Last year we had such a nice time in the French Riviera for the May bank holiday that we decided we would visit again at the same time this year. We based ourselves in Nice last year and loved exploring that city in addition to Antibes, Juan-les-Pins, and Monaco, but the truth is that the Riviera is quite a big space and to explore all of it you’d need a good chunk of time or multiple trips!
La Ciotat: Home Base
We really wanted to visit Cassis this time around, but had a hard time finding an ideal accommodation for the four of us plus my mom who was coming along for the ride. So I expanded my search to neighboring towns and found the most charming apartment in La Ciotat, owned by a lovely British expat family. To be completely honest, La Ciotat was not my favorite…it’s a shipbuilding town where they build many of the fancy yachts that cruise around the Riviera and in my opinion, the shipyard is a bit of an eyesore on an otherwise lovely harbor. But at the same time, the town is perfectly located to explore Cassis, Bandol, and even further up along the coast, it felt much more local with not as many tourists and tourist traps, there are pretty beaches here if you just face away from the shipyard ;), and also it’s just a short drive from some gorgeous sandy beaches. We loved the decor of the spacious apartment and the owners were so sweet and helpful with recommendations on what to see, do, and eat in the area. So in the end, it was a win!
At the top of our list for our visit was to spend a day exploring Cassis…but we didn’t realize that was apparently at the top of everyone else’s agenda also! My advice if you go and don’t stay right in town is to get there early so you can get parking…otherwise you have to park outside of the town and take a shuttle bus in. Our hosts told us that Cassis is like this year round and we were also there on a market day, which was fun but made it even busier! We had fun exploring the market, the town, and having a nice lunch. Unfortunately we had wanted to take a boat tour of the Calanques but the lines were way too long in the hot sun. Another thing I’d suggest doing earlier in the day! It’s easy to see why the town is so popular…it’s definitely beautiful!
Route des Crêtes
A highlight for us on our return from Cassis to La Ciotat was the beautiful drive on the Route des Cretes. This drive takes you high up on the cliffs for stunning views along the coast. It was so breathtaking and definitely not to be missed if you are in the area.
The biggest reason for our trip to Cassis was to come and hike the calanques- fjord-like cliffs made of limestone that jut down into the Mediterranean and form small inlets in the Calanque National Park. It is not possible to hike the calanques in summer due to the high risk of wildfires, so May is an ideal time to visit. The hike starts at the Calanque de Port-Miou, a long narrow inlet with a marina. There is a parking lot here and also street parking available just before the parking lot if it is full.
A walk of about 30 minutes brings you to the Calanque de Port Pin, a beautiful, sandy inlet with turquoise waters. The climb down is a bit steep over slippery rocks, but since this calanque is the most accessible, lots of people make the trek to spend some time here.
The Calanque d’en Vau is the most beautiful of the calanques, but also the most difficult to access. It is about a one hour hike from Port Pin and the descent to the beach is very steep and rocky. Our plan was to go up and just see the view from the top of this pretty inlet. After about a 30 minute hike to the top, you look down to where you think you should see the calanque…and all you see is rock. The path continues down to reach the calanque from here and although we had left the kids with Grandma, we still chose not to continue on as we had plans for the afternoon and not enough time. I clearly didn’t research this hike enough because I knew there was a view point but just didn’t know how to access it. I learned after the fact that if you continue to the left towards the sea from this point, you will reach the lookout point over the calanque. Guess we will have to come again!
In the afternoon we picked up the boys and my mom and drove about 1 hour and 45 minutes to St. Tropez. We had wanted to visit last year, but it was just too far from Nice. We had debated between going here or to Bandol since it was much closer and somewhere we also wanted to see, but my mom wanted to see the famous St. Tropez so our decision was made! It was a great decision because we all loved it and we got lucky driving right into the center of town with no traffic and a great street parking spot. In the summer traffic and parking can be just awful around here so you can drive to St. Maxime and park, then take a ferry across.
I knew we would find lots of glitz and glam in St. Tropez like all the high-end luxury stores, but I didn’t expect it to be so pretty and unassuming in spots. We loved wandering the streets, going in little shops, and having a drink in one of the small squares. I’m sure it has a different vibe when it is swarmed in summer, but this time of year it was perfect!
On our last morning, we wanted a bit of beach time and our lovely hosts recommended the wonderful long, sandy beach at Saint-Cyr-Sur-Mer. It was only about 15 minutes away and although the water was a bit chilly, it didn’t stop us from going for a swim! We had lunch looking out over the beautiful, turqoiuse Mediterranean Sea and then sadly it was time for us to head home! The only bad part of our trip was the long and painful drive home. Due to the bank holiday, it seemed that everyone else in our area had the same idea to head south for the long weekend and what should have been a four and a half hour drive turned into a seven hour drive! I guess it’s the price you have to pay for this kind of beauty! 😉 But maybe next year in May we will fly somewhere!!!
Despite the hassle of getting there and back, it was a great long weekend and I’m glad we were able to show my mom this beautiful part of France!