A fishing village with humble roots, Cassis has previously been heralded as the ‘poor man’s’ St Tropez. But times have changed, and this pretty little portside town is gaining popularity as the perfect place to indulge in the region’s finest pastimes.
Feast on the fruits of the sea, sip on the celebrated Cassis wines and cruise the calanques – this is a land that has been luring visitors for centuries with its unique charms.
With unmatched natural beauty and bountiful opportunities for exploration, Cassis truly shines as a day trip or weekend getaway destination.
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Where is Cassis, France?
Located where the Mediterranean meets the southern coast of France, Cassis is just a stone’s throw from the bustling metropolis of Marseille, yet feels a million miles away.
It’s an easy day trip from the capital of the South, but it’s also a straightforward drive from the cultural hub of Aix-en-Provence.
What makes Cassis worth a visit?
Cassis benefits from a privileged location among some of the Mediterranean’s finest geographical offerings. Sheltered by the Calanques National park on one side, and the mighty Cap Canaille on the other, its beauty has been protected by the limited opportunities for expansion.
In Cassis, you can experience a taste of a typical Provençal village, while at the same time benefitting from the coastal charms of the Côte d’Azur.
A brief history of Cassis
Cassis has undergone many transformations throughout history. The first signs of habitation in the village date back to 500-600BC when the Ligures settled to take advantage of the prosperous hunting & fishing opportunities. They built a fortified village at the top of the Baou Redon, higher and slightly inland from where present-day Cassis sits.
But the very first signs of human occupation date back much farther. Less than 30 years ago, a local diver made a remarkable discovery in the form of a sea cave decorated with Palaeolithic drawings. Unfortunately, the cave is off-limits, but its presence stands as a testimony to the extraordinary antiquity of the area.
Later, Roman settlers took hold of the town and used it to establish a maritime trade with Northern Africa and the Middle East. But by the 10th century, any existing settlers fled further inland to seek refuge from foreign tribes.
Present-day Cassis wasn’t established until the 18th century when local industry diversified and flourished.
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Top Things to do in Cassis France
When visiting Cassis, it’d be all too easy to lose yourself in the myriad of pretty streets for the day. But there is plenty more to this picturesque portside town. Let’s dive into what to do in Cassis, France.
VISIT THE BEACHES IN CASSIS
Not typically referred to as a beach town, Cassis excels in hidden coves and cliff-side bathing rather than the expansive swathes of sand you’ll experience in some other Mediterranean towns.
But don’t let that deter you. Locals and visitors alike flock to these seafront hideaways to make the most of the town’s secluded position and arresting surroundings.
Plage de la Grande Mer
Right in town, to the left (looking seaward) of the Cassis port, you’ll find the main beach. Plage de la Grande Mer is the family-friendly option due to its accessibility. But the pale shingles, rather than sand, mean sandcastle building is off the cards.
Instead, take advantage of the sheltered bay to take a dip, rent a pedalo, or simply kick back as the kids play in the shallows. This is also one of the only Cassis beaches to benefit from the presence of a lifeguard (in summer).
Plage du Bestouan
A stone beach with a more adult vibe, Bestouan beach in Cassis is a great option for those wanting to sunbathe in style. You can reserve loungers at the Same Same beach bar/restaurant, or bring a thick towel to dampen the feel of the pebbles on your spine. You’ll find locals draped over the neighbouring rocky headlands too.
Plage de l’Arène
Located on the other side of Cassis, before the village gives way to the cliffs of Cap Canaille, you’ll find the perfectly appointed Plage de l’Arene. Less frequented than other beaches in Cassis town, it’s also more wild, but nonetheless beautiful.
Come here to escape the crowds, but know that it’s not the easiest beach to swim at, so bring some good reef shoes to protect your feet from sharp rocks too.
Plage du Corton
A quick 15-minute walk from the port will deliver you to Plage du Corton, a tranquil sliver of a beach framed by stone ramparts and lush vegetation. This Cassis beach is rocky, and swimming shoes are advised, but you’ll appreciate the outstanding views and ample snorkelling opportunities.
Les Calanques Beaches
If you’re ok with the idea of going for a short walk to find sandy shores, don your sneakers and head towards the Calanques National Park. Here you’ll find the petite beaches at Port Miou and Port Pin and the absolutely breathtaking Calanque d’En Vau.
The first two beaches are easy to access (if you’re sure-footed) the latter takes a bit more determination and time. Both Port Pin and Calanque d’En Vau are popular in the summer months as they provide sheltered swimming amid stunning surroundings.
Port Miou Beach
I’ve included the little cove at Port Miou as technically, it could be called a beach, but it’s not the most pleasant one to sunbathe on, nor the most practical to swim at.
Instead, Port Miou is a narrow harbour for over 500 boats! It goes without saying that this natural inlet gets very busy in the summer months, so head over the hill to Port Pin to find a safer swimming spot.
