The warm-up: Notre-Dame de la GardeOne of the most famous climbs around Marseille is actually right in town, and the ideal way to ease into those new hiking boots: a moderately steep climb up the nearly 150m limestone outcrop that dominates the skyline of Marseille.
You’ll feel, suddenly, the city drop away behind you as you gain toward the famous Notre-Dame basilica, perched like a gleaming nest of white stone and gold.
While there are several ways of scaling the hill (including by car or bus, if you’re not quite ready to climb it yourself), the most stunning is from the winding Boulevard Tellène, where there’s a lesser-known trail that puts the glimmering Mediterranean at your back.
A nice piece of culture awaits you at the summit. The 19th century cathedral is every bit as stunning as the similarly named church in Paris. Though here, stepping out the doors gives you views that can hardly be match anywhere in the world.
Mountain meander: La Falaise de Lioux, LuberonBreaking away from the city into the Luberon national park, you find traditional southern French vistas like you’ve never seen before.
The hiking in these mountain ranges is extraordinary, with a wide variety of terrains, flora and fauna, and there’s always chances to come upon historic relics hidden away.
A particularly breathtaking track is along the stunning Falaise de Lioux, a cliff that juts unexpectedly from the rolling hills near the village of Lioux.
An easy, two-and-a-half hour hike takes you on a loop along lush fields and verdant forests, up the gradual ascent to the top of the cliff.
From here, you have earned the glorious views of the patchwork hills of vineyards dotted with the red-roofs that mark the south of France. A short hike down the gentle slope takes you back into town, where little local restaurants will treat you to some fine local cuisine.
Seaside wander: Calanques de Cassis (Port Miou, Port Pin, En Vau)Marseille and the small seaside town of Cassis bookend one of the most spectacular examples of Mediterranean terrain: the calanques (pronounced ka-lonk). This series of mountains and sheer limestone inlets make for excellent ocean hiking and breathtaking Mediterranean views.
One of the best ways to approach the calanques is from Cassis. A short train ride from Marseille gets you to the start of the trail. After a little climb over the hill, you will be greeted with your first look at a calanque.
Turquoise waters dotted with sea-craft twinkles in the sunlight below the white cliffs of Porte Miou. Continuing the trail brings you to another, Port Pin. A perfect spot for a dip in the warm waters and a picnic while more adventurous hikers can aim for the third calanque, En Vau, which is more secluded.
These three make up the tail (or head) of the Grande Randonée, an 11 mile hike through the calanques between Marseille and Cassis and a trip only highly experienced climbers can make in a day. Any part of this path boasts natural scenery like nowhere else in the world.
Coastal vistas: Calanque de Sugiton and La BelvédèreOn the other end of the Grande Randonée, starting at the university campus of Luminy, is one of the superlative views of the Mediterranean. But remember to pack lots of water, as there’s nowhere to purchase any.
About 45 minutes long, this hike takes you on a short, easy ascent of the mountain. From here, take a well-marked turn to either La Belvédère or the calanque de Sugiton. The former takes you up a little more and to an awe-inspiring limestone outcrop called ‘la Torpilleur’ (the torpedo).
At 1,500 feet almost vertically above the shimmering Mediterranean sea, the views from here overlooking the dramatic shoreline and the calanques of Morgiou and Sugiton are some of the best in the Mediterranean.
Sugiton, following a well-maintained trail down, is a perfect place for a packed lunch. The sea twinkles turquoise and invites a swim while the sun against the white rocks and beaches begs relaxation.
Further coastal trails continue to less visited coves, but remember to check the access signs as, in the heat of summer, some trails may be closed to prevent fires.