Introducing Les Calanques
Marseille abuts the wild and spectacular Calanques, a 20km stretch of high, rocky promontories, rising from brilliant turquoise Mediterranean waters. The sheer cliffs are occasionally interrupted by small idyllic beaches, some impossible to reach without a kayak. The Marseillais cherish the Calanques, and come to soak up sun or take a long hike. The promontories have been protected since 1975 and shelter an extraordinary wealth of flora and fauna: 900 plant species, Bonelli’s eagle, Europe’s largest lizard (60cm Eyed Lizard) and longest snake (2m Montpellier snake).
From October to June the best way to see the Calanques (including the 500 sq km of the rugged inland Massif des Calanques) is to hike the many maquis-lined trails. During summer, trails close due to fire danger: take a boat tour, though they don't stop to let you swim; or try negotiating with a fisherman to take you from the Vieux Port. Otherwise, drive or take public transport.
Marseille's tourist office leads guided walks (no kids under eight) and has information about trail closures.
Sea kayaking from Marseille or Cassis is wondrous. Raskas Kayak organises sea-kayaking tours and tourist offices have details of many more guides.