Calanques, Cassis and La Ciotat
08 May 2008 | La Ciotat
La Ciotat is not exactly the Provence of books and movies, but the setting is glorious. It reminds me a bit of industrial Cape Breton, with beautiful scenery, slightly run-down buildings, a sprinkling of elegant houses and brightly painted fishing boats. The townspeople are very friendly, the food in the cafes is delicious and the selection of produce and delicacies in the shops means that even dinners on board have gone up a notch! La Ciotat is a working fishing port, and there are stalls along the waterfront where the fresh catch is sold each morning.
The town has some interesting history- the world's first motion picture, filmed by the Lumiere brothers, was of a train arriving in the La Ciotat station. The theatre where the film had its first public showing is still standing. It reminds me of the old Majestic Theatre in New Waterford, but a bit older, a bit smaller and perhaps a little less majestic. The game of Petanque was also created in La Ciotat, or so they say.
Katherine arrived at 1030 p.m. on Saturday night (10 hours later than scheduled) after being rerouted through Paris because of a mechanical problem with one of her flights. This was very disappointing since we had to cancel our planned celebration dinner (of my birthday and Katherine's finishing law school) but we made up for it the next day.
There is a huge market on the La Ciotat waterfront every Sunday morning where you can buy everything from food to cheap shoes. The huge selection of gourmet treats brought on a serious case of impulse-buying and we tried a little of everything for lunch. In the afternoon we took the dinghy out to explore "l'Ile Verte", an island lying just off the town. There's a great view of the "Bec de l'Aigle" (a spectacular rock formation that really does look like the beak of an eagle) from the fort on the island. We had dinner in one of the local cafes that evening-delicious and inexpensive. The fish soup might have tasted even better if we had realized that we were supposed to put the rouille and cheese into the soup instead of eating it on our bread!
The cliffs outside La Ciotat are the highest in Europe (394 meters according to the leaflet provided by the Office de Tourisme) and the area is famous for the "calaques"- deep fiords that cut into the cliffs. We decided to putter around the corner to Port Mioux- an absolutely breathtaking spot where the boat was surrounded by high limestone cliffs. Anchoring is not permitted there, but mooring balls are available. After tying on to a mooring, you must also tie a stern line to the cliff face. The calanque was crowded with other boats, but it was still an amazing setting. Our post-arrival entertainment was watching young men jump off the cliffs into the water- some with much bravado, others after much contemplation. Then we had visitors aboard- three customs agents. Two of them made a cursory inspection below but asked Rick three times if we had guns aboard. One stayed up top chatting with Katherine and me- he was very friendly, told us a bit about the area and complimented Katherine on her excellent French.
From the calanque at Port Miou it is only a 20 minute walk to the town of Cassis. Katherine needed to book her train to Paris, so she and I decided to go exploring. As we approached the town, we could see the wonderful view barely visible over the high fences of the elaborate villas along the way. As we stood on tip-toe to peer over one fence, a fierce guard dog suddenly stuck his snout out and snarled at us. Yikes! Then we noticed a sign that said "Chien Mechant et Perspicace!" We understand mechant, but perspicace?? After consulting two dictionaries back at the boat, we decided it meant "Perspicacious". Intruders in France are obviously well educated.
A little further on, the view really came into its own, and we could see the old chateau that looms over the town. The train station was another 3 km outside the town so we took a local bus. For an 80 cent fare we had a very pretty drive through the countryside, past vineyards and gardens-totally charming. France is even nicer than I remembered. The bus driver gave us a free ride back, too.
The next day, we anchored off Cassis, did a bit more exploring and had lunch in a cafe. By the way the liquor "Cassis" is not made in Cassis, but the Cassis white wine is very good. Today we are back in La Ciotat, and we hope to rent a car tomorrow to do some land-based exploring.