by two locals. It was evident to them that I was only there for the day. They pause for a brief period before continuing their talk in rapid French. Despite my best efforts to listen in, my limited French makes it impossible for me to keep up.
If you want to see the famed calanques (rocky inlets) along the shore, you can take a boat trip from any willing captain at the docks in the port. You’ll also see fisherman and the occasional skinny dipper (don’t blink at the video or you’ll miss them) there.
My boat’s skipper, who could only speak French, gave me an English-language brochure on what I would be seeing on the trip. He had been conducting this tour for a very long time, as evidenced by his worn-in face and his bright blue eyes that winked at me. He expressed regret that the tour was conducted in his own tongue, but I found that it contributed to the adventure. For the boat cruise, the clouds nicely parted, allowing us to glimpse the crags’ finer intricacies.
We made our way to the summit of Cape Canaille before heading back to Aix. When I got out of the van, I was met with a spectacular (and terrifying) aerial view of Cassis. At the Cape, there are no obstacles like there would be in America, and there are no warnings that read proceed with caution—deadly cliff ahead. It’s merely accepted that if you step too closely and slip, it’s your fault! I stood back from the edge but adored admiring the stunning coastline below.
There are many additional things to do in Cassis for a day excursion, but be advised that it gets very busy with visitors and French people on vacation in the summer.
1) Enjoy a meal in a café by the water while observing the patrons.
2) Shop for handcrafted items at any of the several neighborhood stores.
3) Go to the Chteau de Cassis, a former fortification that guarded the town.
4) Spend many hours hiking the trail along the calanques for a spectacular sea view, then descend to the undiscovered beaches for a swim.
You may get a sense of the beach town and a glimpse of the calanques on a boat excursion in the 90 second video that follows. Enjoy!
P.S. I’ve included a link below if you’re interested in learning more about the small camera I bring with me on vacation.