Port Pin Beach
The small but perfectly formed beach at Port Pin is fairly easily accessed via a rocky pathway from Port Miou. It’s a popular beach for swimming, as the calanque offers a calm environment, protected by the tree-lined cliffs.
Calanque d’En Vau Beach
Saving the best for last, the third calanque from Cassis is by far the most impressive, but also the most difficult to access. To reach the beach at Calanque d’En Vau you must scramble down a fairly steep pathway on the cliffside.
The reward is well worth the effort to reach what feels like one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Towering cliffs surround the small sandy cove, and the turquoise water is unbelievably clear, making it a joy to swim in. Stay for the day; just ensure you have adequate water with you.
Read about how to reach this beach here: Hiking to Calanque d’En Vau
You’ll find other ‘plages’ (beaches) marked on the map, but most are no more than somewhere you can access the sea, rather than a fully-formed beach.
PEOPLE WATCH ON THE PORT
As soon as you arrive in Cassis village, the port lures you to its glistening shores. Traditional sailboats line the water’s edge and cafe terraces spill out onto the wide pavement. On sunny days, it’s a hub of activity and the perfect place to park up, enjoy an apero and partake in a spot of people watching.
If the heat is getting the better of you, head along to Maison Casalini for Italian ice cream, or to try the aptly named Cassis (blackcurrant) sorbet.
SHOPPING IN CASSIS
Shopping in Cassis is less about snapping up a bargain, and more about the experience of ambling through the village streets, browsing pretty store window displays and picking up local goods like a new market tote, or linen tablecloth.
Locally-owned boutiques take precedence over chain stores and the colours, flavours and scents emanating from the open doors will lure you in for a closer look.
No visit to a town in Provence would be complete without visiting the local markets to stock up on regional delicacies. And the Cassis markets are no exception to this rule.
Held every Wednesday and Friday morning, the typically Provençal markets are the perfect place to sample rural French living, complete with fresh baguettes and the Mediterranean flavours unique to this area of France. Taking place around the fountain in Place de la République, you’ll shop in a backdrop of historical buildings and quaint boutiques.
On the port, a small fish market takes place on weekday mornings in an ode to the port town’s history. But you’ll have to get in early to take your pick of the day’s catch.
HIKING THE CALANQUES DE CASSIS
I’m slightly calanques obsessed, so I may be a little biased when I say that hiking the calanques is one of the best things to do in Cassis.
The Calanques National Park stretches from Marseille to Cassis and houses some of the region’s finest scenery and hiking opportunities. Although possible to walk all the way to Les Goudes, most visitors to Cassis will be more interested in the three calanques walk.
This day hike will take you past Port Miou, through to the beach at Port Pin, and all the way to Calanque d’En Vau (with the option of continuing on to the beach below) before leading you inland to circle back to Cassis.
It’s an incredible walk (you can find directions here) that’s best reserved for the shoulder seasons as the track is often restricted, or closed, in summer due to the risk of wildfires.
MARVEL AT THE HISTORY ON DISPLAY
The inner village of Cassis is a trip to yesteryear in itself, but there are a few key places you shouldn’t miss if diving into the history of a destination excites you.
There are the two fountains in the middle of the village that date back to the 18th & 19th centuries, behind them, the 17th-century town hall stands proud. Pop in for a glimpse of a mediaeval kitchen beneath a glass floor, and up to the first floor where you’ll be greeted by an ornate salon. Just across the courtyard, you’ll find the Maison de Cassis, which houses the Mediterranean Museum of Art and Popular Traditions.
Of course, you won’t be able to miss the most prominent site in Cassis, the grand Chateau de Cassis that sits high above the village. Set at the helm of the original fortified village, the Cassis castle is now privately owned and run as a private (and exclusive) bed & breakfast.
TAKE A BOAT TOUR
One of the most popular things to do in Cassis is to head down to the port and book yourself onto a boat tour of the calanques. This is especially great for those who can’t hike the calanques due to travelling with very young children, elderly parents, or if you simply want to skip the strenuous journey.
Even if you have previously walked the calanques, the boat tour offers a whole new perspective of these impressive limestone cliffs and their narrow fjords.
Tours don’t need to be booked in advance, just wander down to the wooden kiosk and choose from a 3, 5, 8, or 9 calanque tour.
OR HIRE A KAYAK TO EXPLORE THE COASTLINE
While taking a boat tour is an easier option, the tour boats aren’t permitted to ‘drop you off’ at the beaches in the calanques. Therefore, if the hiking routes are closed, your next best option to access the likes of Port Pin or Calanque d’En Vau is to hire a kayak and paddle around the headlands.
