Just west of Marseille, the locals are buzzing about the news that by next year the region will have a national park, not far off from the port of Cassis. The Parc Nacional des Calanques is set to open in 2012, the first national park since 1979.
After several years of quarrels between local residents, the government, local fisheries and environmentalists. The park has a long going for it since it encompasses both land and sea as well as being location just a stone’s throw from Marseille, the second largest city in France.
It’s no wonder where the park got its name, a calanque is the Corsican word for an inlet with steep walls, usually of limestone. The 40km stretch of calanques between Marseille and Cassis have always been a popular tourist attraction, among both foreigners and locals alike, for their intimate bays and coves. The views are spectacular but without proper preservation, these delicate rock formations are easily damaged. Hence why the government would like to protect it with the “parc national” title.
The current situation
Presently around 2 million people explore and visit the Calanques region ever year, mostly those arriving on flights to Marseille, but environmental experts are saying that so much foot traffic is causing the soil to erode on land. At sea, the boat anchors are ripping up precious sea grass that is home to many species as well as being an essential producer of oxygen in the Mediterranean. Add in the constant noise from tourist boasts and the place is pretty much in ruins.
The national park will spread over an area of 500 square kilometres only a fifth of which will be on land. One part of the sea will be completely off-limits for both local fisherman and tourist charter boats while the rest will be subject to some restrictions. On land, the only changes will be that walkers and hikers will be restricted to designated pathways only, the same goes for rock climbers.
When/How to go
The best time to visit the calanques is between March and May either on foot or by boat. The easiest way to approach is by boat from Cassis rather than Marseille. There are plenty of boat tours to choose from, leaving as often as every hour and tour anywhere from 3 to 8 calanques. You can expect to dish out anywhere from €16-24 for a one or two hour trip. It’s almost impossible to access by land during the summer due to the high risk of fire.
Have you ever explored the calanques in southern France?