The Côte Bleue

A stone's throw from Marseille

The Côte bleue is the seafront located to the north of Marseille, after the Estaque district and ends in  Martigues. Its name refers to the colour of the water. Several small towns are part of it: Le Rove, Ensuès-la-Redonne, Carry-le-Rouet, Sausset-les-Pins, La Couronne, Carro..

A wild coast

The Côte Bleue is made up of a succession of small ports, beaches and coves lined with pine trees, sometimes difficult to access, but that’s what makes it so charming.  Its rugged beauty has led film-makers such as Marcel Pagnol and Robert Guédiguian to choose it as the setting for their films. The archaeological remains of the Méjean shelter attest to the presence of prehistoric man on its shores. Later, the coastal hamlets were inhabited by farmers and fishermen. It was the creation of the Marseille-Miramas railway line in 1915 that opened up the coastal villages.

To swim in these coves, it’s best to wear sandals suitable for walking on the beaches, which are often made up of large pebbles, and to avoid injuring yourself underwater with the sea urchins that dot the rocky seabed. Sea urchins, which you can also enjoy on Sundays in February at the Oursinades in Carry le Rouet and Sausset les Pins. In winter, the waves bring to the beaches mounds of stranded aquatic plants known as the Posidonia meadows, a protected species that is home to many fishes.

A place of leisure

For city dwellers from Marseilles, Aix-en-Provence and Vitrolles, the Côte Bleue is synonymous with leisure activities. Many people come here to stroll or swim at weekends and during the week-ends and holidays. In the creeks such as Niolon, La Redonne and Carro, some families have owned un cabanon  ( small cottage) from several generations. It is in the cabanon that families and friends gather to share good times and live to the rhythm of aperitifs, games of pétanque, siestas to the sound of cicadas and card games. In short, it’s a simple art of living, but one that’s becoming increasingly rare with urbanization.

*Cabanon: a former fisherman’s hut. Gradually it was transformed and became a place for rest and Sunday get-togethers

Some ideas to enjoy the Côte Bleue !

  • Hike along the sentier des Douaniers (GR51) or the many other paths. Some of them are open to moutain bikes
  • Practice water sports: paddle boarding, kayaking, snorkelling with the sport clubs and  associations listed with the Tourist  Office.
  • Surf or windsurf on Carro’s Arnettes beach, one of France’s most famous spots.
  • Sailing or boating from l’Estaque, Carry, Sausset or Martigues: it is not unusual to encounter dolphins near the coast!
  • Hire a private boat for a day or half-day to discover inaccessible coves and swim there!
  • Have fun  with the whole family at the Magic Park Land.
  • Enjoy the beautiful market in Sausset les Pins or Martigues on sunday morning
  • Eat or have a drink at the port of Carry le Rouet with its many events.
  • Visit Martigues also known as the ‘ Venise of Provence,’ with its colourful ‘Miroir  aux oiseaux’ district ( the bird’s mirror)
  • Relax and enjoy the sun and the beaches.

Where to eat in the Côte Bleue

And enjoy a view sea

Getting to the Côte bleue

The famous Côte Bleue train is certainly the best way to visit the area. This regional train is a tourist attraction in its own right. The railway line, built between 1907 and 1915 by the engineer Paul Séjourné, runs along the side of the cliffs, alternating between viaducts, tunnels and sheer cliffs, offering a spectacular panorama. A little tip: when departing from Marseille, sit on the left-hand side of the train to enjoy the plunging views over the calanques and bathing spots. TER Marseille-Miramas: information and timetables on the SNCF TER website.

By car, take the A55 motorway towards Martigues or the A7 towards Marignane as far as the “Côte Bleue” exit. Then follow signs for Ensuès la Redonne, Carry le Rouet, Sausset les Pins or La Couronne-Carro.

On foot, the coastal path or GR51 known as “le sentier des Douaniers” crosses the Côte Bleue and links up with other walking routes. So many opportunities for walking, whether for families or more experienced hikers. Most of these routes are accessible from the stations at Niolon, Ensuès la Redonne, Carry le Rouet, Sausset les Pins and la Couronne. It is of course advisable to study the route carefully before setting off, and to be well equipped for the hike (IGN maps Marseille-Les Calanques no. 3145 ET, Etang de Berre-Martigues no. 3144 OT).

By the sea, those who own or hire a boat can discover inaccessible creeks by land,  and sail on crystal-clear waters ( however be careful to  avoid the perimeter of the regional marine park at Carry) Please get in touch with the harbour master’s offices at the marinas to book your berth.