We awoke in our corner in Marly Parc to a cacophony of singing birds and revving motorcycles. We paid up and headed south, away from Marseille towards the south coast. Our first stop was in the tourist town of Cassis. We managed to carefully squeeze into a space in the only motorhome-allowed area in town, tight to a weed-strewn rock on one side. The last space, steep and weedy, was very difficult to access due to lazy car drivers using the aire to go play tennis, rather than walk the 50m from the ample and empty car-parking further down the hill. From here we walked, stifled in the hot dry air, into town. We passed several lovely beaches, a thriving market and a busy marina, the centre buzzing with holiday-makers. We continued on around the coast, the crowds thinning as we left town.
We were heading to a more special beach, the third of three celebrated coves. The first calanque was utilised as a long marina, lined on both sides with large sailboats. We followed a wide stony pathway thinking it would make a great aire, up and down following the rocky contours of the land. We reached the second calanque, Port Pin, a white pebbled beach with shining clear, inviting water that was close to seducing us to stop. Instead, we pushed on, 30 more minutes of sweaty walking through sparse woodland and up steep, dusty screes. Birds of prey soared and circled overhead. We dropped into what looked like a dead-end canyon, a fully enclosed cauldron surrounded by high cliffs. We thought it couldn’t access the sea. But our eyes were deceived; there was a narrow souk on the right side, invisible from above, and this direction change led us between the cliff faces to reach the final calanque – D’En Vau.
We had arrived at an utterly stunning stony beach, framed by tall cliffs, blue waters and thronged with people. Given the number of supine sun-worshipping bodies, the beach was very quiet – no children, no music playing, no loud chatting. Everyone here was of one mind – to relax in serene nature. We plopped down in a rare space on the white stones and spent the rest of the day sunbathing, swimming and people-watching. Some visitors had a more sedate arrival by kayak or canoe around the headland from Cassis, swelling the ranks on the beach. Others climbed the imposing cliffs and chose precarious perches on flatter rocks on which to rest, or jump into the calanque. The waters glowed with turquoise luminosity in the bright sunlight, inviting us often into their soft, majestic coolness.
Having cooked ourselves sufficiently, we made the difficult decision to tear ourselves away from this little slice of paradise. We made our way slowly back, following the same route, passing the other calanques that no longer impressed us the same after seeing ours. Once we returned to Cassis we spent some time around the marina and in the quiet town streets, browsing in colourful stores. When we returned up the hill to where Benny awaited we found most of the cars had gone, enabling us to move to a more suitable and flatter parking space to overnight. The street was quiet, a no-through road, and only two other vans joined us. We enjoyed an exploratory walk around the tennis club site and buildings after dinner as the sun was setting, a simple restful stroll in the cool night air.
After a quiet night’s sleep we headed off again, following the coast road east. We made a point of avoiding the tiny streets of Cassis. Our plan was to follow the Route des Crêtes, a twisting, climbing coast road hugging the edge of the azure Mediterranean far below. There were lots of spacious pull-off spots where a short walk led to a grand vista over the sea, and we took advantage of many as we snaked along. The road cut back inland when nearing the next town, La Ciotat. We tried to stop for a look but could find nowhere amenable to motorhomes, so had to keep moving. We drove the sea front of Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer, the most obvious resort town we passed, then along the busy roads and full beaches of Bandol to reach our destination, an ASCI campsite on the outskirts of Sanary-sur-Mer.
As we flopped onto our pitch, the heat of the day, now reaching low 30s, sucked away our desire to move or explore. After a competitive game of table tennis under a shady tent (not too competitive, Nicky trounced me), we lounged by their lovely pool, reading, dipping and dozing. This was more like it. The next morning was a different beast – a strong, wild wind blasted across the site. It was blustery, demented at times, shaking every tree and blowing up dust clouds from the dry dirt; not a day for resting by the pool. Instead, we chose a bracing exploratory coastal walk, back through Sanary-sur-Mer and on to a pointed headland called Pointe de la Cride. There was a fort marked on maps, but it had the secretive feel of a government installation so we didn’t linger. That evening we locked down the hatches, snuggled into Benny and watched TV, hoping a tree wouldn’t fall on our heads.
The morning brought calmness and sun, a long way from the aberration of the previous day. We ran an easy 2km downhill to the Plage de Portissol in the morning, relaxing and swimming often to cool off in the sticky heat. Huge banks of seagrass were stacked up on one side of the beach, but clearly not enough, as we still had to wade through five soupy metres of it to get to clear open water. We took turns having longer swims out to the extent of the buoys in the bay, it feeling good to use our arms rather than legs. After an afternoon back at camp we returned to the marina early evening. There were market stalls, talented painters selling canvases, a harnessed rigging climb for kids, and some competitive water-based jousting. The weather was too good for a restaurant, so we ate takeaway pizza and watched the various spectacles, enjoying a slice per bench as we moved around the crowded marina.