Cassis: Picturesque Coastal Provence

A picturesque port town of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, Cassis is everything and more one might expect from the south of France.

From the grape vines at the top of the hill, apricot and raspberry buildings cascade down to the waterfront, where clouds like cream puffs hover above the horizon at sunset and sailboat lines run high into the sky. As on any Mediterranean coast, the water turns from turquoise to blue in places, and one can sail to the limestone and calcium cliffs of the Parc national des Calanques in no time at all. The less adventurous can stick to the village, as there are plenty of restaurants and boutiques, but wandering reveals some of the loveliest of spots.

I thought the prettiest spot in the village to be on Rue Adolphe Thiers, looking towards Cap Canaille. Tea-green and bateau-blue shutters face one another across the intimate street, continuing its length, in varying shades, to trees. It’s the narrow streets like this one—and the unexpected views at the ends—that give Cassis its charm. I spent the morning of my one full day in Cassis walking, half-heartedly looking at a map as I more mindfully chose to allow serendipity to lead me where it would. Walking up the hill, I found a library, a camel-colored villa with blue-green shutters and palm trees, filling the courtyard—walking down, bright colors and sunshine, and a glimpse of the port.

Walking around the port, I looked up at the flower boxes hanging from second-story balconies of buildings, shades of pink, almond, and white sand. In the water were French blue boats; boats with “Cassis” written on their bows, in a row; a single soft-lime-green boat in the middle of a perfect line of others. Behind the boats, on the hill, was a castle, while on the far side of the port was a mini lighthouse.

Directly next to the port was La Plage de la Grande Mer, a beach proportionate in size to Cassis but far from small in beauty. At the moment the sun broke through the clouds, it turned the water to sparkles. The crests of the waves were the color of light blue seaglass. They reminded me of clean laundry.

At a small booth just before the beach, I purchased a ticket for the “Discovery” tour of the calanques, which took us to the three closest: Port Miou, Port Pin, and Calanque-en-Vau. While Calanque-en-Vau is the tallest and most popular and has the biggest (still small) beach, I liked Port Pin the best: it’s cute and unassuming. The captain offered to take my picture there, too. Going, we saw an island in the distance; returning, we had spectacular views of Cap Canaille. The water was darkest blue.

Once on land again, I set out on foot past pretty estates with names to a small summer restaurant, open from April to September, called La Plage Bleue. It appeared I was a bit early for the season, as the pool was being filled, but benches cushioned and decorated with pillows turned the outdoor patio to a lounge, with an unbeatable view of the sea. I ordered my first Caipiroska and vanilla ice cream before searching for the start of the Sentier du Petit Prince, a 30-minute walk around a peninsula that leads to a vista that overlooks Cap Canaille and, according to Antoine de Saint Expéry, author of The Little Prince, is “le plus beau et le plus triste paysage du monde.” All along the trail were wildflowers, including wild red poppies! I had contemplated visiting Provence to see the poppies, whole fields of which I had seen pictures, but decided against it because I read that gardeners consider them weeds, so the only fields one might find are in places impossible to reach without a car. Here I found some anyway, though, and bright coral ones too, in planters in the village.

Walking back through the village, I started in the other direction, towards two coves named Anse du Corton and Anse de l’Arene. Through palm trees on the walk to the Anse du Corton, I saw a small vineyard, and once there I spotted fuzzy white flowers like bunny tails. By the time I had reached Anse de l’Arene, the sun was most of the way through its descent in the cloud-filled sky. I was nervous about the tide coming in—I didn’t know whether it did or not—but made my way down a staircase, past a door to nowhere, and over rough white rock that gave way to stones, to pebbles, and finally to clay as I approached the base of Cap Canaille, where the cove, illumined in white light, reminded me of Butterfly Beach, in Montecito. At sunset, I asked the bartender at the single wine bar in the village for a glass of his best Clairette, a light, white grape variety for which Cassis is known.

The next morning, Place Baragnon, around which are arranged the city hall, the museum, and a historic fountain, was overflowing with vendors selling hammam towels, fruits, and flowers. The towels were gorgeous—I went back for one in rose and light blue—and the cherries delicious, lunch, along with a pear tartelette from a local bakery, for my train to Geneva.