The March to Cassis

Andrea Batstone

© Copyright 2019 by Andrea Batstone                      

My husband and I spent two wonderful weeks one May in the South of France with good friends.  We had many wonderful adventures, but the one that continues to make us dissolve in laughter is what we aptly called “The March to Cassis”.

Our temporary home was a lovely villa overlooking the sparkling Mediterranean.  A Provencal-style oasis, with a pool, situated in a hillside medieval village called Bormes-les-Mimosas.  We shared the villa with three other couples. Each evening we would gather together and make plans. The next day we decided as a group to take a boat cruise on the Mediterranean from Cassis, an old coral fishing village tucked into limestone hills.

A short 45 minute ride along the coast would allow us to explore fjord like inlets called calanques  Our destination was the third calanque called En-Vau. Instead of taking the boat round trip, we opted to walk back to Cassis along the wind swept headlands, advertised as an easy two kilometre stroll.

The boat cruise was spectacular.  Long narrow tongues of sheer limestone cliff cut into the hillside served as quiet, calm moorage havens for recreational boats.  Private beaches, sun terraces and vacation homes of the rich and famous snuggled into the crescent shaped inlets.

As we approached the third and the most beautiful calanque, En-Vau, the sea transformed into a beautiful turquoise blue calm.  Crystal clear water allowed us to see the underwater life. The white sand ocean floor reached onto the beach and lined the steep sheer cliffs.   

Looking around as our boat approached the shallow water we realized there was no evidence of a dock.  Asking a deckhand, he gestured towards the sky-high cliffs, indicating with dancing fingers that we would climb up them.  

With shaky knees and a supportive team effort we clambered over the rocks, first up the cliffs and then down a small landslide finally reaching the safety of the beach.  The beach was

very secluded, famous for nude bathing in the summer months.  Today there was only a hand full of sunbathers.

After a short break and the obligatory pictures we decided to head back.. Asking, in broken French and gestures  to which direction was out, we started along a well groomed path. Consulting the vague map periodically, we felt confident we were on the right track.  The path

wove along.  Oak and pines trees afforded us welcoming shade as the day began to heat up.  We began a slow climb up when we came to a fork in the path. Choosing a path we thought correct, we briefly headed up a rock fall.  However, after several scraped knees, questions of direction and sheer fear of heights we headed back down the rock fall and took the other fork.

This led us to a myriad of paths wandering  along the headlands. With trees too short to ever fully hide the ocean we continued in the Cassis direction.  As diligent soldiers, sometimes we walked in single line, sometimes in partners. Some broke out in songs, some grumbled and some had bouts of energetic jogs.  

At times we truly felt that we were hopelessly lost.  We hadn’t come across any other tourist and the distant city (which we hoped was Cassis) never appeared closer.  We were, however, on a maintained path and knew, eventually, we would arrive somewhere. The group decided that no one had appointments to meet and the worst that could happen is we would arrive home later than expected.  While we hadn’t anticipated the distance of the “walk” and were wholly unprepared for the length, the only two bottles of water amongst eight people were graciously shared in stringent rations.

After two hours of wandering, we reached the final calanque.  Cassis was now in reaching

distance.  Passing through a barrier leading to a park we encountered a sign for the path we had just hiked.  Interpreted in English, it read “Warning! Forbidden Access, Dangerous Passage, Rock in Unstable Equilibrium”.  

With two kilometres still to go through the outskirts of Cassis,  promises of cold beer and a pan bagnat (a crusty roll, stuffed with tuna, olives, peppers, onions and salad steeped in olive oil ... a Provencale treat) carried us the last distance.  When we finally reached a sea side café in the heart of Cassis (an estimated 10 kilometre hike from En-Vau) and settle with our tired feet up, food and drinks in hand while those that grumbled the most, dined on a memorable adventure.

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