Cassis, France stole my heart!
Beautiful waterfront? Check!
Unpretentious with real people? Check!
Medieval Castle? Check!
Great food? Check!
History and culture? Check!
Great hiking, cycling and paddling? Check, check and check!!!
Qu'a vist Paris, se noun a vist Cassis, pou dire: n'ai rèn vist” (He who has seen Paris but not Cassis can say, I haven't seen anything.”
Nobel prize winning writerm Federique Mistral, mirrors my sentiment. I was smitten when I laid eyes on Cassis, and by the end of my first day, I told my host that I would be staying until further notice. To all that speak French, I apologize for butchering your language in today's podcast, as I attempt to recite this quote. Hopefully, you'll at least get a good laugh at my efforts:)
Callanques are formed by glaciers or when tall caves collapsed and then when the sea level rose it submerged the rock (limestone in this case). Each has it's own personality and is more beautiful than the next.
This is the rock scramble to a delightful cove with a beautiful private beach (where I saw the rock climbers). It looks harder than it was.
GETTING TO CASSIS:
The Apps I mentioned that I used to travel are GoEuro and Rome2Rio. Both are FREE and a super big help! You simply input your start and end point and the app will tell you your options to get there, with prices! Another App I forgot to mention was the bus company, Flixbus, which also offers an App and you can buy your tickets on the app. For trains, you use SNCF, and I would usually just buy my ticket at the kiosk in the station rather than book ahead. ALWAYS remember to validate your tickets… just watch the locals. Don't worry, you'll get the hang of local travel quickly enough. People are friendly and helpful everywhere and you can usually find someone who speaks English. If not, a smile, shrugged shoulders plus pantomime work well:)
Castle of Cassis : Chateau de Cassis
If you can afford it, splurge on staying in the castle. I certainly plan to on my next visit. I stayed in a charming hostel in Cassis. If you're interested, send me an email and I'll get you the info. The Visitor's Center can help with accommodations, as can the regular booking channels.
Very helpful staff! The Center is right in the center of the harbor front and is loaded with brochures and information about area activities. The staff can make reservations for any of the activities for you and can help you decide what to do.
Active Things to do in Cassis:
* Hike, paddle or boat ride/sail to the collanques
* Snorkel or scuba dive
* Hike up to and around Cap Canaille
* Bike Tour with wine tasting through the vineyards in the countryside
* Swim on the many beaches and private coves
Outside of the Visitor's Center is where you catch the tour boats of the Collanques. Decide how long of a boat tour you want – the longer the tour, the more variety of collanques you see. Each does have a personality!
OK, so I need to work on figuring out how to use the video feature of my camera! Just turn your head – the view from Cap Canaille is AMAZING! Please know that I'm technically challenged. This was my first attempt at using the video feature on my iPhone (and might very well be my first selfie!). I was trying to capture Cap Canaille in Cassis, France. Utterly breathtaking view – even with the morning haze!
I'm embarrased to even show this, but I promised to do so on today's episode:)
Qu'a vist Paris, se noun a vist Cassis, pou dire: n'ai rèn vist” (He who has seen Paris but not Cassis can say, I haven't seen anything.” These words, spoken by Nobel-prize winning writer Federique Mistral, reflect the great attraction that Cassis exerts on all those who go there.
02:52 Why I went to France
04:28 Why I chose Cassis
05:32 What makes Cassis special
06:10 Collanques National Park
07:04 Excellent Tourist Information Office
07:47 Cap Canaille : Europe’s highest cliff
08:49 Pack a baggie!
09:45 Guided boat tour through the collanques
10:10 Guided bike tour through the vineyards and countryside
10:48 The charming historical town of Cassis
11:25 The “To Go” box story in Cassis
12:00 The “To Go” box story with Jamie in Glasgow
13:48 Cassis magic at night
14:34 Chateau de Cassis – the castle
16:37 Use Cassis as your base camp for adventure
18:01 Active Travel Adventure member info
00:00 “Qu'a vist Paris, se noun a vist Cassis, pou dire: n'ai rèn vist”
Obviously I don't speak French. Here's what it means: “He who has seen Paris but not Cassis can say I haven't seen anything.” This was spoken by the Nobel Prize winning writer Federico Mistral. If after you listen to today's adventure in the charming fishing hamlet of Cassis, I would be shocked if you don’t add this to your bucket list.
