We left Remoulins late morning, and after an hour and a half of easy dual carriageway we arrived in Sausset-les-Pins, the location of our first organised 10km (well, 11.2km) race of this trip. Here we got our first true glimpse of the Mediterranean. We wanted to arrive early to ensure a space in the free aire (43.338412, 5.108487) , but found only two others in a spacious car-park that easily could accommodate twenty. We settled in, ate lunch then cycled the two kilometres down to the beach and picked out a space to flop into. We had occasional dips in the shallow bay, clambering over rocks carpeted with soft algae to reach the clear, cool water. But mostly we lay still, slowly roasting under the heat of the afternoon sun. We turned ourselves like burgers on a grill to ensure an even cooking, dripping hot sweat like fat on the white stones.
We had to rest up – we had plans for the next morning. A 7am alarm, a quick breakfast and an easy cycle back to the seafront. Before we left home we had signed up for an 11.2 km local run, and today was that day. We locked up the bikes and warmed up, readying ourselves for the off. Over 1000 runners were taking part, a larger event than we anticipated, but there was a welcome, friendly buzz. The morning was hot muggy grey, with flashes of distant lightning and growls of thunder and we had two short downpours to dodge. Each left the air cooler, but thicker and sticky; difficult running conditions. We set off exactly at 9am, following the coastline before cutting inland up a few dusty hills. Our tops were instantly soaked through with sweat, the humidity making a sodden mess of us. Fifty-eight hot minutes of crowded countryside trails later we arrived back at the start, drained and gasping in the heavy air.
We helped ourselves to drinks, fruit and cake, picked up our finishing gift (a neat rucksack rather than a T-shirt) and our free beer and retired to the beach for a cooling-off swim. There are few pleasures better than the joyful relaxing after a hard run, and we revelled in the restful simplicity of our sweat-removing dips. Revitalised and fresh, we left the beachfront in Sausset-les-Pins and, after navigating our way through the markets, returned to Benny to eat lunch and pack up. We were moving on, down through the centre of Marseille to reach Marly Parc, a paid aire south of the city and, from an overnighting perspective, the only game in town. Our drive took us through the central streets of the city and the thriving heart of the Old Port, and even from within our van we could feel the historic grandeur.
We arrived in Marly Parc (43.338412, 5.108487), via a series of long straight avenues, and slotted into our designated corner plot which looked very tight but was surprisingly spacious once we were in. This was to be our base to explore the rugged coastlines within the Parc National des Calanques. A quiet night of gentle planning led to preparing our bikes and we packing enough snacks and water to see us through a lazy afternoon. We set off, under hot, clear skies, thinking the 6km ride to the beach would be a simple, casual affair, an easy jaunt. But we had vastly underestimated the terrain we had to cross over to reach it, and joined others heading our way in pushing our bikes up most of the extremely steep 4km long hill. Once over the top we swooped down the last 2km on the opposite side to the sea, all the time aware that we would have to repeat the effort back up. We rolled into the Calanque de Sormiou, locked our bikes to a tree and walked to the water, joining hundreds of others who shared our plans today.
The popularity of the main beach fuelled our decision to skirt around the back of the bay and explore wider. A dusty path led to a couple of small beautiful-looking beaches in hidden coves. Descending to the first and removing our shoes meant we could paddle and scramble over a rocky outcrop to reach the less accessible second beach. At this time of day it was in partial shade, so had only attracted a few others. Reclining on our towels we marvelled at the beautiful clear blue waters lapping a few short steps from us. We had refreshing dips in the calm waters as small boats and larger yachts edged into the calanque, providing us with a murmur of friendly noise and pleasant people-watching opportunities. An afternoon of intermittent swimming, sunscreen application, lunch nibbling, book reading, careful hydration and general relaxing kept us fully occupied for several slow and pleasant hours.
The return journey saw us slowly grinding the gears and pedalling away from the coast. In contrast to our fast downhill approach, our speed on the return was slow enough to truly take in the beautifully craggy limestone valley that had been our host for the day. With a few brief breathers on picturesque corners and one bout of pushing our bikes, their handlebars higher than our heads, we soon made the summit of the pass. From there, a quick provision stop at a nearby supermarket and a couple of simple kilometres led us back to Benny. We remained at Marly Parc that night, quietly enjoying a couple of chilled beers tucked away in the shady warmth of our private little corner.