Les Calanques - A Mediterranean Paradise with a Sting

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My legs tremble with every step as the rocks slip beneath my feet. Their echoes bounce off the protruding cliffs. I navigate the uneven pebbly path, if you could even call it that. The steep long track looms below me. One wrong step and I’ll be rolling down the hill with the rocks. It will all be worth it I think, as I try to focus my mind on the paradise that awaits.

This morning, my friend and I set off from Cassis, a picturesque town on the South coast of France. A worthy town in itself, Cassis is also a popular starting point to discovering Les Calanques National Park. Translated as ‘the rocky inlets’, Les Calanques will see you hiking over rugged cliffs and stumbling upon hidden pebbly beaches. We’re heading to the most secluded beach of all; Calanque D’En Vau.

Calanque D'En Vau
Calanque D'En Vau

Clinging onto anything secure we can find; we gently lower ourselves down the path. As we finally reach level ground, my shaky legs relax. Despite the sweat trickling from every pore, this moment feels calm. Other than the subtle chirp of a cicada in the tree, all is silent. That Mediterranean sauna smell takes over as the dry heat sizzles the tree bark. We pause to make way for hikers coming up from the beach. “Is it worth it?” we ask. “Yes, but watch out for the jellyfish.”

I sense we’re close as the sea air dampens the dry atmosphere and the sound of waves becomes ever-present. “We’ve made it” I say to my friend whilst peering through the wild olive trees. Emerging into the opening of Calanque D’En Vau is magical. Stretched out, grey cliffs pop with green foliage. The rocky corridor walls span far, protecting the inviting blue carpet which crashes gently along the pebbly shore. After three hours of hiking, this is a warm welcome through the gates of paradise.

Les Calanques National Park
Les Calanques National Park

Relaxing on the beach, I notice that light lands only on one side of the calanque, the south-facing side. Bushy trees bask in the sun’s rays, their roots planted firmly in the rocky cracks. In contrast, just a few sparse trees survive on the shady, barren cliff to the right. It’s difficult to imagine that over 900 species of plant thrive in this dry, soil-lacking landscape.

I look along the corridor of alluring blue. “Just a few jellyfish…” I say to myself, thinking back to the hikers we passed. Anyway, in this sweltering sun, plunging into cool water is a necessity. Wading in, a shiver runs down my spine as the contrastingly icy water splashes against my skin. ‘I wonder why everyone is staying in the shallows’ I think as I naively dive deeper. I quickly realize why. All of a sudden, I am immersed in an aquatic minefield of squidgy blobs. Completely vulnerable, I try to weave around the jellyfish that float into my path. My head held high, I assure myself that my dodging technique is working.

“Wait for me!” I shout to my friend as I feel them closing in. My breaststroke arms go into full speed to catch up. But I’m swimming into them. I am surrounded…

It’s too late. A sharp lashing strikes my arm. A scream escapes my mouth. I've been stung! I go into full panic mode and splash my way to the rocks, ignoring the fact that there are probably more in my path. I’m out of the water like the speed of light, the adrenaline turning me into a professional climber. Thank God I’m on dry land, I think.

The beach at Calanque D'En Vau
The beach at Calanque D'En Vau

As I regain my breath, a throbbing sensation shoots down my arm and I can feel the blood pulsing in my veins. I prance around frantically trying to shake away the pain, but it’s getting more intense. Blood trickles down my leg. I must have scraped it in my scramble to safety. But I’m too focused on my arm. After violently trying to shake the pain away for what feels like an eternity, the sensation becomes bearable and a perfect tentacle-shaped rash wraps around my arm. Exhausted, I fall onto my towel in relief.

If someone had told me before the hike that I’d be bruised, bloody and stung, I might have called the whole thing off. But, despite my suffering, reaching this hidden paradise was a worthwhile adventure. Maybe next time, I won’t go diving into jellyfish-infested waters…

Rock with directions
Rock with directions
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Eva Adorisio

Eva is an avid traveler and writer from the UK. She loves being surprised by a new country and, through her writing, aims to show the true nature of a place. Her Italian roots have led to a love of food, culture and language, which are a focus in her travels. She also spends her time staying active out in nature and is always planning the next adventure.

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