Vamos a Chulilla! Climbing in Spain with Kids

Hola, Espanol!” says my daughter, giggling, as she runs out of the Panaderia. In her hand,  she holds a small pastry generously offered by the owner. Then, she runs across the narrow street to the village Plaza and sits on a bench to savour her sweet chocolate-filled mini croissant with a delicious honey-nuts topping.

It’s 11 am on beautiful Thursday in November and the Plaza is bathed in the sun and bustling with life. Today is market day. The locals are shopping for fresh produce, leather purses or pajamas and socks. Nearby, at the Caffè, a few climbers are sipping café con leche and catching up on emails, eyes glued to their laptops.

The temperature is cooler at this time of year and therefore no one rushes to the crags before noon, especially the shady ones; the mythical ones.

 

DSC_0002
A village nestled between the cliffs. Photo by Shenoa Runge

No one rushes to the crags but us. On a ten-day vacation with young children, we want to maximize every hour of daylight to explore and enjoy this huge climbing playground. Time is limited and family vacation also means we are here to spend quality family time.

 

We’re wondering how we possibly are going to fit everything into ten days…
Although a tiny little village, Chulilla is an enorme climbing destination. After timid developments in the 90’s, local route setters have been very prolific in the last few years, with increased community support towards this major tourism draw. The spot now counts over 800 routes dispersed across a dozen different areas, some located at walking distance from the village and some a little further away in the valley.

The quaint, white-washed village is perched on a bluff and surrounded by countless kilometres of bright limestone walls, perfectly vertical or slightly overhanging.


The climbs are known to be long and tenuous. It isn’t uncommon to link beautiful technical moves for 40 metres and even 50 metres in one single climb. Climbers must come prepared: strong forearms, eighty-metre ropes and lots of quickdraws are required to make the most out of a stay in Chulilla.
While the area offers climbs that range from 6a to 8b, Chulilla is an absolute paradise for 7b climbers, grade in which many of the most iconic climbs can be found. This is a little unfortunate for us, who happen to be modest climbers in comparison to many visitors to this destination.
The information we hold prior to our arrival is that routes in the 6th and low 7th grades can be found but can prove a little runout or polished. Nonetheless, the place still looks appealing to my dear husband, our loyal climbing partners Marc and Shenoa and myself, and we feel confident about finding nice climbs to play on.

img_1765
Marc and Hervé eager to get on the rock

In such a large destination with all the many different sites, the local climbing guidebook Chulilla: Guia de Escalada is absolutely essential, but requires some studying.
Fortunately, after day 2, we realize that there is some excellent climbing in our grade with plenty of newer climbs on excellent rock and very well equipped. Sectors like Fantasia, Cherales and la Peneta is were we end up spending a lot of time, in the warm autumn sunshine. These areas never seem crowded although very easily accessed. Most of those sites however, are not very toddler-friendly.

climbing moms
Moms get on the rock while children play nearby, sheltered by the overhang. Photo by Marc Trudeau

The sites that we find fit and welcoming to families are La Nevera that is of easy access and has fun caves for the little cavemen. Competicion is the best area we found to set up a small top rope for the kids and is also an easy end-of-day crag on our way to the bar. Finally, we also enjoyed another small crag in the canyon between the bridges for the great hike it provides, the river and the fine sand.

Finn, never taking the easy road
Because the little ones like cragging too
p1040190
Eva and Finn exploring the narrow streets

We find however that the best way to maximize our time on climbing days is to split up our group into two teams; one team to look after the children for the half-day while the other team climbs.

p1040203
The Turia valley, a real oasis in the desert

There are plenty of fun things to do with the kids around the village between exploring the narrow cobbled streets, playing princess & knight in the Castillo, paying a visit the white fluffy goats, hiking the river valley or simply enjoying the local delicacies and running around on the Plaza. Chulilla also has two decent playgrounds, of which one is located by the local watering hole, wifi hotspot and tapas and climbing beta provider; Goscanos.

p1040196
Eva, Finn and Shenoa hiking Los Calderones trail
img_1852
Meet the Knight and the Princess of the Castillo

 

 

Fortunately , we also have opted for a comfortable and spacious four-bedrooms vacation rental, la Casa Nispero, which is located on a large gated property and the end of a quiet street where the little ones are free to roam. The location and amenities of the house really contribute to making our stay enjoyable, from the ability to cook healthy meals at home to the cozy evenings by the wood fireplace, pool-side lunches and naps in the sun…as well as the two bathrooms.

p1040063
Our Casa for ten days

There are also many other vacation rentals right in the village to suit every budget and group size as well as cozy inns and hostels, the main one being El Altico, owned by one of the prolific local route setters. Many climbers also stay in camper vans around town or on the main public parking lots, with access to water and wifi at the nearby climber’s bar.

The village hosts several small mercados or carnecerias where one can find most of the staples to survive: cheese, bread, wine, meat and charcuterie, oranges and mandarines in season, local and absolutely divine. For more diversified foods, the nearby city of Lliria or Valencia are the best options we found to please our little and big eaters.

p1040057
Breakfast in the warm morning sunshine

In Chulilla, the spirit between locals and climbers from all around the world is truly positive, especially when the climbers happen to have ninos,  who are the best conversation starter and get a very special attention from every store or restaurant staff.  Even with a limited proficiency in Spanish, it is very easy to communicate with residents who are so friendly and welcoming and never seem on a rush.

Eva chatting with a local abuela at the market

In the small climbing shop, visitors can buy all the staples including the guidebook. The store also carries t-shirts and hoodies with Chulilla’s tagline: Climb. Eat. Sleep. F**k. The sight of it makes me think that it’s probably what defines a stay in Chulilla for most climbers, single, young and beautiful, although we definitely noticed an imbalanced male vs female ratio.

Obviously, going on a rock climbing trip with toddlers changes your experience … a lot. I think it’d be more accurate to summarize our experience in Chulilla this way: Sleep. Climb. Eat. Play. Nap. Snack…and wipe bums.

families
our crew – Photo by Shenoa Runge
Advertisements

From 2 to 82: 3 Generations on a Trip to Cassis, France

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.

A little beach time, although the temperature barely climbs over 20 degrees
A little beach time, although the temperature barely climbs over 20 degrees

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:

  1. 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…

Cassiscafé
Multigenerational travel or when the little ones get all the attention

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…

CassisMarché
Embracing the French life on this rainy 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.

CassisCalanquesSorimiou
La Calanque de Sormiou in rest mode after the busy summer season

 

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.

CasisPortmiou
La Calanque de Port-Miou is the closest to town and offer an easy walking access

 

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.

cassiscapcanaille
Photo spot at the top of the Cap Canaille. Watch your kids as there’s a 200m drop right there!

 

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.

 

Cassisparc
Having a good time with her new friend at La Ciotat’s seafront playground

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…

CassisElie2
Elie as keen and happy as ever, rocking this multi-pitch like a champ in his own backyard
CassisElie
Un vaurien ou une canaille?
Cassisraph
Raph focused on the steep, pumpy 4th pitch

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 🙂

cassiscrag
Checking out a local crag on la Route des Crêtes

 

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.