Pretty as a picture Cassis basks in the sunshine at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea on the Cote d’Azur, southern France…
Just 20km from Marseille, France’s second largest city, Cassis couldn’t be more different than its urban neighbour. Typically Provencal there is a colourful fishing port, winding little streets filled with art galleries, fountains and brasseries whose tables spill onto pavements bathed in sunlight and shaded by plane trees. The town of Cassis nestles in a creek between two inlets known as the Massif de Calanques and Cap Canaille, which is the highest maritime cliff in Europe and has acted as a landmark for sailors for thousands of years. It is a perfect base for trips to the Calanques National Park and is also great for wine lovers thanks to its beautiful vineyards, famous for their white and rose wines, and nothing to do with crème de cassis, a specialty of Burgundy which takes its name from blackcurrants (cassis).
History of Cassis
There has been a town here since the days of the Roman Empire, shown on maps as “Carsicis Portus or Cassitis”. After that not much was heard of about Cassis but by the 13th Century a castle had been built (now it’s a hotel) and the town became fairly prosperous until the 17th Century. It retains some of the original buildings from that time and you’ll discover a maze of alleyways, a fishermen’s district and bourgeois district with superb 16th and 17th Century houses. A wander around this pretty little town with its huddle of pastel coloured buildings is a must for visitors, 99 out of 100 visitors don’t want to leave (okay I made that up but I bet its close!)…
Colourful, vibrant and dynamic, Cassis today is a thriving tourist destination with pretty pavement cafés shaded from the summer sun in plane tree lined streets. There is little in life that is more appealing than sitting around the enticing harbour with its crystal clear sparkling azure blue waters and letting the sounds and sights soothe you into a relaxed state of mind. This is a place that has all year-round appeal with a gentle winter sun, pedestrian quaysides, numerous restaurants and a vibrant little market.
There is a famous saying by French poet Frédéric Mistral (1904 Nobel Prize for Literature): “He who has seen Paris but has not seen Cassis, has seen nothing” (“Qui a vu Paris et pas Cassis, n’a rien vu). Visit this town and you will definitely be agreeing with him – it’s a jewel in the crown of the Cote d’Azur.
What to see in Cassis
If you can drag yourself away from soaking up the atmosphere in the sun-soaked streets, you will find that there are a few things you absolutely shouldn’t miss:
Nip into the town hall in Place Baragnon. A superb 17th-century mansion (built circa 1625) with a pebble paved courtyard and a magnificent 17th-century staircase and traces of a medieval building in the basement, visible under the glass floor windows in the reception area.
Take a cruise: The Calanques, or inlets are an outstanding area of natural beauty, dramatic cliffs and creeks that you can only really appreciate from a boat. Forming a steeply sided range of rocky cliffs covering a distance of 20 kms between Marseille and Cassis, they are breathtakingly beautiful. Their formation, due mainly to water eroding the predominantly limestone rock, is similar to that of the fjords in Norway. Only the one at Port-Miou lies within the boundaries of Cassis; the other 13 are part of Marseille. Yet they are all referred to as the “Calanques of Cassis” and the town is the usual starting point for any visit.
Visit the small fish market: The fishermen in the harbour every day are one of the great sights that make Cassis so authentic, charming and quaint. Their link to a traditional lifestyle as well as the freshest fish ever makes the market an alluring place to visit. Pick up some cuttlefish and cook them with a drizzle of olive oil, a little garlic and some fresh tomatoes for a taste of Provence.
Wine tasting: The vineyards of Cassis were among the first to receive the appellation d’origine contrôlée (label of controlled origin), which was introduced in 1936. All the domains lie within the boundaries of Cassis sheltered by Cap Canaille which plunges into the Mediterranean 400 metres below. It isn’t a major wine producing area, with 12 vineyards producing around 1 million bottles a year but the red, white and rosé wine is fantastic and the white in particular goes well with bouillabaisse.
End the day at restaurant that serves fresh fish dishes and watch the sunset dip down into the sea and the sky turn from orange and pink to purple and then a deep velvet blue – unbeatable.
Visit the Cassis tourist office website for lots more details.