By Wendy VanHatten
You may know the word cassis as the French work for blackcurrant. That’s true. And, it’s a great taste.
However, it’s also the name of a delightful French fishing port complete with impossibly clear turquoise waters, dozens of boats, and yummy-looking pastel houses. Plenty of charm here, too. There’ s just no other way to describe it.
Winding down and down the steep road, past rocky cliffs on one side and glimpses of blue water on the other, you eventually arrive on the edge of Cassis. Without knowing it, you’ve passed right by the centuries-old Chateau. And, yes those were grapevines on the steep rocky slopes. Then you see shimmering water in the distance. The Mediterranean Sea.
Park above the town. You really do not want to drive on the narrow, slightly uneven cobblestone streets where locals and tourists are wandering. Walking gives you the opportunity to experience Cassis the way it should be experienced. Slowly.
Friday, the day we were there, is market day. Even though the guide books said this market was smaller than others in Provence, we found it to be just as diverse and delicious as any others we had been to. We strolled through rows and rows of vendors, tented stalls, and smells so fantastic our mouths couldn’t stop watering.
I visited with a cheesemaker from Germany. In the south of France. Go figure. Another vendor, a woman selling olive wood spoons, knew where San Diego was. Her daughter goes to school there. Small world. Deeply hued, brightly colored bowls, plates, and platters grabbed my attention.
Even though the cheeses, meats, olives, pottery, flowers, biscuits, baskets, cookies, pastries, and stacks of breads might have appeared to be the same as other street markets, they weren’t. Each village or town has their own unique specialties. Candied orange cookies begged to be eaten with a cup of espresso. Yummy morning treat.
Not crowded like its touristy neighbor, St. Tropez, Cassis is a popular place for both international and French tourists on holiday. Everyone takes time to sit at a sidewalk café and people watch. Doesn’t matter if you’re drinking your morning coffee or mid-morning rose wine. Finished? How about shopping for a chic sundress, a stylish straw hat, or colorful, flirty sandals? All of the above, please.
Another thing, not a lot of English is spoken here. Yet, everyone is friendly and regardless of your command of the French language, you don’t even realize you’ve been communicating with the shopkeeper or the couple at the table next to you.
Wine? Sure. This is one of France’s outstanding wine growing areas. In fact, it’s one of the first three French wine regions to be classed as an AOC by decree on May 15, 1936. In this area, 12 wine estates produce 1,000,000 bottles a year. That’s a lot of wine from those steep vineyards. You’ll find mostly white wines with some Roses.
If you’re here for more than a day, you have to take a boat trip to the Calanques. These rocky inlets are called the Fjordes of the Med. A series of rocky cliffs and bays have been formed in the limestone. This area has a unique eco-system with no soil. It has been protected since 2012. The best way to see it is by boat. Be sure to allow enough time…or stay another day.
At the end of the day…Cassis is a place we’ll come back to. Wandering the town, sampling local seafood and wines, watching people enjoying themselves, and relaxing with a view of the sparkling Med in front of us and rows of candy-colored buildings stacked up the cliffs behind us. Oh yeah. We’ll be back. Hold our table. Merci.
If You Go: Cassis is located east of Marseille in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur in southern France.