Friday, June 27, 2014

24 Hours in La Ciotat

Vendredi, 27 juin.

My friend and freshman roommate Marika is studying abroad at the moment in Aix-en-Provence. (You can see photos from her adventures here.) We planned to meet up for a weekend when she was out of class and decided on La Ciotat, a resort town just east of Marseille ... and what a good decision it was!

Marika and I just couldn't get enough of the colorful boats in the city's main harbor. If you want to see what we saw, you can check out this "street view" that provides a 360-degree view from the intersection between the Office of Tourism and the Vieux Port.

Through AirBNB, we stayed in a little apartment with an incredible view! The rocks behind me in the photo below are part of la calanque de Mugel ... which, naturally, we had to go explore.

Calanques are a unique geographic feature that exist almost exclusively along the Mediterranean, where the Massif des Calanques extends along the coast from Marseille to Cassis. The calanque du Mugel, which has been partially preserved as a botanical garden, is located on the outskirts of this range. As best as I can understand and explain it, they're really narrow, deep inlets that formed over time in the limestone rock along the coastline. Today, the calanques of the South of France are almost exclusively designated national parks; in addition to being home to a wide variety of plants and animals, they are popular among hikers and backpack-toting college students from Centreville, Virginia. (JK.)

Fun fact -- the word calanque is not actually French in origin, but rather comes from Occitan, the Romance language spoken in the Mediterranean that corresponds closely with Catalan. Funner fact -- the town of La Ciotat also derives its name from Occitan: "la ciotat" means "the city."

In what has to be one of the craziest things to happen to me so far in my travels, Marika and I stumbled across a forest fire in the middle of the Parc du Mugel. Although it looked to be safely contained, we stayed far back. Still, it was amazing to watch the smoke drifting through the trees ... and even cooler to see the helicopter at work, ferrying sea water to fight back the flames! Crazy.

After our impromptu hike, Marika and I tucked into a late dinner at a port-side restaurant. We both decided to go with a Mediterranean specialty ... moules frites! Although I've never been a big fan of fruits de mer, there's something fun about eating fresh seafood while at the ocean. Also, when have I EVER been able to turn down fries?

After a good night's sleep, Marika and I woke up bright and early this morning with one goal in mind: KAYAKING. (Okay, we miiiight have made a pit stop for pastries on the way. But kayaking was definitely the ultimate goal!) We were able to rent a two-person kayak and had an absolute blast kayaking around the bay. Because our phones and cameras were safely tucked away in a waterproof bag, there are sadly no photos from this leg of the adventure ... but I promise that it was simply amazing.

No photos on the water, so post-kayaking selfies will have to suffice.

Unfortunately, we didn't have time to spend all day out on the water -- there was more to be done! So in the afternoon, after checking out of our AirBNB and grabbing a (delicious) bite to eat, Marika and I decided to take a quick ferry over to the Ile Verte.

Bye-bye, La Ciotat ... and bonjour, Ile Verte!

This rocky outcrop is called "Le Bec d'Aigle" or "Eagle's Beak" ... can you see why?

In French, Ile Verte means "green island" ... a fitting name for the only wooded island in the region! With the exception of our little navette, the island is accessible only by private boat (or kayak!) which meant that, compared to the bustling port of La Ciotat, it was relatively deserted.

We hiked along the shady trails for about ten minutes before arriving at la calanque Seynerolle, also known as THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACE IN THE WORLD. The seagulls, the crystal-clear water, the rocky beach ... it was all incredible.

My pictures turned out well enough, but trust me -- this is one of those times when photos just can't do justice to the real thing!

We climbed down to the little cove and spent a few hours swimming and suntanning on the rocky beach. There were a few other people there, most of whom had arrived via private boat, but it was incredibly quiet and peaceful. Even as we sat there and took it all in, it didn't feel as though it was really happening!

Do you want to explore La Ciotat too? Well, no worries ... it's not difficult! The town is easily accessible from Marseille, via either auto-car or regional TER train. Check out the Tourism Office's official website for more information.


  1. Just LOVE your stories and pictures! SO happy you and Marika got together! What an amazing adventure you both are having!

  2. How beautiful! I want to go! :) It's great you two had an adventure together. What a memory!
    Love, Mommy