00:35 Our last adventure, the Tour du Mont Blanc even though it was super gorgeous, was tough, so I thought we’d soften things up a bit and do a lighter adventure in different part of France. I’m going to take you to a little village I hesitate to even cover as I’d like to keep it a secret. The whole time I was there, I didn’t meet or hear a single American and so I think it might be a stealth playground of the French.
00:57 Today we are going to hike, bike, paddle and swim our way around the charming village of Cassis. We’ll bike through vineyards, have cocktails overlooking a medieval castle, we’ll hike through some glorious cliffs and kayak our way around the stunning callanques in this amazing town that captured my heart and restored my soul. Tune in to hear why you definitely want to get your butt to this charming little town.
01:43 Before we get to Cassis, I want to tell you the backstory of how I got there.
My beloved husband, Bill, died of cancer in 2014. The next couple of years are pretty much a blur to me, and close to the two year anniversary of his death, I realized I had to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. He and I had built a small business that lost its luster for me after his death and I was just going through the motions.
I had always dreamed of traveling more, but our business always seemed to anchor us. I even had a dream of chucking it all and traveling long term.
02:12 Since I turned fifty, I also discovered hiking and it has become a real passion for me. I just love getting out in nature to listen to the birds and the rustling trees, and just to breathe clean air and to think. I love climbing mountains to catch the view that truly, when you think about it, even the crowded ones, only a small percentage of us actually see.
02:34 So in February of 2015, even though I had no idea how I was going to be able to pull it off, I bought a round trip ticket to Paris, departing late August and returning in the middle of October. I figured that would be long enough for me to figure out if I liked long term travel – and I’m happy to say that I do.
02:52 I chose France because I didn’t speak French and had only spent an afternoon and evening there, so everything was going to be foreign to me. Much like adventure travel, I wanted to challenge and test myself. Outside of meeting and spending some time with a British friend I had met in Iceland that year, and and American couple who were going to be in France at the same time, the trip was going to be unscripted after the first three days. I wanted to go where I felt like going, do what I felt like doing and move on when I felt like it. This was both terrifying and exciting all at the same time. I did eventually make up some rules, such as I had to know where I’m going to sleep by 2pm and I had to get there before dark, but for the most part, I just lived moment by moment. It’s an extraordinary way to travel, but you do sacrifice efficiency and spend a lot of time trying to figure out logistics that a plan would work out prior to your trip.
03:46 As an aside, to figure out the travel, I used two free apps: Rome2Rio (that’s numeral two) and GoEuro. With both, you plug in your starting point and destination and it gives you your options and prices, and you can book right on the app. I also used the Flixbus app. Don’t worry about writing these down…you can find them in the show notes at ATA.com for Episode 008.
04:28 I choose Cassis because I saw that the Collanque National Park is adjacent. I didn’t know what a collanque was, but I know that countries highlight their most beautiful landscapes by designating them a national park, so off to Cassis I went in search of a good hike.
I want you to look at your hand and spread your fingers apart. Picture your fingers as super tall cliffs. Now imagine the gap between your fingers as the Mediterranean Sea. You are in Provence in the south of France. The water is turquoise. The light is amazing. It is in Cassis that I found peace.
05:17 Calanques are found on the Medateranean coast, and are made of these steep rock inlets and valleys in the water caused by glacial erosion or from the top of a large cave collapsing and then being partially submerged by a rise in sea level. The callanques are stunning!
05:32 When I arrived in Cassis, I was immediately smitten, and it quickly became and remains, my favorite place in France. It has it all:
Beautiful waterfront – check
Vineyards – check
Quaint fishing village with real people and not at all stuffy or pretentious – check
A castle on the cliff – check
Great restaurants – check
Vibrant market – check
Culture – check
Friendly locals – check
Great food – check
Great hiking, paddling and cycling – check, check and check
06:01 If you are a little nervous about trying adventure travel in a foreign country, I could not more highly recommend getting your fanny over to Cassis and using as a base for day trips.
