As soon as we stepped out of the train station at Cassis, the little port town a few kilometres East of Marseille, I declared that I was in love. The smell of heated pines, coupled with the accompaniment of persistently chirping cicadas was confirmation that we had entered a kind of Mediterranean paradise. That conclusion was further fortified as we made our way closer to the coast, and found plunging into a slightly opaque dazzlingly turquoise sea steeply cast mountains rippling with shades of terracotta and violet. But best of all was the harbour itself, a kind of St Tropez in miniature, with splendidly multi-coloured houses in every shade of pastel lining the waterfront, while before them, a veritable collective of fishing boats and yachts added luxury to the scene.
Living in Mallorca for close on 3 years means that this kind of glittering seaside scene is no stranger to me. Yet there is something about a port in the French Riviera that exudes a kind of innate elegance which is somewhat less tangible elsewhere in the Med. Maybe it’s the old men gathered drinking pernod and exchanging gossip in the tree-lined squares which neighbour the harbour. Or perhaps it’s the perfume of Marseille soap and lavender which manages to pervade and harmonise with the delicate scent emanating from the sea. Or maybe it is the cafes and bistros, whose location affords them the very freshest of seafood and extravagant shell fish, and of course the very best in chilled Provencal rose. I’m not sure I can truly put my finger on what it is that singles out these Riviera havens, but I know that Cassis is as insuperably handsome as it gets.
A few minutes was all we needed to located the best table alongside the waterside, a large plate of gigantic grilled prawns and several glasses of rose so cold that ice clung to the side of the gently perspiring wine glass. Somewhat heady on all that peach-coloured elixir, we wafted around the port like fallen bourganvilla petals dancing in a light summer’s breeze, utterly caught up in the aesthetic delights of the place. That momentum pushed us towards the emerald sea, and there in water frothed up by a robust Mediterranean current, we plunged into the ambient waters from where Cassis appeared all the more stunning.
Compared with the urban cacophony of Marseille, Cassis proved the ultimate Riviera balm; a true treasure of the French Mediterranean whose soft palette and pervasive elegance ensnared our senses and charmed our imagination, long after the Riviera train scooped us back into the smoggy fold of Marseille.
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