Provence: The Coast
We didn't have much time in this busy city, but you can manage to see a few highlights in a half day. After making your way to the center of town, explore the famous port and city center. There are plenty of markets, restaurants, boats, and people at every turn - so try to walk as much as possible.
When you've wandered enough, take a trolley all the way up to the iconic Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, driving along the famous seaside boulevard La Corniche. You'll have incredible views and pass many of Marseille's famous sights, like La Porte de l'Orient and the Ile d'If (home to the Chateau d'If made famous in The Count of Monte Cristo).
Once you reach the top of the hill, climb a little higher to the scenic overlook for sweeping views out over the city and the sea. The basilica itself is a magnificent building, topped with a 37-foot golden statue of the Madonna and Child. Step inside to see colorful Romanesque-style architecture with rows of striped marble arches before you trolley back down into the city for lunch. Then on to the next adventure!
As difficult as it is to choose a favorite day trip in Provence, this just might be the one. Cassis is a colorful fishing village that feels like a perfect marriage of Provence and a miniature, vintage variety of the French Riviera. In fact, we were so smitten with this town that we made a second visit later in the week on our way to hike through the Calanques.
Visit the heart of the town at the marina, and walk along the promenade to the lighthouse for some spectacular views. Cassis is surrounded by a dynamic landscape, historic buildings, and of course the sea.
The main beach in Cassis is Plage de la Grande Mer, a sandy stretch of coastline between the town square and the water. You can't miss it, and it's understandably busy. The less obvious Plage de Bestouan is a rocky beach a bit further out, and wasn't as nearly as crowded when we visited in June.
Boat and kayak rentals are popular in Cassis for fishing and exploring the nearby coastline. There are also boat tours that can give you a view into the Calanques, and sometimes snorkeling groups - though we couldn't find one during our visit.
The town of Cassis is charming in its own right - definitely take the time to enjoy wandering the well-kept streets, exploring the local shops, and stopping for a treat. When it's time for dinner, don't miss the chance to dine by the water. We had a delicious meal at Le Grand Bleu.
The Calanques are a series of narrow, steep-walled inlets that span from the eastern edge of Marseille to Cassis - they have been protected as a national park since 2012. You can rent a boat or arrange a tour from Cassis, but hiking offers much better views and a chance to enjoy the pebbly beaches. We set out from Cassis to explore the three nearest: Calanque de Port Miou, Calanque de Port Pin, Calanque d'en Vau.
Before you begin, be sure to pack plenty of water, something to eat, and a map. This hike was not the relatively easy climb we had heard about - we got turned around more than once and ended up hiking over 13 miles in total - some of them shockingly vertical, and sometimes in the rain. We did stop and enjoy seeing the Calanque de Port Miou, a remarkable view from the trail over Cap Cable, and Calanque de Port Pin.
By the time we reached Calanque d'en Vau we were glad to unpack our picnic lunch on the beach, relax, and wade into the cool water. We were joined by a few fellow travelers and traded adventure stories before trekking back. The stunning views and sense of accomplishment were well worth the work, and we rewarded ourselves with another memorable dinner in Cassis.