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My, What Big Calanques You Have


"He who has seen Paris but not Cassis has not seen anything."
— Frédéric Mistral

On a recent visit to Cassis my husband and I had dinner at La Poissonnerie, (The Fish Shop) a restaurant on the site where the owner's grandfather had his fish market some decades earlier. Eric, the grandson, told us stories of old Cassis, speaking with great disdain of the commercialized St. Tropez, while recommending that we have breakfast at a restaurant run by his mother-in-law, and take a ride in his brother's tour boat. He also recommended we visit the Calanques.

A calanque. Copyright: Suzy Allain.What is a Calanque, you ask? Danielle and Andrew, the couple who accompanied my husband Jonathan and I to Cassis, wanted to know the same thing.

"It's like a fjord but it's made of limestone," I told them, with all the authority of a person who has read at least twenty guidebooks on France and four or five on the Provence area in particular. Reading to them from one book I inform them that some are over 1300 feet high.

I had seen the Calanques before, so I may not have been as impressed as the other three as we approached an inlet of turquoise water, surrounded by white rocky cliffs rising vertically into the sky. Eric's brother's boat, the Tiki, made a pass through the first two inlets before turning into the third, En-Vau. This was our stop. However, the only way we could reach the small, stony beach about 60 yards away from the rock we had docked at was by hiking there. I was aware that a short hike was required, but I was surprised to find it a little more difficult than I had anticipated. I was breathing fairly heavily and had worked up a sweat by the time we made it to the pebble beach.

Copyright: Jonathon Allain.Being a native Floridian, I was used to the water in the Gulf of Mexico. I appreciated the fact that it was usually somewhat warm there – at least warmer than this water – but I hated not being able to see through its inky black depths. The Mediterranean, in contrast, was crystal clear; you could see right through it to the schools of small fish that swam by you and occasionally nipped you on the leg if you made the mistake of standing still for more than a few seconds. I liked that. (Not the fish biting me, just the fact that I could see them.)

Copyright: Suzy Allain.After our swim we laid on the rocky beach. Contrary to what you might expect, it was not uncomfortable. It felt almost like a massage or acupressure, with hundreds of small, warm rocks pressing into dozens of your body's pressure points. It was uncomfortable, however, walking on those same rocks. I tried to convince myself that it was similar to reflexology, so there must be some benefit to it, but that argument lost weight after a few painful minutes and I put on some shoes.

I listened idly to the conversations going on around me. Most were in French, so I could not be accused of eavesdropping, as I only understood one word in ten. I was mainly listening to see if I detected any English, and I did not. I was not too surprised, as most of the women had dispensed with their tops, and, although the practice is growing in the U.S., I do not think we American women have yet mastered the nonchalance and confidence these women exuded as they went about their beach activities sans bikini tops.

The beach was getting a little crowded, and bikini tops were growing fewer and far between, when Andrew asked my husband and I to pose for a picture. We turned towards him, smiling, but right before he snapped the picture he moved the camera to the left. Looking behind me, I was not too surprised to see that it had merely been a ploy to capture some bathing beauty on film.Neither was I surprised to hear that Jonathan and Andrew had invented a new definition for the word 'Calanque.'

"Look at those Calanques over there," I heard one say to the other, but when I followed the direction of their gaze I knew immediately they were not referring to the rocks.

Copyright: Jonathon Allain.One could hardly blame them. Perhaps it was the fresh sea air, or the topless women, or the fact that many of the fishing boats in Cassis are based on an old Greco- roman design and sport a phallic symbol on the front of the prow. Cassis is sexy. Eric had told us our first night that the most important things to the French are food and sex. He hurried to explain, however, that he was not speaking of the actual sex act, but the playfulness, the romance, the electricity; all of which Cassis possesses in abundance.

Danielle and I rolled our eyes at each other over our husband's antics, supremely content in our bathing suit tops. We sipped the wine we had brought along, ate our French bread and cheese, and listened to the soothing murmur of the ocean and soft French voices. As much as I love Paris, I had to agree with Mistral. If you have seen Paris and not Cassis, you ain't seen nothing yet.

