It would be a stretch to describe the Calanques National Park, near Marseilles, as un undestination. But it definitely is a backyard gem for me. Located roughly 30 minutes from home, and offering landscapes that rival most dreaded ‘gram favourites, it makes me feel ashamed of never devoting a post to the area before. Let’s right this wrong 🙂
The term Calanque refers to a small fjord-like sea inlet found in the immediate vicinity of Marseilles, some measuring a few tens of meters, others extending up to a half-mile. Those pocket-sized universes are paradises for local divers, sea kayaks, hikers and, obviously, photographers.
The National Park that hosts them is fairly small compared to those in our mountains, but is also the only one in the country to cover terrestrial, underwater and urban areas.
And, in spite of its dimensions, the park does offer quite different views and vibes along the various hiking routes it offers, including the long, direct, walk from one end to the other. Active hikers and runners with big lungs do the very hilly crossing in the day, but most other visitors, particularly photographers, prefer to tackle it in in smaller bytes.
The photographs in this post are all made in three neighbour calanques : Port-Miou, which actually serves as a natural harbour for the Cassis Yacht Club, Port-Pin, which is a lovely sandy beach, often more crowded than the Internet on Black Friday, and En Vau, a deep and narrow cut in the sandstone cliffs that ends in a tiny sheltered sand beach accessible only by boat or via a several-mile-long walk from the road.
If these photographs convince you of the necessity of a visit, do bear in mind that all the area (as many others in Provence) are strictly off-limits throughout the summer because of the high risk of forest fires. Visitors to En Vau were once trapped by flames and could only escape via the sea.
In the winter, you’ll often meet brass monkeys looking for their bits because the wind can get fierce and is bitterly cold. During the tranquil mid-January walk that yielded those photographs, temperatures oscillated from semi-tropical as the sun baked us while we ate carefully wedged in stony outcrops and sheltered from the wind, to glacial in the opposite conditions. If you’re visiting in winter, remember to dress like the proverbial onion 😉
Another reason for shying away from a winter visit could be the quality of the light. Mediterranean winters offer crisp, transparent air which leads to extremely brutal light.
I love it. I can’t get enough of that sort of light. It makes me feel so alive and, because the sun stays low in the sky, the scenery retains its strong colours, in spite of the deep shadows. But those raised on a steady diet of golden hour and fog might recoil in horror 😉 For those people, a sunset is always a glorious proposition here, as the Cap Canaille, that slightly redish cliff in the background above starts to glow bright orange and red. Those who have seen Uluru and Mount Augustus know what I’m talking about.
So: fire in summer, wind and light in winter. Spring in Provence is typically the wettest time of the year. But the days are longer and the air more humid, softening the lighting to a point most might be more happy with. Autumn/fall is generally fantastic in the area. Warm, with incredible sunsets and leaf colours (well, not in the Calanques, as all the trees are pines, but the oak covered hills are definitely yummy). Also, the less windy periods of spring, summer and autumn will provide some of the most transparent waters anywhere, whereas the bigger waves of winter stir up the sand. Still, of all the seasons, I feel winter suits the Calanques’s rocky vibe the best.
One fellow hiker/photographer was using a polarizer and my internal jury is still out about that one. On the one side, the removal of glare makes a strong case for it. On the other, the possibility of deeper shadows doesn’t. While I went all out in the monochrome photographs, deep shadows don’t look nice in a naturalistic style in colour.
So, not for me. I find polarizers more appealing a bit later in the day, before sunset, for example, to wring the last ounce of gold out of a landscape. At midday, my approach is to embrace the light as it is. It is, after all, what we are photographing.
But yeah, your mileage might vary and a polarizer might be something worth considering, if ever you’re visiting the area on such a winter’s day.
If you do visit, leave yourself some time for Cassis itself. Although it is an unlivable hell-hole during tourist season, it’s also a charming little village linked to La Ciotat (much nicer, year round, if you ask me) by the abfab Route des Cretes, one of the prettiest roads in France.
And be sure to write to me, I’ll tag along 🙂
There’s a new camera on the block. One I thought of writing a post about. On second thought, it doesn’t deserve the time and effort. For a company that has recently released fantastic, useful, innovative and gorgeous IQ products, this – to me – feels like a major step back into fomo product design and old zero-sum-game demons that are bringing the industry to its knees. Pixii, Alice, Z-Cam and others out there thinking out of the box, get a move on. The creative world has never needed you more.
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