The French Riviera was only a couple of hours away from our rental house near Roussillon where we enjoyed as much of Provence as we could afford in both time and money last autumn. Today, the first day with a small dip in temperature whispered an end to the heat of summer and created a ripple of excitement for this year’s autumn trip to France. There’s time for all of that later. For now, I want to tell you about a sweet place on the Mediterranean. My good friend Gayle B. in the Dordogne whispered a lovely word into my ear – Cassis! Thank you, Gayle, for sharing this insider information, not a secret destination, but not a top-name vacation spot like Nice, or St. Tropez. Cassis is between Marseilles and Toulon, a tiny dot on the map with around eight thousand in population which can swell to forty thousand during August since it is an extremely popular summer resort, especially for French and other European vacationers. We were thankful to be in-the-know, and that we chose cool October to arrive and enjoy the relaxing ambience of an ancient, fishing village. The captivating waterfront with the colorful boats rocking gently in the balmy breeze made us feel comfortable and relaxed from the moment we took our first walk around the harbor. Little alleyways and squares invited us further up the hill with paintings on display and laundry hanging to dry from the windows. A new vista of the harbor and narrow lanes with purple bougainvillea climbing over walls drew us deeper in love with Cassis. The beach, Plage de la Grande Mer, where one can order a margarita (not kidding), is bordered to the east by Cap Canaille, a massive stone rampart looming above and into the sea. The cliffs are the highest maritime cliffs in Europe. The summit is the Grande Tete with a 394 meter sheer cliff. Canaille comes from the Latin Canallis Mons which means mountain of the waters, of the aqueducts, or from the Provençal Cap Naĭo, “the mountain that swims, that juts out into the sea.” I like the last description since the massif is a listed site, a beauty from the ship’s deck, from a tiny perch on a hotel balcony in the early morning, or from the last stroll in the golden glow of sunset. I promise that you will want to return again and again.I went back and forth on my hotel selection, wearing out the keyboard with my inquiries and indecision. I finally went with Le Golfe Hotel on the pedestrian walk, ring-side for the views and atmosphere. We had a room with a balcony for a budget price and 5-star charm at the end of the lane. Morning coffee was never better! Fishermen set up stalls, and vendors brought goods to the restaurants while we savored the relaxation of the picturesque scene. CLICK photo for larger image:
High on the cliff above the port is the Chateau de Cassis, a privately-owned, luxurious hotel with an unrivaled vantage point. Once this was a fortress to protect the town from invasion, dating from the thirteenth-century and it remained a military fortress until the late 1800s. Expect to pay more, but the hotel selection depends on location as well. Do you want to be above looking down on the pretty village circling the harbor? Or, would you prefer being at the edge of the water with a short stroll to all of the shops and restaurants? We signed-up right away for a boat ride past the lighthouse at the tip of the Quai des Moulins to see the calanques with rugged white stone rising high above the turquoise, emerald or indigo waters. Yes, the color varied depending on the light and location, but always beautiful. The stone of Cassis was used in the construction of the docks in major ports from Algeria to Greece. It was interesting to learn that the white limestone was also used to create the base of the Statue of Liberty, a gift to the United States from France. We saw young people scattered on the cliffs as we leisurely wound our way through at least five inlets with a lively bunch of oldsters and youngsters before returning to our little seaside village painted with happy colors and the golden rays of a setting sun.Then it was time for ice cream! (salted caramel) Husband Jim argued that it would ruin our dinner, but I pointed for his attention that everyone else was breaking the rules.
When in France, do as the Frenchmen! Games of boule were underway with the clack of balls and careful measurement by the serious men participating. Ladies were walking their dogs and children rode the carousel. Gradually folks shifted to the all-important selection of the restaurant for the evening meal. Cassis is ringed with sidewalk cafes, pizzerias, creperies and ice cream vendors. Local seafood is the main selection on offer and enjoyed when the sun dips and twinkling lights dot the harbor.
We were fortunate to be there for the market held twice weekly at Place Baragnon offering food, flowers, chic clothing and jewelry.
I wandered into the public garden to snap photos of the Mairie, a listed historic monument build in 1626 and now housing the offices of the mayor. I turned after focusing on the historic Hôtel de Ville and ran directly into two large policemen, an unexpected, human, uniformed barricade. Embarrassed and stumbling around, I adjusted my sunglasses and composure to make my apologies. Rather than being upset with me, they were friendly and offered to help me find anything I needed. I didn’t ask for them to round-up Jim to join his addled wife. I knew I could find him sampling cheese in the market.
Jim insisted that this was a good place to include a redneck joke as a reminder that I’m not sophisticated any day of the week, especially after a run-in with the law!
“You might be a redneck if you think the French Riviera is a foreign car!”
Cassis gets its name from the Roman Carsicis Portus, which means crowned port, referring to the stone peak that looks like a crown. Cassis deserves to be crowned as the winner in all classes. If you would like to see the beauty of the Mediterranean in a petite, jewel of a package, go to Cassis!
I have 300+ pictures from our two-night stay in Cassis. I wish I could share all of them. Thank you for coming around. Jim and I are extremely excited to be planning a trip to the French Alps with our flights arranged for only a short time away. Next time I add a story, it will likely be from France. Live on the spot reporting!! I’m looking forward to sharing our adventures in the mountains, by the lakes, possibly a short trip into Switzerland or Italy. Let’s see how lazy or adventurous we will be. Wish us safety and new happy experiences, please! Thank you for your kindness. Add your e-mail address in upper-right-hand corner to submit for free notification when a new story is posted, so you don’t miss the French Alps, the Provence or our hometown of Opp, Alabama.
Jim says this is further proof that I’m a redneck since I was excited to see turnips (sorry, just the roots, not the greens) in the Cassis market.
All photography is the property of Debbie Ambrous.