Last November, like every year, we went to France to visit my in-laws. Since they are well into their 80’s and no longer really keen to go on vacations on their own, we thought it would be great to go with them on a trip. We were committed to do all the travel arrangements and the driving, so what would be left for them to do would be to enjoy the ride and spend quality time with their grand-kid, away from their daily routine and chores.
There were a few reasons why we set our choice of destination on Cassis and the Calanques:
- It was a fairly short drive from where they live (a mere 3 hours), which would suit elderly parents just as fine as our two-year old daughter.
- Having been there as a young couple before kid, we had found Cassis very quaint and charming, which is contrasting with other major resort towns on the Riviera.
- Cassis is located by the sea in the Provence region; it benefits from a pleasant Mediterranean climate which was important to consider given the time of year we would be traveling.
- The Calanques offer plenty of scenic sightseeing and walking options that are well suited to children and seniors alike.
- Most importantly (and a little selfishly too), it’s a fantastic climbing destination. Although I must admit that being a multi-generational trip my husband and I didn’t have much expectations as far as rock climbing goes)
With the rental car all packed up, the five of us set off on a beautiful Sunday morning for Cassis.
I had arranged accommodation in advance and had opted for a 2-bedroom condo located on the heights of Cassis, that I booked for the full extent of our stay. The condo happened to be the best option for us as it provided a quieter option to hotels downtown. We also wanted the convenience of a full kitchen, a large dining room, a nice patio and yard and a swimming pool (that we contemplated lots but really never used!).
Cassis is a VERY busy town 4-6 months of the year and can also be VERY pricey, but fortunately, traveling in November opened up more affordable lodging options. The full week rental plus cleaning fees was about 500 euros, which can quickly turn into 1100 euros during peak season. The owner was personable as “jail’s door” as my dear husband would say, and therefore our interactions with him were limited, but he had a cute bunny in a cage that my daughter made friend with…until he bit her hard.
The kitchen being separated from the dining/living area by 3 steps was, in a way, sort of ideal, and it set a different tone to our family time from the get go…My mother-in-law having reduced mobility, the kitchen by default became my kingdom, which allowed my in-laws to relax and let themselves be pampered and served. I know by day 2 they were both bored stiff to not be able to do anything in the kitchen, but overall, I think they quite enjoyed spending more time with their grand-daughter and being fed different food.
We also discovered that multi-generational travel (love the term!) brings a different pace then what we were used to; but you know what, we also realized that 80-year-olds and two-year olds are in fact on a similar schedule! Our daughter’s most active times of day are early morning and late afternoon, and this seemed to suit my in-laws quite well.
Between breakfast and lunch taken at the condo, and between the afternoon nap and dinner is when we did our exploration of Cassis and the Calanques, and it was awesome! Here’s what we have enjoyed the most:
- Walking around the port and chillin’ at the Café:
Cassis is such a picturesque town, everyone has to at least spend a few hours wandering around, peeking into the over-priced stores, and sitting at a patio to enjoy a cup of espresso or un demi (glass of beer). Multiple celebrities own properties in Cassis, so who knows, perhaps you will recognize one of them…
The only downside to the downtown is that there is very little parking nearby which is less than convenient when traveling with a young child and seniors, but being November, we still had some luck finding spots not too far…just be ready to leave a whole whack of change…
2. Shopping at the Marché
Le marché is an institution no matter where you are in France, and even more so in the South. This is where people socialize, get some fresh gossips, buy their produce, a fresh loaf of bread, and of course a little piece of Provence such as lavender-scented olive oil soap, some Santons or a traditional tablecloth.
Note: there is even less parking spots available downtown on market day…
3. Taking a drive to explore La Calanque de Sormiou
If the drive through Marseille and its dodgy neighborhoods is a bit daunting to many people, a visit to the Calanque de Sormiou makes it well worth the adventure. Just outside the city limits, a drive on a narrow windy road up a small pass in the mountains and down on the other side takes you to this beautiful fjord. Once there, you feel you are on an isolated island in the middle of the sea.
