Road trip: the French Riviera off the beaten path

A week along the breathtaking roads between Marseille to Nice. Step 1: from Marseille to Cassis.
Road trip: the French Riviera off the beaten path
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The French Riviera is a breathtaking patchwork of sky and sea. From Cassis to Saint-Tropez, little fishing villages with watercolor facades dot the sloping hillsides. Large pine trees and inlet coves hide amongst the rocky landscape. It is along the winding coastal roads where we find the most beautiful panoramic views of this stunning region. Are you ready to hit the road along the waves for a springtime road-trip? Come along with us!

Day 1: Marseille, a melting pot of culture

Our journey begins in the Old Port of Marseille, facing the waves and huts where colorful boats are repaired. The century-old buildings sit side-by-side with buildings from the 50s. It is this mixture of styles that gives the Phocéenne city its character and special energy.

The Old Port is the meeting place for sunny Saturdays. We wander with family between sailboats and lively terraces. At the end of the harbor, the magnificent Fort Saint-Jean has been guarding the entrance to the city for more than eight centuries.

At the very top of its pink walls, we are all alone facing the Mediterranean. On one side of the fort is the MUCEM, wrapped in its concrete facade. It is the symbol of the avant-garde spirit of Marseille. Together, the old lady of Marseille and the newcomer, both embody the old and new faces of Marseille.

Make a stop for a drink at la Caravelle in the port. Or, have a cocktail on the perched balcony with an unobstructed view onto the boats below.

At the end of the morning, we make our way to les Goudes, a tiny port lost to the confines east of Marseille. We must walk along the Corniche and enter the Calanques to reach this small village.

Here, the tradition of Marseille has remained stubbornly rooted in colorful fisherman's cabins with improbable nicknames. The tiny and unique street leading to the port has never moved an inch. This is where we come to taste the catch of the day, to feel the breeze in our hair and to be sheltered from the sun by the golden thatched terraces made of reeds.

Where to eat? At l'Esplaï, Le Grand Bar des Goudes: you can expect a view of the port in front of a good bouillabaisse, or an extra-fresh fish carefully presented.

If there is no room, wait with a glass of rosé on one of the tables installed outside the bar. The surrealist maneuvers of motorists trying to cross the tiny street are a spectacle in and of itself.

After a day strolling in the village of les Goudes and basking in the sun facing the Baie des Singes, where the waves are unleashed on windy days, we return to the city for the evening. At the entrance to Marseille, just at the exit of the Calanques, between the small ports of Madrague and Pointe Rouge, is our Villa de l'eau. The Villa de l'eau is a pure product of the spirit of Marseille, with contemporary decoration and our feet in the water (not to mention a swimming pool on the roof.)

Day 2: Cassis, the door to paradise

We start early in the day to reach Cassis by the Col de la Gineste. A mythical road that cuts through the Calanques of Marseille, it is also a paradise for bikers, cyclists and breathtaking panoramas. The view of the Friuli Islands is magnificent when departing from Marseille.

As if the road had been traced on the cliff, it bends and winds over incredible landscapes. The sea stretches out as far as the eye can see.

This is where you reach one of the most beautiful calanques of the region: En Vau, with waters like that of the Caribbean and turrets of jagged, white rocks.

Next, we come out above Cassis, facing a magnificent view of Cap Canaille, the highest cliff in France, overlooking the tiny port of Cassis. We take a path through the vineyards to reach the village nestled at the foothills by the sea.

It's now time for a walk between the boats and the colorful facades (and, of course, an ice cream at Maison Casalini.) Then, we reach the Villa Cap Canaille and sip a glass of good, white wine from Cassis, all while facing the sunset over the vineyards.

Day 3: in the wild kingdom of the Calanques

The real treasure of Cassis is its Calanques.

It's here where hundreds of majestic hiking paths are lined with wild flowers in the spring and where white mountains plunge into turquoise water. It's where secret coves and trees take strange shapes when trying to cling to vertiginous walls.

Early in the morning we explore by foot the trails that crisscross this wild territory. Protected creeks follow one after the other without being too alike. Connected by ridges high in the sky are the Port Miou, Port Pin, En-Vau and Calanque de l'Oule.

After a day of walking, idleness and diving from the rocky peaks, we have the impression of being very small in this landscape of another world.

At nightfall, on the way back to Cassis, we descend the Route des crêtes, which connects La Ciotat through the summit of the red cliffs of Cape Canaille.

Only a few minutes from the center of town, we admire the view from the terrace of our Villa Chloe, which clings to the cliffs at the exit of Cassis.

As the sun sets, the road and its huge plateau's blaze up and take on the airs of the Wild West. In following the mythical paths of the French Riviera lies Saint-Tropez and Nice: the next stops on our adventure.

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