06:10 The Callanques National Park was only established in 2012. It has over 200 sq miles (over 500 sq km). There are multiple hiking trails, none of which I found to be overly difficult, although to get to this one quiet beach between the cliffs, you had a manageable rock scramble, but nothing hard or dangerous. Be sure to wear your bathing suit, as you can enjoy a lovely and refreshing swim in the private cove that few (relatively speaking) make the effort to get to.
I’m not sure if I was lucky or not, because it made me nervous, but there were two guys free climbing the collanque cliff at this cove. They were up several hundred feet in the air. They had no rope support and appeared to know what they were doing, but one mistake and they were doomed as the limestone cliff is a straight shot down to the shore. Watching them made me nervous for them, but they also entertained the small gathering at the beach.
Happily, I witnessed no mishaps before I headed back.
07:04 To find your way around the park, you can pick up a map of the park in the well-run Tourist Information Office, located right on the downtown waterfront. The staff speaks English and I imagine other common languages in addition to French and were most helpful and justifiably proud of their amazing home.
07:20 If you are in Cassis during summer wildfire season, the callanques may only be accessible by boat or kayak. It’s a good idea to check with the Visitor’s center before you head out anyway, just to find out conditions. There are a few roads into the park, but the roads are often poor, jammed and parking is almost non-existent unless you have a reservation at one of the restaurants.
Personally, I would recommend hiking or kayaking myself to avoid the hassle. The park is literally just outside of the town Cassis so it’s an easy walk.
07:47 One evening, I was sitting at a restaurant overlooking the harbor and on the other side of the national park is a massive cliff called Cap Canaille, the tallest coastal cliff in Europe. Watching the sunset turn the cliff red, I told the waiter I was going to climb it in the morning. He laughed as if he thought I couldn’t do it. Granted I know I don’t look the part, but I was determined.
The reason he laughed is because the grade is SUPER steep. It not that far, but you sure need good lungs. If you hike later in the day, you pass a vineyard open for wine tastings, that would make for a nice reward on the way back down.
08:27 When I reached the top, the view was magnificent! You can see for miles and I felt like a speck in this incredible landscape. I decided to try to use the video feature on my phone for the first time. Apparently you have to hold it in a certain direction. I’ll put my sideways video on the ATA website, and if you turn your head, you’ll get just a taste of the view.
08:49 There’s a trail up there and while I didn’t see anyone at that time of day, I unfortunately saw signs that folks had been there before. PLEASE FOLKS: bring a baggie and put your toilet paper in it if nature calls! It must not rain much there, so people’s littered TP was often alongside the trail. How disrespectful of the beauty they can climbed to witness.
Litter aside, it was one of my more worthwhile climbs. The view was absolutely amazing! I should note that you are able to drive up there and much of the hike is along the road.
09:31 If you need a break from hiking, you can always rent a kayak and explore the callanques that way. This and all activities can be arranged at the Visitors Center.
09:45 Whether you rent a kayak or not, take time to take the guided boat tour of the callanques so you can get the perspective from the water. They offer several tours depending on how many callanques you want to visit. Each cove and cliff looks completely different and just when you think one can’t get prettier, the next one surprises you and does. In addition to kayaking, you can snorkel, scuba dive, wind surf or rent a boat.
10:10 Cassis is surrounded by vineyards. One great way to explore the countryside is by bike. I took a guided bike tour that ended with a wine tasting. It was my first time on an electric bike. If a hill was a bit much for me, all I had to do was turbo charge my bike with a quick flick of a switch, and ZOOM! The bike did most if not all of the work if I wanted it to. If you imagine rolling vineyards in France, that’s what the Cassis surroundings look like: picturesque, quaint, inviting…
My tour had two guides and I was the only non-French speaking guest. I was a little annoyed that, while both guides spoke English, they hardly translated anything for me. Fortunately, a kind Swiss woman took over that job and explained what the guides were telling us when we would stop at some historic or otherwise notable place.
