Posted by: Kristie | October 8, 2009

Cruising the Coast of Cassis

Since we are in Southern France for two weeks, we obviously had to spend at least one day on France’s infamous Mediterranean coast. Although we flew into Marseille, the illness debacle didn’t allow for much exploring, so we choose to take a day trip to the quaint port town of Cassis. Cassis is located 30 minutes southeast of Marseille and is known for its calenques, narrow inlets created by the jagged edges of the area’s towering cliffs. The beaches are rocky and there didn’t seem to be any rich and famous, but its stunning beauty and lack of pretention made it perfect.

Cassis' Port and Waterfront Shops

Cassis' Port and Waterfront Shops

We started the day off at Le Bonaparte, a charming restaurant known for its bouillabaisse. After reading about this restaurant on Chowhound and Tripadvisor, I learned it was imperative to order the bouillabaisse the day prior so we called and made a reservation (FYI – they put someone on the phone who spoke English). It was a good thing because the restaurant was booked, and it was Wednesday lunch. Pretty impressive. The restaurant is located just off the main port area, down a narrow, long alley bearing the same name as the restaurant. Tables spilled out into the alley and the front was staffed by the owner and two young men, seemingly his sons. They were all dressed very casually, one actually wearing those Nike-looking rubber slippers that used to be popular in the 90s. You felt like you were walking into their home, yet, it still had the feel of restaurant. The owner shuffled around, shaking people’s hands, taking orders and enjoying sharing his food.

The Facade of Le Bonaparte

The Facade of Le Bonaparte

We learned pretty quickly that only one of the guys spoke English. The meal began by the staff bringing out a large pan of various types of fish, which we think were raw. I really wish we took a photo because it was pretty impressive. The pan included two sets of three different types of fish, none of the names I can remember, plus mussels. After explaining the different types of fish, he took it away. Next, the other young guy brought out a metal pot of what looked like just broth peppered with some potatoes, a basket of crostini and a ramekin filled with a day-glo orange spread.

Soupe de Poisson

Soupe de Poisson (Fish soup) and its accompaniments

The guy began speaking to us in French and it was quickly realized we didn’t understand. So he attempted to get the English-speaking guy, but he was busy. So we sat there waiting, not exactly sure what to do, and not sure if we actually just received the Bouillabaisse, seeing as there was no fish in the broth. The owner must’ve realized what was going on and came over. He picked up the bread, smeared it with the spread and placed it in Brett’s empty bowl. He continues to do this until we both had three pieces in our bowl, all while he’s speaking in French and utilizing hand gestures to help communicate. He then pours the broth on top of the bread, says some more things where we catch the word poisson (fish) and was off.

Soupe de Poisson

Soupe de Poisson all fixed up

The soup was absolutely delicious, incredibly complex and flavorful. I was actually worried it was going to be too fishy because it smelled pretty strong, but once in your mouth, it was just yummy goodness. Coupled with the delicious soggy bread and spread, which turned out to be some type of super garlic spread, it was a taste explosion. What we weren’t too sure of is whether or not this was the Bouillabaisse or not. Brett thought for sure that this was just the starter since there was no actual fish in the dish, but that just didn’t make sense to me because why would a soup be a starter for soup? So I slightly panicked knowing we wouldn’t be eating for awhile and afraid of how I get when I’m hungry, I ate a little too much of the soup. Because then the actual Bouillabaisse came out.

The Actual Bouillabaise

The Actual Bouillabaise

Sure enough the soup was a starter for the soup. The Bouillabaisse was actually just the same broth but including all of the fish that he originally showed us. It was really good. The fish was incredibly fresh and of course the broth was just as delicious. Brett said he had more refined and flavorful versions, but this seemed the most authentic. Unfortunately I barely finished half the fish because I was too full from the starter. We opted out of dessert or coffee, but they brought us the included digestif, Crème de Cassis.

The bouillabaisse for two was €60 euro, which according to my research, was much cheaper than other restaurants in town. Even the woman we’re renting the house from said that it was very good price and the place she usually recommends charges €45 per person. I was little surprised by the cost, but when I thought about just the cost of the fish used, it seemed reasonable. But if the price is a little steep, just order the Soupe de Poisson, since you still get to experience the amazing broth. It is actually offered as a starter for the 16E meal, so it’s much more affordable.

Stuffed and slightly tipsy from our regular pichet of Rosé, we headed to explore the calanques and get a little sun. The weather was absolutely beautiful, probably in the low 80s. It was actually a bit hot in the sun, but the breeze was the perfect temperature, warm enough to not make you cold, but cold enough to provide relief from the sun. There are a couple of ways to see the calanques: by boat, kayak or feet. The problem with the boat option is that you can’t actually get off and enjoy the shore, which is what we were looking for. We had trouble finding info on renting kayaks, so we just decided to hike it in. Although the tourism office provided a map, it was hard to tell how long the hike would actually take because it didn’t provide distances.

View from the hike - this cliff looked surreal, like it was created using special effects in a movie.

View from the hike - this cliff looked surreal, like it was created using special effects in a movie.

View of a calenque from the hiking trail

View of a calenque from the hiking trail

After about 45 minutes, we stopped at the second one called Port Pin and ended up just staying there the rest of the afternoon. Point En Vau is supposed to be the prettiest, but since it was already 2 p.m. and we didn’t know how long it would take to get there, we scratched it. We sunbathed (or at least I did), swam in the sea (also only me) and just enjoyed the weather and people watching. And yes, in grand French fashion, there was some nudity. Ultimately, a great way to spend a day on the coast, and also got us really excited for our upcoming trip to Cinque Terre on Italy’s coast.

Port Pin

Port Pin

Feeling good after a day by the sea

Feeling good after a day by the sea

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Responses

  1. Julia Childs would be so proud … she and Paul lived there for a year, right on the port! That’s where she did her bouillabaise research –

  2. I know!! That’s one of the reasons we went there. Was it in actual Cassis? I know she lived in Marseille for awhile. Did you end up seeing the movie?

    BTW, I miss you! I’ll shoot you an email soon so we can catch up.

  3. […] France Kristie Lawler presents Cruising the Coast of Cassis posted at Nom Nom […]

  4. […] France Kristie Lawler presents Cruising the Coast of Cassis posted at Nom Nom […]


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