Kayaks can be rented from Lo’Kayak for a minimum of 3 hours and a maximum of 6 hours, to explore the incredible coastline around Cassis. In order to take full advantage of your surroundings, I’d recommend hiring for a full day, as you won’t want to pull yourself away!
SAMPLE CASSIS WINES
In a region that’s well known for its rosé, Cassis stands out from the crowd with its production of award-winning white wines. Protected by their own appellation (AOC), Cassis wines are typically light in colour and endowed with aromas of citrus fruit, blossom and honey.
Cassis is home to 12 wine producers, many of which invite you to visit and sample the varietals on offer. Favourites include Domaine du Bagnol and Clos Sainte Magdeleine.
If visiting in May, be sure to hang around to visit the Cassis Wine Festival that celebrates the town’s wines and is the perfect place to stock up before heading home.
DRIVE THE ROUTE DES CRÊTES
Towering above Cassis, glowing orange under the sun like a misplaced Uluru Rock, lays the mystical Cap Canaille. The highest sea cliff in all of Europe, the jagged headland divides the coast between Cassis and nearby La Ciotat.
The main route that traverses Cap Canaille is called the Corniche des Crêtes. It’s a stunning drive, with plenty of pit stops available on the way to take in the views over Cassis and beyond.
The road starts in Cassis, before cutting a serrated path through the crest of the cliff. It’s one of the most scenic roads in France. But a word of warning, the route is narrow for those not used to driving on Provence-size roads, and the views are somewhat distracting!
Where to Eat in Cassis
It may come as no surprise that fish is the dish of the day at many restaurants in Cassis. Although don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll be served up Michelin starred meals wherever you dine. Cassis hasn’t escaped the influx of not-so-cheap and cheerful bistros serving fast ‘European’ food that’s far from authentic.
That’s not to say fine meals can’t be found though, quite the contrary! Locals love La Villa Madie for a high-end experience with the best views in town. La Poissonerie Laurent for a casual seafood meal, or Le Patio for Provençal favourites.
How to Get to Cassis, France
There are a number of different options available to get to Cassis. Let’s explore them below.
Cassis can be accessed via the East or West via the A50 motorway. This is generally the quickest option, but note that it’s also a toll road. If you’re looking for a more scenic route, take the Col de la Gineste from Marseille or the Corniche des Crêtes from La Ciotat.
Parking in Cassis
There are a lot of (paid) public car parks in Cassis, but even so, they fill up quickly in the peak season. If arriving into the village early, simply head into Cassis and follow the P signs to locate the closest park.
If you’ve left your arrival until later in the day, and it’s a sunny weekend or holiday season, it might be wise to park at Les Gorguettes outside the village centre. It’s a free car park and there is a shuttle running every 15-30 minutes down to either central Cassis, or to the start of the Calanques walk The shuttle costs €1.60 for a return trip but is free for children under 6.
By Public Transport
Both buses and trains service Cassis, although the later arrives a good 3km outside of Cassis village centre. A shuttle will deliver you the rest of the way into the village.
Tours to Cassis
A range of tours can be arranged from Marseille and Aix-en-Provence to Cassis. You can view a range of what’s available below.
How long to spend in Cassis
The village of Cassis can be experienced in a day. But to truly appreciate all it has to offer, I’d recommend a minimum of 2 days in Cassis. Add this on to your Southern France itinerary, rather than making it your primary base though, as it’s not ideally located for making day trips throughout the region.
When to visit Cassis
Cassis is becoming more and more popular with visitors to Provence. So it should come as no surprise that weekends and holidays, especially in the hottest summer months, can get almost unbearably busy.
It’s because of this I’d recommend checking out the French school holiday calendar and planning your visit for when most schools are in session (it varies depending on the region), in the shoulder seasons of April/May or September/October.
With a bit of luck, you’ll have glorious weather without having to fight the crowds. And the Cassis hiking trails should be open too (except perhaps in early September when it’s still very hot).
Where to stay in Cassis
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing where to stay in Cassis. Whatever you budget, there’s an option to suit.
My favourite hotel in Cassis is undoubtedly Les Roches Blanches. With its exquisite seaside location, art deco-inspired decor and luxurious spa, it’s the place to go when you want to treat yourself. Book your room here.
For more affordable luxury, La Demeure Insoupçonnée offers bed and breakfast accommodation away from the hustle of the inner village. The main selling point? The unbeatable views, which can be enjoyed right from the pool. Book your room here.
If staying central is what’s most important when looking for accommodation in Cassis, France, you can’t get much better location-wise than the Interhotel Cassitel. The modern rooms don’t speak much for the charm of the old town, but the price and views will be enough of a distraction. Check prices and book your room here.
Cassis epitomises all the beauty of Provence in a neat little package. Sample the sights, flavours, and sunsets this bucolic little corner of the Côte d’Azur has to offer the curious visitor.
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