Cassis, a picturesque port of the Mediterranean

Cassis was founded by the Ligures in the 3rd century BC.

Port of Cassis and Cap Canaille
Port of Cassis and Cap Canaille

They indeed established their stronghold, Baou Redoun, on the heights of the Couronne de Charlemagne, the curved cliff that overlooks the port.

The Romans developed Carcisis Portus – Port of Cassis in the 1st century BC.

Numerous archaeological excavations brought to light many artifacts and vestiges of this period, now exhibited in the city museum.

Fishing and limestone mining – exported all around the Mediterranean – were the primary activities of Cassis until the barbarian invasions.

These began in the 6th century and lasted 4 centuries.

The Chateau de Cassis was therefore built in the 8th century in order to protect the port.

The old fortress still overlooks it from the top of a rocky spur.

Fishing boats in the port of Cassis
Fishing boats

Both depended from the lordship of Les Baux de Provence, but were attached to the County of Provence in the 15th century.

They were then bequeathed to the bishopric of Marseille, which owned them until the French Revolution.

This therefore explains the presence of an episcopal cross on Cassis coat-of-arms.

The village started to expand in the second half of the 17th century.

Fishing and limestone mining, but also the work of coral, production of olive oil and viticulture were the main industries.

These have today disappeared, except viticulture, to give way to tourism.

However, the picturesque little seaport, nestled between the Calanques and Cap Canaille, has retained its historic heart, with its colourful houses and narrow streets.

But above all, Cassis is today renowned for its calanques – creeks and steep cliffs falling into the sea.

Cap Canaille

Cap Canaille could translate literally by Cape Rascal.

It’s fun, however, the origin of the name is more serious!

Colourful houses in historic Cassis
Colourful houses in historic Cassis

It’s indeed the evolution of Canalis Mons – the mountain of the waters or Mountain of the Aqueducts, as the Romans called it.

However, some locals claim that the name comes from the Provencal Cape Naïo  that means The mountain that swims or juts into the sea.

Cap Canaille is part of the Falaises Soubeyranes, a series of spectacular cliffs that connect Cassis to La Ciotat on a 11km strip.

These cliffs are the highest maritime cliffs in Europe.

The 323m high Cap Canaille was classified in 1989.

National Park of the Calanques

Calanques are deep and narrow creeks encompassed within long and abrupt cliffs that jute into the sea.

Calanques near Cassis

Over the millennia, the sea enlarged the natural breaches in the cliffs’ face and sculpted a jagged littoral.

The Soubeyranes cliffs are part of the Massif des Calanques.

In 2012, these were regrouped in the Parc National des Calanques, which stretches on the municipalities of Marseille, Cassis and Penne-sur-Huveaune.

This represents 8500 hectares of land and 2630 hectares of sea.

Most calanques are only accessible by boat.

However beware, as pedestrian access is strictly regulated according to the weather conditions.

You can discover them safely by boat.


Cassis is also renowned for its small vineyard (210 hectares), which is exclusively located within the municipality’s boundaries, where it’s sheltered by Cap Canaille.

Fishing boats in the port of Cassis
Fishing boats

The 12 winemakers together produce 1 million bottles a year.

They promote quality – instead of quantity – in order to produce this rare and precious dry and fruity white wine; red wine production is indeed limited.

Sheltered from the mistral by Cap Canaille, the vineyard enjoys ideal conditions – marine moisture and 3000 hours of sun per year.

Interestingly, Cassis wine was one of the first French wines to obtain an AOC in 1936.


Cassis is obviously a lovely seaside resort that boasts several beaches.

The sand and pebble Plage de la Grande Mer, the main beach, is located at the foot of the old fortress, and is the only monitored-beach of Cassis.

Plage du Bestouan in Cassis
Plage du Bestouan

Plage de Bestouan is a shingle beach; it’s also the only beach in Cassis that was granted the Blue Flag label for the quality of its water and environment.

L’Anse de l’Arène is a natural rocky beach sheltered by pine forests.

The beach of Port Pin, the smallest of the Calanques, was named after the aleppo pines that grow in the cliff wall.

Plage Bleue – Les Roches Plates – Les Roches Blanches boasts superb views of the port and Cap Canaille.

Finally, the tiny Plage de Corton is farther away from the port, and so is Plage Pamplemousse, a favourite among nudists.

And of course, those in quest of isolation can make their way to one of the calanques.

Department of Bouches-du-Rhône
Coordinates: Lat 43.215134 – Long 5.537120

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