When You Go:

Copyright: Jonathon Allain.What to Do
There are boats leaving from the port everyday for a tour of the Calanques. The fee and length depends on how many Calanques you choose to see. You can purchase a round-trip ticket, or a one-way ticket if you'd like to ride out and hike back. If you're the independent sort there are kayaks and motorboats for rent, or you can always hike to the Calanques. If you prefer a sand beach to rocks there's a nice sand beach in town, although it gets crowded on weekends.

The town is small, but very picturesque, and you could spend much of your time on the quay, which is full of bars and restaurants, eating and drinking and watching the people go by. Go to a bar about 5:30 or 6 pm and try one of the local drinks, a Pastis. Sit outside and watch the sunset before having dinner at 7:30 or 8:00 pm.

Where to Stay
Copyright: Jonathon Allain.If you would like to stay in Cassis you had better book early, as there are not many hotels. Here are two I recommend:

Le Jardin d'Emile — this is a very charming, reasonably priced hotel located on the water.
Telephone: 04.42.01.80.55
www.lejardindemile.fr

Les Roches Blanche — this is the only 4 star hotel in Cassis, set in a converted villa with beautiful views of the sea.
Telephone: 04 42 01 09 30
www.roches-blanches-cassis.com

Where to Eat
We breakfasted every day at the Tea Room (Eric's Mother-in-laws place). They have the typical French breakfast (le petit dejeuner) with Coffee, croissant, toast, and juice, but you can have a made-to-order omelet if you'd like, which is absolutely delicious. The café au lait was some of the best we had in France, as well. Dinner at Le Jardin d'Emile is a pleasant experience, as this small hotel has a very good restaurant in its beautiful garden.

Neither was I surprised to hear that Jonathan and Andrew had invented a new definition for the word 'Calanque.'

"Look at those Calanques over there," I heard one say to the other, but when I followed the direction of their gaze I knew immediately they were not referring to the rocks.

Copyright: Jonathon Allain.One could hardly blame them. Perhaps it was the fresh sea air, or the topless women, or the fact that many of the fishing boats in Cassis are based on an old Greco- roman design and sport a phallic symbol on the front of the prow. Cassis is sexy. Eric had told us our first night that the most important things to the French are food and sex. He hurried to explain, however, that he was not speaking of the actual sex act, but the playfulness, the romance, the electricity; all of which Cassis possesses in abundance.

Danielle and I rolled our eyes at each other over our husband's antics, supremely content in our bathing suit tops. We sipped the wine we had brought along, ate our French bread and cheese, and listened to the soothing murmur of the ocean and soft French voices. As much as I love Paris, I had to agree with Mistral. If you have seen Paris and not Cassis, you ain't seen nothing yet.

When You Go:

Copyright: Jonathon Allain.What to Do
There are boats leaving from the port everyday for a tour of the Calanques. The fee and length depends on how many Calanques you choose to see. You can purchase a round-trip ticket, or a one-way ticket if you'd like to ride out and hike back. If you're the independent sort there are kayaks and motorboats for rent, or you can always hike to the Calanques. If you prefer a sand beach to rocks there's a nice sand beach in town, although it gets crowded on weekends.

The town is small, but very picturesque, and you could spend much of your time on the quay, which is full of bars and restaurants, eating and drinking and watching the people go by. Go to a bar about 5:30 or 6 pm and try one of the local drinks, a Pastis. Sit outside and watch the sunset before having dinner at 7:30 or 8:00 pm.

Where to Stay
Copyright: Jonathon Allain.If you would like to stay in Cassis you had better book early, as there are not many hotels. Here are two I recommend:

Le Jardin d'Emile — this is a very charming, reasonably priced hotel located on the water.
Telephone: 04.42.01.80.55
www.lejardindemile.fr

Les Roches Blanche — this is the only 4 star hotel in Cassis, set in a converted villa with beautiful views of the sea.
Telephone: 04 42 01 09 30
www.roches-blanches-cassis.com

Where to Eat
We breakfasted every day at the Tea Room (Eric's Mother-in-laws place). They have the typical French breakfast (le petit dejeuner) with Coffee, croissant, toast, and juice, but you can have a made-to-order omelet if you'd like, which is absolutely delicious. The café au lait was some of the best we had in France, as well. Dinner at Le Jardin d'Emile is a pleasant experience, as this small hotel has a very good restaurant in its beautiful garden.