Bienvenue en Provence

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Hiking, swimming, kayaking… there are countless opportunities to get outdoors, recharge your batteries, explore nature and have a great time.

Provence offers a range of landscapes for many activities: hiking paths, rivers, canyons and a brilliant sun all-year long. Go kayaking, surprise a carp jumping in the translucent waters or brave a few rapids. Descending the Sorgue to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, or the Rhône under the Pont d’Avignon bridge in a kayak, is above all a shared moment of pleasure and a way to stay cool in Provence.

We had the chance to try a kayak trip down the Sorgue River. The Sorgue divides into two river courses at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue (originally known as “Insula”), at a point on the river called the Partage des Eaux. Further downstream it divides into dozens of separate waterways such as the Sorgue de l’Isle, Sorgue de Velleron, Sorgue de Monclar and Sorgue de la Faible.

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The best moment of this trip? Stopping for a bath in the cold water (13 degrees Celsius) and having a lunch break with local cheese and wine. Along the waterways you can see several watermills still working and I stopped to take amazing pictures and to enjoy the local nature and landscapes. There are also guided canoe trips between Fontaine de Vaucluse and Isle sur la Sorgue. A family trip lasts about 8km and takes about two hours. The canoes depart every 30 minutes from 9.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.

We tried kayaking in Cassis, a commune situated east of Marseille which is also a popular tourist destination famous for its cliffs and the sheltered inlets called calanques. It is also the home of the Calanques National Park – a strong and innovative place made for its inhabitants. It was developed as a sustainable territory. In Cassis, nature is soverign.

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The magical and enchanting calanques are limestone cliffs that plunge into the Mediterranean and connect Marseille to Cassis with almost 20km of marked trails. The calanques are classified for their scenery. It is also a fragile area that contains quantities of protected plant and animal species.

We started our trip from the Calanque de Port-Miou – one of the three big Cassis calanques. It is very long and narrow, and thus was very suitable for establishing a marina. In fact it is a natural harbour hosting more than 600 boats.

By kayak, we reached the Calanque de Port-Pin, an attractive small creek on the way to En Vau creek. It was filled with pines, white rock and clear water — an ideal place to cool down before continuing on the sloping trails of the Massif des Calanques, or to stop and take advantage of the sun and the peace all day long, or going on kayaking to reach the other creeks.

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We decided to stop to eat and have a bath in the crystalline water.

The creek of Port Pin gets its name from the Aleppo pines; this dream location features a sandy beach backed by the same pine trees. A curiosity about this site is the blowhole, a sort of cave in which waves rush out with air in force. This air escapes through a pipe and on very windy days you can hear it blowing from afar.

Walking around the peninsula of Port Miou, you can also find the Path of The Little Prince, a route dedicated to the memory of the famous writer, who died for France. Antoine de Saint Exupéry was a French author and aviator best remembered for his novella The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince). The novella is the third most-translated book in the world with more than 250 languages and dialects (as well as Braille). I’m fond of that book and I collect versions of it in different languages and just one day ago in Marseille, I bought a copy of the book in the Provençal translation.

The path is accessible to all ages for a walk of about an hour, near the longest calanque (1.5km in Port Miou).

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Other calanques are accessible after several hours of strenuous hike through rugged and rocky trails. To get there, it is imperative to be equipped with walking shoes, suitable clothing, to bring a map and water reserve. Access to the massif is restricted during summer due to fire hazards.

Another passion of mine is The Count of Monte Cristo (Le Comte de Monte-Cristo), an adventure novel by French author Alexandre Dumas, completed in 1844. It was also adapted into many movie and TV shows. One of the settings of Alexandre Dumas’ story is the Château d’If, a fortress located on the island of If, the smallest island in the Frioul archipelago situated in the Mediterranean Sea.

In the novel, the main character Edmond Dantès and his mentor, Abbé Faria, were both imprisoned in it. After fourteen years, Dantès and the Abbé made a daring escape from the castle; the latter didn’t survive, while Dantes became the first person ever to do so. In reality, no one is known to have done this from this prison.

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Just imagine my surprise when I discovered the Frioul archipelago was only a mile offshore in the Bay of Marseille. That was my next destination.

The château’s use as a prison ceased at the end of the 19th century. It was demilitarised and opened to the public in the 1890s. The isolated location and dangerous offshore currents of the Château d’If made it an ideal inescapable prison, it gained reputation as one of the most feared and notorious jails in France.

It can now be reached by boat from Marseille’s old port. Apart from the fortress, the island is uninhabited, but it offers a highly historic experience and opportunities to take amazing pictures of Marseille from the sea.

After If, I visited Pomègues and Ratonneau – two other islands in the Frioul archipelago. Floral species flourish in the site’s arid microclimate. In total, 200 plant species can be observed and some are protected. Many seabirds also flock to these islands including the yellow-legged gull or “gabian” in the Occitan language.

The Frioul archipelago is home to many rocky inlets, beaches and sandy creeks: Maison des Pilotes (sand), Havre de Morgiret (pebble and rock), Calanque de Saint Estève (sand), Plage du Débarcadère (pebble): all ideal places for a bath in fantastic water, a lunch break or a rest. The archipelago is part of the Calanques National Park. Closing off my journey in the Frioul archipelago finished my trip to the Provence region of France.

Prêt à voyager,

Nico


Blogger, marathon runner and triathlete, divemaster and heli rescue swimmer with Bergamo Scuba Angels. You can check my website www.dubaiblognetwork.com, contact me on social networks or via email at admin@dubaiblognetwork.com for information about this article or just to say hello.


Words + Photos by :Nico de Corato

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