Hiking the Calanques underneath the Massif of Mt. Puget (564 m.) between Marseille and Cassis isn’t a lot of altitude and it’s not a huge distance. The scale of the rocks is big enough but the problems are the sun (and maybe the wind) and the loose limestone. The closeness of the sea, giving the impression that should one slip, the result would be an inevitable slide through seriously sharp scree and over a vertical cliff in to the dark turquoise Mediterranean. The cliffs being but 400m. is scant consolidation... it’s possible to drown in a puddle just a few inches deep etc. Cap Canaille is 394 m. (the orange cliff in the distance) and the Col de La Candelle that I was hiking is 433 m.
But this precarious but very solid terrain between cliff and sea is home to a wide variety of plants and trees, many apparently thriving on solid rock in blatant botanical improbability. The paths lead from view to view with, as coast paths do, the implicit understanding that the sea remains on the same hand. The daring heights and improbable passes thrill as much as the variation in vegetation with altitude.
The climbs, looking innocuous but actually many tens of metres of altitude and leading to a different botanical zone, beguile with their apparent simplicity only to ensnare with multiple successive pitches requiring true three point scrambling.
Looking back in a “did I do that?” manner was yet again thrilling. The South Downs path was never like this and the scrambles in the Avon Gorge in Bristol that I learnt scrambling on as a child are now fenced off and labelled dangerous. Full four times those scrambles counts in the Calanques a mere dashing of the line on the map. Something to be expected along the route of a grande randonnée. Not that I’d enjoy it more heavily laden than with a day pack.
Calanques are very Marseille: not glacial valleys that became flooded like the fjords but tortured and uplifted rock that was once sea bed.
And the final convenience of the Calanques is the bus ride home and dinner in a restaurant with a fine jazz saxophonist and xylophonist busking nearby...