On our third day in the Côte d’Azur, we ventured out early in the morning to do more exploring. We drove along La Grand Corniche, the most romantic road in Europe. The views from the Fort de la Revère at the top were stunning. We stopped to explore the hilltop town of Èze, which was incredible, full of history and character. As in St. Paul de Vence, we were glad to get there early so we could explore the narrow medieval lanes before they became overrun with tourists. If you’ve ever seen the Cary Grant/Grace Kelly film To Catch a Thief, that is exactly what this looked like. We had a light breakfast of espresso and bread at a small cafe just outside the old city walls, and bought a baguette and cheese and fruit at a small outdoor market set up near the cafe, preparations for our hike to come. We drove back the other way across the Riviera, towards Marseille. Our destination was Les Calanques, a set of rocky limestone cliffs punctuated by secluded beaches.
The drive was long, but worth it. It is impossible to drive directly to the cliffs and beaches, so the options are to take a boat from nearby Cassis or Marseille, although those boats don’t actually go ashore, or to walk along the coast from Cassis to a closer-in beach, or rent a kayak.
But to get to the most beautiful, hidden cove, at the third Calanque, known as Calanque en Vau, we would need to hike through the park. We didn’t have perfectly clear directions to go on, but pieced together what we read in guidebooks and articles online to determine that we needed to start in a rather random, practically hidden parking lot of a national park. I’m not really sure why it was so hard to get clear directions about how exactly to go about this; it was not like visiting a U.S. national park with visitor centers and park rangers. Rather, we read a random blog post or article somewhere that had directions for where to park, and when we got there, I snapped an iPhone photo of the lone map at the parking lot entrance, and off we went. The trail got quite steep and rocky at times, and there were a few moments when we weren’t quite sure if we were going the right way (turns out, we weren’t – there was some faulty signage). It took us around two hours, I think, to make it to the shore. But eventually we made it, and it was absolutely stunning. Definitely one of the major highlights of this trip. I love hikes that end with an amazing beach. The hike probably took us about two hours, and we collapsed gratefully in the sand (err, pebbles) and dug into our baguette, cheese, and fruit lunch. So very tasty.
We dove into the freezing cold, crystal clear water and I kept pinching myself, unable to believe this was real. It was like no place I’d ever been. I felt like I was in a movie. A European movie. After about two hours on the beach, we left for the return hike out, with some trepidation. However, we found an alternate route that was much easier, and it took probably an hour or an hour and a half to get back to the car. Upon our return to Vence that night, we cleaned up quickly, and despite being kind of exhausted, we dashed back out for our last evening in Vence, anxious to explore the town some more. We had one last meal and carafe of wine, sitting in an outdoor courtyard in Vence.
The next morning, we grabbed a quick espresso and croissant for breakfast, taking in the sights and feels of Vence one last time. Vence felt like the most livable of all the small towns in the area that we explored, like a real town with people going to work, more than just tourists and art galleries.
We embarked on our drive up to Provence, our destination for the next few days. The drive, which took about four hours, was gorgeous, taking us over mountains and along cliffs, through more hilltop villages and river towns. Up next: Provence!