By Rebecca Brown
Tell friends that you're vacationing in the south of France and many of them will assume you're going to Cannes, Nice, St. Tropez, or Monaco. Watch the wistful, envious looks that cross their faces as they imagine you resting on the beach, soaking up the sun, drinking wine, and hobnobbing on yachts with celebrities.
And those are all perfectly worthy vacation activities. But if you're looking to add some activity to your beach and yacht time but still want the beauty and slow, sexy pace of the south of France, consider Cassis, a small fishing village near Marseilles, where you can indulge in these five can't-miss experiences.
1.Experience the Calanques.
Cassis is known for its small coves lined with steep, dramatic walls of white limestone. You can experience them in a number of ways—by boat, on foot, by kayak, or on a climb. We recommend starting with a boat trip to get oriented. Walk down to the harbor and you'll find a number of tours that will take you to them, and most of them offer roughly the same deals: see three calanques (45 minutes, 15€), five (65 minutes, 18€), or eight (90 minutes, 21€).
Once you have the lay of the land, try hiking the calanques for a different perspective. It's a four to six-hour trip if you do Port-Miou, Port-Pin, and En-Vau, the farthest and most famous of the calanques. Or you can take a short hike to the first calanque, Port-Miou, and enjoy a picnic then a jump from the calanque into the water.
Insider tip: the hiking trails are usually closed in June and July due to risk of fire, so plan accordingly.
2. Eat Bouillabaisse and Sample Cassis's Famed White Wines.
If you've made it all the way to Cassis, it would be a shame to leave without trying bouillabaisse, the dish it's known for. The preparation and serving of bouillabaisse is very specific and is even outlined in something called The Marseilles Bouillabaisse Charter. (They take it pretty seriously.) To start with, it must be served with at least four of six designated fish and the fish must be cut up in front of you. Locals recommend Chez Gilbert on Quai Baux on the harbor, which serves bouillabaisse according to the charter for 45€. Sip on a glass of AOC Cassis wine; we liked Domaine du Paternel and La Ferme Blanche.
3. Take a Walk in the Harbor
There's no better way to live la vie Française than enjoying a slow, leisurely walk, south-of-France style. Take photos of the boats and the pastel-painted buildings. Start with dessert and finish with dinner: indulge in a gelato or Grand Marnier crêpe, then take one turn off the Quai to Rue Pasteur and enjoy a pizza at La Fringalle.
4. Hike or Drive Cap Canaille
With stunning views of the Gulf of Cassis, olive trees, calanques, and Cassis's vineyards, this 7.5-mile (one way) walk on the largest seaside cliffs in France is definitely worth your time. There's also a nine-mile drive along the peaks with plenty of turnouts so you can stop and take pictures.
5. Shop for Local Treats at the Wednesday-Friday Market.
Any trip to a French village or town should always include a stop at the local market. Cassis's market happens every Wednesday and Friday morning, from 8 am to 1 pm, on Place Baragnon.
Insider's Tip: Keep an eye out for south-of-France-only sweet treats, like navettes, nougat, calissons, almonds, and candied fruit.
Thinking of a trip to France?
For up-to-the-minute hotel and restaurant recommendations, as well as the best planning advice, check out our France Travel Guide.
Rebecca Brown is a Southerner-turned-San Franciscan-turned-Parisian. She is an enthusiastic taster of French pastries, baguettes, and wines; a Kentucky hoops junkie; a devoted Bikram yogi; a baker of sweets; a lover of fog, bacon, coffee, surfing, breakfast, porch swings, roof decks, all things French and fried, and traveling to places she's never been.