Busy with the tenants from the many little “cabanons” in the summer, mostly recreationists and fishermen, and groups of youth part-taking in sailing camps at the UCPA, it is a ghost village in November. The breeze from the sea, full of iodine is very invigorating and the view truly breathtaking. The walk to the end of the “cabanons” is only a kilometre, which was perfect for the young and the young at heart.
4.Walking to la Calanque de Port-Miou
This Mediterranean Fjord is the closest to Cassis and can be access by a short easy walk. The biggest challenge once again is to find a parking spot nearby. Port-Miou in Provencal dialect means “Better Port” as it offers a nice anchoring locations for boats, sheltered from the wind.
5. Taking a drive to the top of Cap Canaille via la Route des Crêtes
La Route de Crêtes is closed several months of the year and mostly during the summer months, the main reason being forest fire hazards as we found out when we were there. Fortunately, it had reopened a few days into our weekly stay after an episode of strong wind and we were able to take the impressive drive and stop at the top to take photos. Note: children would be best kept on a leash is what we learned in a very scary way as our daughter ran for the edge and was caught just on time. Be cautious up there, parents; toddlers are unpredictable.
We also welcomed the opportunity to check out the anchor stations of famous climbs that top up right where tourists take their photos.
The view from there is stunning and on bluebird days you can really appreciate the uniqueness of the Calanques and the vastness ( and blueness (?)of the Med.
6.Checking out the waterfront play area at La Ciotat
One fine day we went on a mission to shop for food (we actually did that everyday, several times a day) we ended up in La Ciotat looking for a larger grocery store than what Cassis offers, which is very limited and quite expensive. We decided to check out the port area, which from our memories was industrial and ugly. To our biggest surprise the whole waterfront “promenade” had been recently revamped and beautified and hosted the most amazing playground ever. This really made everyone’s afternoon as our daughter played and made friends, we socialized with some parents and my in-laws quietly sat on a bench, enjoyed the sea view and the sight of their grand-daughter playing and having a blast. That night we also brought some amazing seafood from the grocery store and had a feast back at the condo.
7. Climbing a multi-pitch route (yes, we finally did that!)
Towards the end of our trip, my husband’s best friend came to visit us, which opened up some climbing possibilities. We were also joined by our dear friend from Marseille, Elie, who at 76 years old still rocks his 5.10 on lead. One morning I took off with my two partners in crime, left husband, toddler and in-laws behind and went back to the Cap Canaille to climb the route “2 Vauriens 3 Canailles” (6 pitches, TD-, 6a+, 150m). After a spooky pendulum rappel down from the photo spot at the top, we let Elie lead the way on this pumpy, juggy, beautiful climb with a bouldery start that has left us a bit shaken. If the climbs in the Calanques can be polished and crowded, the Cap Canaille was a good surprise…but to this regards, locals say that Cap Canaille is NOT in the Calanques…
It was a great adventure with the 2 boys, just like in the old days, that we finished with a beer at a Café in the port and another seafood feast at night back at the condo. Don’t feel sorry for my husband who stayed behind since he went back with his buddy to climb the same route the next day and was also pretty stoked about it. We also checked out one sport climbing crag that wasn’t anything worth bragging about but still offered a fun afternoon outside with our toddler girl and some deserved rest at the condo for my in-laws for whom sometimes, being around a 2-year old 24/7 can be a little overwhelming…fact duely accepted and understood 🙂
All things considered, this first multigenerational trip was awesome. We had lots of quality family time and hubby and I were even able to escape for a romantic trail-run together. We had a little beach time and ate lots of excellent food. We dined-in most of the week as it was more convenient for our family and kept the costs reasonable. We were able to purchase good seafood locally or at larger grocery store of communities nearby. We also indulged in some good fine pastries and enjoyed our daily croissants and pains au chocolat and coffee at the port. The fair weather has also contributed to make our stay in Cassis the most pleasant, as we were able to spend most of our time outside…Had it rained all week, we certainly would have found the condo a little small…espceially with an energetic 2-year old.
Most importantly, I think our trip was a success because were able to manage everyone’s expectations, individual pace and interests so everyone from 2 to 82 could have a fantastic time.