Aix is an amazingly beautiful city that’s full of things to AIXplore; however, it’s not able to offer Everything. Throughout the day, one can easily find the AIXpat walking among the numerous fontaines, or fountains, the Cezanne paraphernalia, Pizza Capri, and Montagne Sainte-Victoire… That is, until 14h (2:00pm) hits. At this time, the sound of dripping sweat hitting the cobble stone and asphalt streets can be heard from a kilomètre away. I found myself wondering, “where’s the beach?”
The beautiful thing about Aix in the summer is its proximity to cities bordering the Mediterranean Sea. This proximity enables AIXpats, touristes, and the like to travel easily to beach cities such as Marseille, Nice, La Ciotat, to name a few. Recently, mon chéri and I spent a day in Cassis (FYI: the southerners pronounce the ‘s’ ending).
We left Aix at about noon, and took a car ride to the coastal city. With the windows down and music ringing in our ears, the 45 minute drive went by rather quickly. After finding free parking near Le jardin public, we grabbed his backpack and headed down to the beach. We had 1 thing on our minds: find the canoë-kayak place, Cassis Sport Loisirs Nautiques, where we reserved a canoë-kayak biplace, or 2 seats. We got lucky: it was right on the first beach we checked, Plage de la Grande Mer.
After signing some paperwork, handing over 1 ID, and looking at the map, we were directed towards the building with the canoë-kayaks, the oars, and the life-vests. The employee chose the oars for us. Who knew that choosing an oar would be so meticulous? Obviously, this was my first time in a professional canoë-kayak. It took a few tries before the employee was satisfied with an oar for me… apparently, the size of the oar depends on your height. I’m 5’2”, so, I ended up with a small oar. It worked for me, though. After the oars were picked, we were given life-vests. Again, this posed a slight problem for the employee: A child’s life-vest or a small adult… I’m pretty petite, but I’m not That petite. After what seemed like 5 minutes, but was probably only a few moments, the employee decided I was an adult Small. So, we fastened our life-vests and then threw our stuff into the water-proof bucket. We strapped the bucket to the canoë-kayak, and with the help of one of the employees, we were pushed into the sea. The Mediterranean Sea. I was kayaking in the Mediterranean Sea. I couldn’t believe it!
As we bumped along the coast of Cassis, I knew I made one of the best decisions in my life: toss aside my fears of drowning and being sucked into the sea to experience nature at its finest. My heart was racing when we first began; however, as we glided past calanques and roman ruins, I began to calm down. “I can do this! I am doing this!” I thought, just as mon chéri decided it was time for us to belt out Au Bord de l’Eau by Gérald de Palmas. It was difficult to concentrate on both moving the canoë-kayak and singing, but I tried. Mon chéri was more successful than was I. As we belted, “au bord de l’eau / il y a cette fille qui m’appelle / elle me trouve beau / au bord de l’eau / je passe des heures avec elle,” I looked down into the clear, emerald colored water and thought, “this was the best decision Ever!” I looked up, expecting to see the sky, calanque, or more ruins; however, that was not the case. In front of us was only: Emerald…Large, choppy emerald. For about 20 minutes, I thought we were going to flip the canoë-kayak, get sucked under a huge wave, and then we were going to die. While mon chéri screamed, “Ouais… wohooooo!” I was screaming bloody murder. It didn’t help that I was in the front. I screamed and cried for the entire 20 minutes it took to drive the canoë-kayak into the calanque, Port-Pin. It was difficult to move the canoë-kayak while screaming and crying, but with encouragement from mon chéri, I was able to help steer it onto the beach.
