Cap Canaille

by Wendy VanHatten

You can’t miss it. If you’re in the town of Cassis, France, it sits high above the deep blue Mediterranean and the boat-filled harbor. Just turn away from the water and look up from the streets.

It’s the Cap Canaille massif. An immense, imposing stone rampart. It’s not hard to realize these spectacular cliffs are the highest in France. At 394 meters, the sheer cliffs drop into that amazing blue water. Nothing subtle here.

Can you drive to the top? Certainly. Provided it’s not a windy day. The road is closed then. Once you start driving, you’ll see why. Narrow and winding, every curve of the road makes you feel like you’re hanging on to that gigantic piece of rock. I’ve been on narrow roads. This one is nothing like those.

Guardrails? Not many. Views at every curve? Absolutely, with take-my-breath away scenes. Places to stop and take pictures or just marvel at everything laid out before you? Yes. The Route des Cretes makes its way from Cassis to La Ciotat and you can see both towns from those stopping points.

The rock face of Cap Canaille, a headland, is called Falaises de Soubeyrannes. Canaille comes from Latin, Canalis mons, meaning mountain of the waters, as the Romans built aqueducts to channel fresh water. The name also comes from the Provencal, Cap naio, or the mountain that swims, that juts out of the sea.

Once you’re at the top, you understand just how sheer the face is and how it disappears into the sea. In essence…the mountain swims.

Look in the distance and you get a glimpse of the Calanques, the miniature fjords and marine valleys carved from the white limestone cliffs. Then, look towards the harbor of Cassis. The Mediterranean Sea shows you her colors as the water deepens. Turquoise to blue to deep, dark blue…those colors will seduce you.

Once back in town, take time to relax at a café by the harbor, have a drink, and look up again. Just a simple rock? Not at all. See for yourself…