THE MASSIF DES CALANQUES

The Massif des Calanques, or the creeks of Marseille is the name given to the rocky coastline which stretches 20 km along the Mediterranean Sea between La Madrague (in the south-west of Marseille) and the town of Cassis, via les Goudes and Callelongue. It is one of the most remarkable natural sites in France and a major area of natural resources for its one million annual visitors. The word calanque (which comes from the Provencal word ‘calanco’) refers to a valley carved out by a river, then recovered by the sea.

The countless fossils embedded in the limestone show a history that began there more than a hundred million years ago with the accumulation of sediment at the bottom of the sea, followed by a lifting movement during the tertiary period, the same time the Alps were formed. Erosion then accentuated the fault lines, to form the rugged landscape that we see today.

The Cosquer cave, which is located in the mountains, under water, shows us how long Man occupied the site.
The calanques of Marseille have been the stage of a multitude of incredible stories you can learn about during your cruise aboard the Levantin.

Flora
The Calanques are made up of a distinctive ecosystem. Soil is almost non-existent, the extended limestone cliffs of scree are crisscrossed with many fault lines and cracks into which plants anchor their roots: multiflora heather spiny cushions of milkvetch, bay laurel, Kermes oak, Mediterranean smilax, Aleppo pine and juniper sit side by side with endemic species such as the hart’s tongue fern or sandwort fern, which is a symbol of the Creeks.
In total, we can consider that 83 species are either protected nationally or regionally, or on the list of endangered species.

Fauna

The fauna of the Creeks has either lived there for a long time, like the Bonelli eagle, or has adapted over the years, like most insects. The breeding birds here are remarkable and the cliffs house a very large number of seabirds: an amazing 30% of France’s Cory’s Shearwaters and Storm Petrels live here, as do 10% of its Mediterranean Shearwaters.

THE RIOU ARCHIPELAGO

Just off the Massif des Calanques, a number of islands extend in single file: their names are Maire, Jarre, Jarron, Plane and Riou and they are accompanied by some smaller islets. This assembly forms the archipelago of Riou, the only uninhabited archipelago of the French mainland coast. This highly mineral site rises to 191 meters and has nearly 25 kilometres of rugged coastline forming a multitude of creeks.

The northern slopes are covered with a mosaic of mastic bushes which plant their roots between scree, bare rock and vegetation. The southern slopes are very mineral and are cut into steep cliffs that plunge abruptly into the sea.
These islands are a sanctuary for many rare species, both animal and plant and are recognised in Europe for their unique natural heritage. The diversity of the flora is quite astonishing with more than 320 plant species, including 18 protected by law. The islands are also a major breeding site for French seabirds. Among the species found on the island, you can see ocellated lizards and common wall lizards, many species of birds including the Cory’s Shearwater, the Mediterranean Shearwater and the European Storm Petrel, which are all protected. It is also the only reproduction site in France for the European Shag Cormorant.

THE COTE BLEUE

La Côte Bleue refers to a portion of the Mediterranean coast located to the west of Marseille. The name «Blue Coast» refers to the colour of the water surrounding the massif.

Less known than the creeks located between Marseille and Cassis, the creeks of the Blue Coast, between Carro and L’Estaque are also limestone coves, which shelter small ports and beautiful beaches which have been preserved due to their inaccessibility by land. From the exit of Marseille in L’Estaque to Carry-le-Rouet, no road follows the coast whose rocks fall steeply into the sea, barely leaving room for the small ports nestled in their creeks.

THE FRIOUL ARCHIPELAGO

The Frioul archipelago (or ‘Frieu’ in Provençal) is located about 7 km off the coast of Marseille and consists of four islands, totalling an area of around 200 hectares. The Islands are considered as one of the 111 districts of Marseille attached to the 7th district. Geologically speaking, the islands are similar to the creeks of Marseille and l’Estaque, with stratified white limestone cliffs falling into the sea.

In terms of ora, all the species endemic to the Provençal coast can be found as well as some rare and protected species, unique to the Marseille Islands.

Many fortifications can also be found that have witnessed Marseille’s history over the centuries. There are the forts of Ratonneau, Pomègues, Brégantin, the Pomègues watch tower, the artillery batteries of Cape Cross, Cape Caveaux, as well as the beautifully restored Hôpital Caroline. Don’t miss the Château d’If which served as a prison for almost 400 years, and was made famous in the novel ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ by Alexandre Dumas. This is one of the most visited sites in Marseille and is now a listed building.

No cars are allowed on the islands of Frioul and even cycling is only permitted under certain conditions. There is a marina of more than 600 places, lined with shops along the harbour and homes. About a hundred people live on the islands all year long: children, adults and retirees, as well as amateur yachters who live on their boats.

CONTACT

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OLYMPE@LEVANTIN.FR

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