Despite this minor setback, I recommend renting a canoë-kayak to see the calanque from the sea as this magnificent view is only offered from the sea. If you’re not a do-it-yourself-sea-person, then a tour boat might be a better option as it offers the same views of the ruins and the calanque. The only setback to this option is that you don’t have the freedom to get off the boat and lay on the beach, swim in the clear water, or tour the ruins in the calanque because these boats are too large to stop at them (except at Port Miou). This was the website I used to rent the canoë-kayak: http://cassis-kayak.com/reservation/. I recommend it mainly because they were more than understanding when I was unable to take the canoë-kayak on the return trip. Instead, they brought a small boat to come pick us up. It took over an hour for them to get us, but it was an enjoyable hour as we were able to spend more time on the beach in Port-Pin and more time canoeing in soft-wave waters. I felt a little silly for not being able to make the return trip, but I was comforted in the fact that I wasn’t the only kayak-er that thought it was too dangerous. In fact, all of the 2-person kayak-ers that stopped at Port-Pin shared similar feelings, though, one group decided to do the return trip after waiting for nearly 2 hours for someone to come get them. They figured the company had forgotten them. They had fear in their eyes as I watched them make their way to the edge of the calanque.
After our canoë-kayak adventure, we decided to stop at Le jardin public, a free public garden. It was certainly a bird/duck sanctuary.
Then, we walked around the port.
Followed by an area where you can play Pétanque, or Boule (aka the French version of Bocce Ball) with a view of La fontaine du Square Gilbert Savon.
The next stop was La Plage de la Grande Mer with a view of Le Château de Cassis.
Then, we hit up le Quai Calendal – complete with views of the lighthouse and La Statue de Calendal, a statue dedicated to the soldiers who helped liberate France during WWII.
And, finally, we stopped at a restaurant. We were starving, but also on a budget. The beach is lined with restaurants, but not exactly the type of restaurants one would think. It was lined with Pizzerias.
We chose one named, The Bounty, and enjoyed a delicious mix of tomato sauce, eggplant, and 3 fromage, or cheese: mozzarella, Emmental (similar to Gruyere or the US idealistic “Swiss”), and chèvre, or goat.
5 reasons why Cassis is worth your visit:
- Cassis boarders the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, the clear, emerald water will hypnotize you…and before you know it, you’ll find yourself one with the waves. The beach itself is rocky, so, prepare your feet. If you have sensitive feet, then I recommend wearing water shoes.
- The coast of Cassis is held together by calanques (geographical rocky formations), which adds to the beauty of Cassis.
- As a result of #1 & #2, Cassis offers a variety of beach, mountain, and water activities. For example, you can go hiking in the calanques or you can take a canoe and view the calanques from the Mediterranean Sea. One of the perks of the canoe is that you can see the Roman ruins embedded in the calanques.
- Cassis offers a château, or castle, at the top of a cliff called, Le Château de Cassis. You can drive up to the château or you can hike up to it – it’s a bit of a climb, though, so strap on your hiking boots and be prepared for steep steps as you get closer to the château. The château dates back to the 11th century; however, it has since been purchased by a private company. Rooms at the château can be rented out for about $5,500-$10,000 a night.* Instead of paying a fortune to rent a room at the chateau, simply hike up to the top of the cliff and enjoy the panoramic views of the Mediterranean Sea, the petit port, the views of the calanques Port-Pin and En Vau, and the city itself.
- There are things to do if you’re tired of the beach and the calanque. For example, take a 16 minute walk (8 minute drive) southeastward of the Port de Cassis to visit the Clos Sainte Magdeleine. The Clos Sainte Magdeleine is a wine vinyard that specializes in vin blanc, or white wine, and rosé – both types of vin range in price from 14€ – 85€ a bottle (depending on whether it’s conventional or AB (Agriculture Biologique), or organic, and the age of the vin). A visit of the entire grounds doesn’t come without a cost; however, the magnificent garden view and historical explanation is worth the price: 14€ a person (7€ for 18 and under). S’il vous plaît, visit this website for more information: http://www.clossaintemagdeleine.fr/index.php/fr/. theAIXpatAIXperience is not affiliated with this webiste.
*Visit this website to book a room at Le Château de Cassis: http://www.luxuryretreats.com/destinations/france/french-riviera/cassis/chateau-de-cassis-111705. theAIXpatAIXperience is not affiliated with this website. Thus, theAIXpatAIXperience gains nothing if you visit the website or use it to book a room at Le Château de Cassis. ♦
What did you enjoy the most about Cassis?