With more than 1500 separate pitches spread out across the 20 km of coastline. The Calanques are one of the areas which gave birth to modern climbing. Today they are not as "in" as the Verdon, Buoux, or Fontainebleau but people still come down to climb perfect limestone above the crashing waves of the Mediterrarean.
On April 18th, 2012 The Calanques were designated as an official French Parc National!
Legends such as Gaston Rebuffat and George Livanos opened up hundreds of routes here before they branched out to climb the great peaks of the Alps and Himalaya.
This 12 miles long stretch of the mediterranean coast, mainly limestone cliffs cut by some short kind of fjords (called calanques in this area), offers the most famous hiking and climbing area between Marseille and Cassis, among pine trees, sun and white rock. The highest point is Marseilleveyre point (432 m.), and some cliffs drop from 350m (1000 feet) directly into the sea. There you may swim, climb, hike, almost all the year. There are not hundreds, but thousands of climbs, sometimes famous, sometimes known only to a couple of guys. Unfortunately, the more people gets there, the more Nature gets hurt and spoiled. National Park status has been asked for years, without any success. Thanks to Claude Mauguier
Quarries along the calanques have provided a dense white limestone for centuries. One of the first "modern" ones was the Cacau quarry in 1720. Cassis stone has been used around the world, for things as diverse as the base of the Statue of Liberty, the Suez canal and the quays of Alexandria.
The Climbing Areas
The Calanques consists of several groupings of crags and fjords:
Gardiole: Includes Port Miou, En Vau, Castelviel and Devenson. Perhaps the most popular area - the cliffs of En Vau looking down at the green-blue lagoon is the trademark image of the Calanques.
Marseilleveyre and Les Goudes: La Madrague,, Carrelongue, and the islands of Maire, Jarre, Plane, and Riou.
Sormiou: Easy access - you can drive to the beach, park, and hike over to the cliffs. Quite a few one-pitch crags plus many 4-6 pitch beauties in the 5-7 range.
Morgiou: One pitch cliffs. Also easy access via the col de Morgiou - many parking pullouts. Good area if your climbing group has a wide spread of skill levels. Climbs in the 3-7+ range.
Luminy: Massive collection of inland crags and sea cliffs from 1-7 pitches.
Getting There - Car Break-ins are Common
The Calanques lie between Marseilles and Cassis on the south coast of France along the Med.
To go through Cassis, take the A7 south of Lyon, through Valence and Orange and then turn east on the A8 toward and past Aix en Provence. Just past Aix, take the A52 south toward Cassis/Toulon. Park in Cassis and walk/boat your way in - otherwise your car will be broken into.
If you are willing to bet the contents/spare parts from ( of) your car:
Once on the outskirts of Cassis, look for signs to the RN 559 toward Marseille. Follow the 559 Turn left at the military camp for the Gardiole area. For Luminy, stay on the 559 and turn left 500m after entering Marseilles. For Morgiou, Sormiou, Marseilleyve, et les Goudes, turn left at the Obelisk (can't miss it).
For En Vau: Drive through Cassis down to the end of avenue des Calanques and park at the trailhead for the GR 98 which leads toward Port Miou and En Vau. This is one of the few relatively safe places to park.
Or: Head down to the main harbor in Cassis and check boat prices for round trips to En Vau. Take the tourist boat to En Vau and get off (be sure to ask when the last pick up of the day will be). From the boat dropoff point, its a scramble (wear good shoes vice Tevas) to the beach in En Vau and numerous routes.
Given the complex nature of the area, it is best to invest in a map of the various roads and trails which connect the various crags.
None but please respect the unique environment. The Calanques lie right noext to the third largest city in France so they see a lot of climbers and hikers and tourist. Save space in your pack to pick up trash the tourists drop.
Watch out for Gear Thieves. Don't leave anything of value in your car, and consider taking the boat to the crags..
IN AND AROUND THE CLIFFS, PARK AT YOUR OWN RISK.
When To Climb
Some say year round but the cold wind from the Med can be quite chilly, even in springtime. The area gets beastly hot in summer but you can always cool off in the water.
Camping Les Cigalles
Route de Marseilles
Decent campground with showers, toilets, and a small grocery store.
Camping municipal de Bonneveine, Tél : 04 91 73 26 99
Camping municipal " Les vagues ", Tél : 04 91 76 73 30
Medical Help (Secours)
Dial 18 on your cell phone to get the Marseille Fire and Rescue Squad - they are trained and experienced in vertical rope rescue.
La Montagne, 85 rue d'Italie, 13006 Marseille
Tél : 04 91 42 18 36
Les trois mousquetons, 17 rue Jacques de la Roque,
13100 Aix en Provence, Tél : 04 42 21 93 98
Guide Book (French Only). Available at shops in the area.
Escalade Les Calanques