This is Southern France and the pace is slow, so a good portion of your time in Cassis may be spent just relaxing and taking in the spectacular and dramatic views. Enjoy the beaches and sidewalk cafes; take a stroll through the market or farther inland through the vineyards. Or, if you prefer something more adventurous, hike the trails or try a few water sports. For such a small town, Cassis offers quite a few things to keep visitors entertained. Here’s our break down of things to do and sights to see in Cassis:
Port of Cassis & Waterfront – the picturesque port, with rows of boats and pastel-colored buildings, is the heart of the village. Here you’ll find cafés, restaurants, and étal des pêcheurs, where the fishermen selling their catch
Les Plages – Cassis has a few slivers of beach (about 6 in all), perfect for swimming, relaxing, soaking up the sun, people watching and just enjoying the magnificent coastal views of blue sea, Cap Canaille and Chateau de Cassis, the medieval castle turned luxury hotel. We recommend two beaches with the easiest access: Plage de la Grande Mer, the main beach at the center of town near the harbor which is most popular,
and Plage de Bestouan, a short walk from town along Avenue l’Amiral Ganteaume, for a smaller and more pebbled, though at times less crowded option.
Les Calanques – Dotting the coast between Cassis and Marseille are les calanques, a series of coves, nestled between the towering cliffs. Boat excursions are a great way to see the beauty of these inlets.
If you’re lucky, one of the crewmembers on board may point out to you the climbers scaling the face of the cliffs. Boats depart from the main harbor and there are a number of cruise options available. Choose a 3, 5, 8 or 9 calanque cruise (duration from 45-minutes to 2 hours in length).
We chose the shorter of the cruises, which took us into 3 of the calanques closest to Cassis (Port-Miou, Port Pin and En-Vau).
Hôtel de Ville – built for the former consul of Marseille, Désiré de Moustiers, this 17th century mansion has served as the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) since 1945. During weekday business hours the building is accessible to the public. Pop in for a quick peak at some of the interior features such as the stairway with marble banisters, coffered ceilings, and ornately painted beams and trim.
Most interesting are the medieval ruins visible from a glass floor in the main reception area downstairs. A cartouche above the main entrance features the city crest (two fish flanking a bishop’s crosier). The adjoining building, housing the whitewashed vaulted rooms of les Salles voûtées, hosts periodic art exhibitions and events. Visit the Ville de Cassis website or swing by when you’re in town to see what’s on. Many of the exhibits are open free to the public. Hôtel de Ville is located at Place Baragnon.
Place Baragnon – This is the town square, next to City Hall, where the locals enjoy the shade of the plane trees and hold their open-air markets. We happened by on a Friday when the weekly market was in full swing. Held twice per week (Wednesdays and Fridays) from 8:00 am – 1:30 pm, the market in Place Baragnon features some 40 merchants offering all sorts of items: meats, fish, vegetables, fruits (Gayla really enjoyed the fresh figs), baked goods, flowers, clothing and more.
On a separate occasion we stumbled upon an artists’ market which also included a free art exhibit in les Salles voûtées, the vaulted halls in the courtyard of City Hall. In the adjacent Place Baragnon, local artisans and potters displayed various handcrafted items for purchase. We saw lots of beautiful pottery, jewelry and candles.
For a taste of Italy, visit the Italian Market, held each year in Place Baragnon during the first week of November.
Place de la République – formerly Place Royale, this tiny ‘square’ features the Fountain of the Four Nations at its center. The fountain, today a simple stone structure decorated with fresh flowers, replaced an early 17th century fountain commemorating Louis XIV, the Sun King. It was from #2 Place de la Republique in 1889 that artist Paul Signac wrote to Vincent van Gogh:
“My dear friend, After wandering along the coast, I’ve settled in Cassis. I’m sending you my address so that you can give me good news about yourself…”
Place de la République is adjacent to Place Baragnon and Hôtel de Ville.
Musée du Cassis – The Municipal Museum is housed in an 18th century rectory in Place Baragnon.
The museum’s permanent collection includes archaeological artifacts including items discovered from the Celto-Ligurian, Etruscan, and Roman periods, cultural exhibits representing local Cassidain and Provençal folklore and traditions, as well as a number of fine art paintings and portraits. Minimal admission fee; Open Wednesday – Saturday.
Le Four Banal – this tiny museum, in the heart of Cassis,
houses the 17th century stone oven once used by the villagers as the community bread oven. Dedicated to local culture and heritage, items on display in the museum (in addition to the actual dome-shaped oven built into the back wall) include traditional costumes, carved figurines, lace and beaded fabrics, and a colorfully tiled, fairly modern kitchen with a sink made of the local stone. A work in progress, the museum is open free to the public and worth a quick peak if you’re in the neighborhood during opening hours. Le Four Banal is located at the corner of Rue Thérèse Rastit and Rue du Four.
Musee du Perfum – parfumeur createur l’Eau de Cassis has been around since 1851 and their boutique also serves as a sort of museum. You’ll see displays of perfumes, colognes, candles, all-natural soaps, bath products, and distilling equipment. L’eau de Cassis Musee du Perfum is open free to the public. Located at 2 Place Baragnon.
Pétanque – Spend some time in Square Gilbert Savon, near the harbor (behind the ticket office for the calanque boat tours) watching the locals (mostly men) playing the popular Provençal sport Pétanque, also called boules (a form of lawn bowling)
Vineyards – Winemaking is said to have been introduced to the region by the Greeks some time around 600 B.C. and today local wine makers of Cassis are still producing popular varieties. The vineyards, 12 in all, can be found on the terraced hillsides in the shelter of Cap Canaille. To celebrate their local wines, which include a limited selection of red, white and rosé varieties, Cassis holds its annual wine festival, Les Vendanges Etoilées, each year in September.
Cap Canaille – This massive headland, sits like a crown of cliffs and ridges over the water.
Cap Canaille is the highest sea cliff in France and one of the highest in Europe.