10:35 One interesting story is that a long time ago, at one cove along the ride, pirates would use lanterns to trick passing ships into thinking the cove was safe, and when the ships crashed against the rocks, out a-plundering they would go.
10:48 Of course you can get in a good hike just wandering the charming streets of Cassis. Artifacts indicate that the harbor area was settled beginning in the 5th and 6th century. You can get a taste of the history by visiting the free Communal Oven, called the Le Four Banal, which was built in the 17th century and just excavated this century. There’s also a nice Museum of Popular arts and traditions worth checking out.
When I get to a new town, I mostly just like to wander and get lost. The curved streets can be a bit of a maze, but if you get really lost, just head downhill, you will eventually reach the harbor, so no worries. Of course, you can pick up a map at the Visitor’s Center.
11:25 I also ate well in Cassis. My favorite meal was a shrimp pasta with an exquisite sauce I would marry if that were possible. The portion was overly generous and as I had a refrigerator back at the room, I asked for a to go box. To go boxes aren’t common in Europe and they didn’t have anything. They were also somewhat amused that I would eat leftovers. Using my butchered French combined with pantomime, I explained that it was my favorite dish so far in France so there was no way I would allow such a dish to go into the trash. They finally relented and cleaned out an ice cream container to put my dinner remains in. We all laughed.
12:00 That reminds me of the night I took my Scottish friend Jamie out to dinner for his birthday in Glasgow. We went to a tapas restaurant and way over ordered. Easily more than half of our delicious dishes remained. Jamie is a single guy and I told him he should take it home so he wouldn’t have to cook the next day. He explained that they don’t really do that there. I insisted, and the restaurant wrapped the dishes up for us. At the end of my trip, after my long distance hike, I went out for my final dinner with Jamie and his mom. At the end of the meal, they asked for a to go box for the leftovers. I laughed thinking perhaps I started a trend in Europe. I have this cute picture of Jamie holding his first to go box in front of one of those fun red phone booths in Scotland. I’ll put on the website.
12:42 I fell in love with Cassis the moment I saw the harbor. The colorful fishing boats line the shore and match the charm of the harbor front shops with their gaiety. What I really liked is that these are real people, doing real work and going about the business of life.
12:56 I had arrived in Cassis from Antibe, a very upscale town where the uber wealthy park their massive yachts when playing in Monte Carlo. It’s a lovely town and certainly worth a visit, but Antibe to me is comprised of the rich, the workers, and the tourists. Whereas in Cassis I got the feeling that Cassis would continue to go about its business whether or not any tourists showed up. If fact, most of the tourists seem to be day trippers taking the 25 minute ride in from Marseille. Most were French, and I never met an American my entire visit. Cassis is a place that I could call home. I even put the Cassis weather on my phone so I can check it out during the year. It does get cold in the winter as they create a public ice skating rink for everyone to use at the end of December through January. I am determined to live there for at least a month or two one day, and my Swiss translator friend offered to let me her apartment as her family only uses it a few times a year.
13:48 If I was smitten when I arrived. Watching the sun go down and light up the massive cliff Cap Canaille, got me serious about the town, and then I fully fell in love once I saw Cassis at night. While you can’t miss seeing the castle on the cliff during the day, Cassis comes into its own at night. The owners of this now privately held castle uplight it after dark, and it is just breathtaking. I was there during a full moon as well, and the water was rough. So the moonlight was highlighting the crashing waves along the beach, the harborfront shop lights combined with moonlight to bounce light upon the ripples in the cove alongside the fishing boats. And the castle was absolutely dazzling! When I returned to the hostel that night, I told my host I would be extending my stay until further notice.
14:34 Let me tell you about the castle. It’s called the Chateau de Cassis.
