Unreal doesn’t even begin to describe our time in the south of France. We picked Montpellier for a few reasons: the flights were the cheapest of all our possible destinations, Mom speaks French, and my main goal while living in Europe is to see as much of the Mediterranean as possible. We just wanted a relaxing beach weekend for Memorial Day and we certainly got it.
But before we got to chill on the beach, we took our rent-a-car two hours east to Marseille and Calanques National Park for a hike. While there are many different calanques (translates to “creek”) to hike to, we picked Sugiton because it is the most popular. The first thing I noticed as we started on the trail was how dry the air was. It felt like we were walking through a desert and I almost forgot we were right on the sea. There was some shade in the beginning but once we got to the edge of the mountain where we had to start our descent to sea level, we were in the sun almost the entire time. Following Google Maps on my phone, we unfortunately headed 45 minutes to an hour in the wrong direction. The trails were not clearly marked, and the worst part was that we did not bring enough water or food for a detour. We reached the water two hours later than we had expected to after a long walk down difficult rocky paths.
All the trouble was worth it though when we saw the beach. There were tons of people sunbathing and cliff jumping and hanging out on boats while taking in the natural beauty of the jagged rocks and turquoise water. I went for a swim and was just in awe the entire time. This may have been the most beautiful place I have ever seen, which means a lot considering my loyalty to Australia.
The walk back to our car was even more strenuous than the walk down and I’m honestly shocked we made it. By this time it was 90 degrees and it took us about two hours under the beating sun to walk back up the steep path that was mainly just loose rocks. I gave Mom all the water I had and I carried both of our backpacks. I work out almost every day and was still exhausted by the time we got up the mountain, so I’m not sure how all the other people on the trail made it look so easy. Our accidental detour was probably what did it for us. Luckily, when we got back to the parking lot there was a tap for us to fill our water and a food truck where we got burgers in honor of Memorial Day Weekend. Next time we do a hike, we’ll plan a little better, but as difficult as it was, I would do it again and again just to see those views. We originally planned to visit Marseilles after the hike but were too exhausted and wanted to get back to Montpellier.
Our hotel was in an area called La Grande Motte just steps from the beach and a strip of restaurants. The atmosphere reminded me so much of trips to Ocean City—souvenir shops, large hotel buildings, food vendors selling crepes and hot waffles just as ours would sell funnel cakes and fried Oreos—and it was cool to see how similar a French person’s summer vacation could be to an American’s. This area specifically is apparently known for the pyramid architecture, which is…interesting….but probably better than the high rises in Ocean City. All the restaurants along the beach had plenty of tables with chairs facing the water.
Every night we sat outside eating and enjoying the warm summer weather. I tried mussels for the first time and loved them, and had some other stereotypical French foods like creme brûlée and steak and fries (steak frites as they would say). For breakfast, all the restaurants served a combo meal where you could get coffee, orange juice, yogurt, bread, and a croissant for €6.
We spent all day Sunday and Monday on the beach at a place that rented out lounge chairs and umbrellas and then also had a bar where they would deliver food and drinks right to your spot in the sand. We got a sangria pitcher and beers and some of the best pizza I’d ever had.
After starting the month of May in a winter coat in Paris, it was fun to end the month in a completely different part of France. I loved every part of my vacation, including the dehydration and the sunburn, and now I’m just excited I get to cross another part of the Mediterranean coast off my list!