Some people would describe the Calanques as the “Fjords of the Mediterranean”, others would describe it as the most spectacular coastline in France – we would describe them our playground!
With recorded climbing going back for over 100 years and involving climbing legends such as local-lad Gaston Rebuffat, the Calanques have a rich climbing history. There are several thousand bolted and trad lines on the white limestone cliffs encompassing all grades and styles of climbing; from easy slabs to technical faces and brutal overhangs!
Rain, even in winter, is unusual in the Calanques; climbing is possible nearly all year round. The reason for this lack of rainfall is the Mistral wind; a strong, cool wind that comes down the Rhone valley from the Alps which keeps the rain clouds away. During a Mistral the exposed cliffs can become too cold to climb on, however climbing is usually possible on sheltered south facing cliffs.
The summer heat makes midday climbing uncomfortable and, due to the fire risk, access restrictions* are applied to the area for much of July and August; this makes a perfect excuse to visit some other crags in the region!
Some of the climbing sites are easily accessible, such as Les Baumettes which is just a few minutes walk from the car park. Other areas are more remote, such as La Candelle or En Vau, with a walk-in of 45 minutes. Generally, however, a walk-in of 15 to 20 minutes will take you to your crag.
Despite its proximity to Marseille, the Calanques are a wild place where it is easy to be alone with nature. The flora and fauna are spectacular – imagine my surprise to meet a family of 7 wild boar whilst on an evening run!
Climb Provence would be delighted to prepare a bespoke climbing trip for you in the Calanques, here are a few ideas…
The renown mountaineer Gaston Rebuffat was born and bred in Marseille. He did his early climbing here in the Calanques before going on to make his mark in the Alps and the greater ranges. His routes live on, some of them retrobolted, and make great guided days out.
Children and Families
The Calanques are ideal for children to experience climbing – indeed there are a number of locations with fun, easy grade climbs which are set-up especially with children in mind.
The Big 5
Le Bec de Sormiou, Le Socle, La Candelle, En Vau and Les Goudes are spectacular multi-pitch destinations. Here you can climb with a guide to experience the ambience of these great cliffs and learn the skills of multi-pitch climbing.
The thousands of routes on crags in the Calanques cover all grades from 3a to 9a+! It is a great place to receive performance coaching sessions no matter what your current grade or ambitions are.
“Climbing in the Calanques was a great introduction to climbing outdoors… …I’d do it again!”
M Bamber, Bristol, UK
Marseille is connected to the rest of France by an efficient motorway system, to the rest of Europe by train and to the rest of the world by air. Marseille airport is approximately 30 minutes away from the city. It is linked to the city by bus (timetable) and taxi or you can arrange a pick-up with one of the guides.
Transport within Marseille is possible by taxi, tram, bus, metro and by city bikes (tram, bus & metro timetables – in French).
Where to stay
For visitors with a focus on sight-seeing we would suggest the Vieux Port area of the city with its numerous shops, bars, restaurants and attractions.
For visitors with a focus on the Calanques and the sea we would recommend the Pointe Rouge area of the city. This is the beach-front area of the city and it is just a few minutes away from the closest crags. Here you can swim in the sea after a day of climbing and there is a variety of restaurants and bars for your evening entertainment.
Between the 1st June and 30th September access to the Calanques (and some other ranges around Provence) is restricted due to the fire risk. Fire risk is assessed according to a combination of temperature, rain levels, moisture in the vegetation, amount of sunshine and the strength of the wind. The risk is expressed and at three levels –
Orange – You can enter the Calanques at any time of the day.
Red – You can enter the Calanques between 6am and 11am.
Black – It is prohibited to enter the Calanques throughout the day.
Check the access situation before heading off for the day by phoning 0811 20 13 13 (information available in English and French).