Under the blazing sun

Distance: 238km | Duration: 1.5-2 days | Download

Philippe Chanin Journalist Freelance reporter specialising in motorbikes, he’s always hitting the roads in his PACA region. « I love taking it easy on board a huge GT as much as I love hugging the bends on a race track. »

238km of pure motoring magic! Between land and sea, from the heart of the bustling city to stunning natural sites including the Bouches-du-Rhône, here’s a sight for sore eyes and a feast for the senses.

MARSEILLE IN 3D

La Canebière is famous the world over as are Marseille’s calanques, Bonne Mère and attitude. The Southern French capital is worth diving into without checking the calendar and clock: the Old Port and Le Panier neighbourhood, Palais Longchamp, La Corniche Kennedy with, on the edge of the « world », the village of Les Goudes to name but a few of the magical places that you won’t find anywhere else. Once you’ve filled up on the city it’s time to head to Col de la Gineste to continue your journey as you explore a variety of roads that rise, dip and twist as soon as you leave Marseille. Take a look around. The dreamy majestic limestone mountains are worth lingering over.

The road climbs down straight after the Plateau de Carpiagne. You’ll want to take a break in Cassis as soon as you stop to gaze at the village beneath you. It’s almost as popular as Saint Tropez. You’ll probably want to take a dip if it’s warm enough too. If you decide to visit the famous Calanques or take a boat trip to get up close to them then plan for a second day on your adventure between Land and Sea. Look up and you’ll see what looks like a huge mural over the water: Cap Canaille. The tarmac snake clinging to it will make your head spin. Your head will spin again once you reach the 400m summit of the highest maritime cliff in Europe. The Route des Crêtes is meant to be one of the most beautiful roads in the world and a feat of courage that is rewarded by stunning views of the beaches from La Ciotat to Saint-Cyr les Lecques. You’ll see for yourself!

SAINTE VICTOIRE MOUNTAIN IN THE BACKGROUND

Make room in your mind to make new memories. When we come out of a dense pine forest, our route forks to the left. Go straight on and the Circuit Paul Ricard racetrack is just 10km away. Whether or not you’ve made a detour on the idolised track, the little D3 road sliding towards the Col de l’Ange has everything it needs to win you over. The mountain pass goes down the west side to the pretty village of Gémenos. Now, take a breath and say Sainte-Baume. It’s the name of the mountain you can see before you whose Pic de Bertagne watches over the region from its 1041m height. I may have said this before but the Espigoulier road that almost reaches the summit is incredible, as are the landscapes, bends and arcs. The site is used for car rallies and is a place for cyclists and petrolheads to train. The D2 is full of blind bends and popular with walkers returning to their playground. It goes without saying that you need to be careful as it gets narrow towards the top.

We’ve barely reached Plan-d’Aups before we regretfully leave it for the D12 running down to Saint-Zacharie. The natural site needs no introduction; it lives, breathes and throbs. Next up take the Pas de la Couelle to Col du Petit Galibier. The Régagnas Mountain brings you unspoilt nature setting the scene for tight bends galore. We say go « straight ahead » when you get to Trets. The sight of Sainte-Victoire painted by Cézanne is a knock-out. It’s an easy ride uphill to it. After Puyloubier it’s time to head right along the limestone plateau and its stunning scenes. Rock climbing dreams. The road from Saint-Antonin down to Tholonet is once again incredible as white rock makes way for red clay. Is that Colorado over there?

FROM AIX EN PROVENCE TO THE CÔTE BLEUE

Aix-en-Provence brings you back to civilisation. The city is an open-air museum where you’ll want to linger on the streets before having a glass of wine in the shade on a terrace on Cours Mirabeau. A landmark awaits you 15km from Aix-en-Provence: the Roquefavour Aqueduct. It’s 393m long and 83m high making it twice the height of Pont du Gard. Roquefavour’s modern twin is the impressive high-speed rail viaduct just 1km away near Ventabren. Next is Fare-les-Oliviers surrounded by vineyards as we venture closer to the Étang de Berre lagoon. The mostly unspoilt banks are bursting with appeal from Saint-Chamas to Istres via Miramas.

Halway through is Martigues, nicknamed the Venice of Provence for its canals, which takes us back to the Mediterranean. Sausset and Carry-le-Rouet are iconic villages on the Côte Bleue whose untamed calanques are lined with vast pine forests. You’ll know you’re approaching Marseille when you ride through Le Rove, the place to buy a type of goat’s cheese that is only found here, then L’Estaque famous for its panisses (chickpea chips) and lauded by French director Robert Guédiguian (Marius and Jeannette). Race past the trading port before you dive back into the city’s Old Port whose vibrancy you won’t be able to tear yourself away from.

information

The Route des Crêtes may be closed subject to weather conditions Please contact La Ciotat Tourist Information: +33(0)4 42 08 61 32 / + 33 (0)4 42 08 78 76