It started as a watch tower in the 5th century. Eventually the castle and walls were built beginning in the 8th century. The castle was all but abandoned in the 17th century, when most of the remaining residents moved to the village of Cassis. The castle became private property in the 1800’s and remains so today. It has been lovingly renovated and is now you can rent a suite and stay there if you want! I’ll put a link to the castle in the show notes. Staying at the castle is justifiably more expensive than a typical hotel, but I didn’t think it unreasonable. I plan to stay there at least for a night or two on my next visit. But on this trip, I stayed in an inexpensive hostel where I met this cool Morrocan woman named Malek who I still keep up with, plus a Parisian named Solveig with whom I reconnected and met for drinks in Paris later on in my trip. And as she is a castle lover, I have invited her to come visit me in NC so she can see the Biltmore Castle in Asheville.
15:32 As an aside, you can rent the castle for an event, so if you know someone is looking for a super cool venue for a destination wedding, you ought to forward this podcast to them so they can check it out! It’s no doubt expensive, but man what a venue!
15:45 I am grateful to Cassis. It was here that I finally started feeling like my old self again. It was in Cassis that I began to believe that my life could be wonderful again, even though it was going to look so different without Bill. I believe that somewhere Bill is smiling watching me stretch my wings and tackle evermore interesting trips outside of my comfort zone. While he personally wouldn’t want to go on the types of adventures I’ve been taking, he would’ve been the first to encourage me to go!
16:12 It’s obvious that I’ve fallen in love with Cassis and almost hate sharing it because I would hate to see it get too touristy and spoiled. But when I looked back over my trips and wanted to try to figure out which trip I would recommend to someone who wanted to get his or her feet wet in foreign adventure travel, I could think of no place better than Cassis. It truly has it all and can be tailored as inexpensively or luxury as you want plus you have the ever helpful visitors center there to guide you as needed.
16:37 Using the village as a base camp, you can decide each day what you feel like doing, depending on how your muscles feel and what the weather is like. The Visitors Center can make any arrangements that you need and if you like to plan in advance, their website can help you as well. I’ll link to it on the ATA website. There’s an abundance of outdoor adventure activities all set in one of the most charming places that has ever touched my heart. There are many places I have loved, but as the saying goes, I wouldn’t want to live there. I can’t say that about Cassis. I could definitely see me living there, certainly for the short term and quite possibly longer.
17:19 Be sure to visit ATA.com to see all the photos and videos of this amazing place. I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of Cassis. I would give it a difficulty rating of 2-3 and the best time to go is late spring and early fall for the best weather and crowds. Like always, I’ve put together a FREE Travel Planner that you automatically get if you join our monthly newsletter and community, or you can download it off the website if you need it sooner.
I want to thank all of you for supporting me and encouraging me, particularly as I learn how to do this podcast thing. I’m working on improving the audio but am not very techie, so it’s been a challenge. I promise I’ll get there eventually so please be patient.
Your emails are so encouraging! I want to give a shout out to fellow North Carolinian Dennis, who should be back from his Danube cruise now. I’ve got an upcoming episode about biking and cruising the Danube, so hopefully he can give us some insights as well.
18:09 Also, I see that the episode on Nicaragua seems to have sparked some interest in that lovely and often overlooked country. Laurie from Colorado is adding it to her bucket list, as is Kai from Washington, who is adding both Nicaragua AND Sweden to her list.
Keep the emails coming! You can always reach me at email@example.com, or click on the connect or contact button on the website.
19:17 Did you know that I’ve made it easy for you to find a cool trip? You can use the search feature of the website to check out all the adventures covered to date. I categorize each trip by difficulty rating, location, activity, accommodations, who it’s good for such as solo, couple, family friends or custom, what kind of budget you can expect and more.
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20:04 You can also share any episode by clicking the box with the arrow on whatever device you are listening on and then email or share it on social media. If you do share it on Facebook or Twitter, be sure to tag me, Kit Parks, so hopefully I’ll see it to thank you.
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I’ll be back in two weeks with another epic adventure: we’ll be rafting the Colorodo River through the Grand Canyon. You don’t want to miss it! Until then, Adventure on!