Having enjoyed our four days in Annecy, it was time to heard further south and continue our search for sun. Next stop: Cassis.

The route we took from Annecy to Cassis is mapped below. It consists of three legs: 1) Annecy to Lyon Airport via rental car; 2) Lyon Airport to Marseille via TGV (high speed train); and 3) Marseille to Cassis via Uber (NB: Mapped using Rome2Rio, which is my favourite website after TransportBlog).

Leg 2

The drive from Annecy to Lyon Airport took just over an hour. I noticed a couple of interesting things about driving in France: 1) there’s a lot of toll roads, yet the payment technologies seem rather primitive and 2) speed limits on the highway vary up to 130km/hr, for no apparent reason (speed profiles I’m guessing, but they weren’t obvious to me). Nonetheless, the drive from Annecy to Lyon went without a hitch, and was rather pleasant. Nonetheless, after one hour of driving I was well and truly ready to abandon the car.

At Lyon Airport we returned the rental car and then went to catch our TGV train. As mentioned in my last post, the TGV station at Lyon Airport is spacious, gracious, and well-designed. While I appreciate that Auckland will never have stations on this scale, I did wonder what we might learn from TGV stations when designing the CRL stations. The value of strong design and natural light being the most obvious takeaway messages (albeit the latter is harder underground!). Here’s another image to titillate your transport taste buds.

Driving from Annecy to Cassis, then it would have taken us about 5 hours. In contrast, our journey took a total of 4 hours, and that’s including time spent returning the rental car, waiting for the train, and booking/catching the Uber.

In terms of cost, the TGV cost 130 Euro for the two of us. That may sound steep, except that had we driven then we would have had to pay 1) 30 Eur for another day of car hire; 2) 60 Eur to return the rental car to a different location (we picked it up at Lyon Airport); and 3) ~100 Eur in fuel and tolls. So ~190 Euro all up.

That’s before you include the cost of parking in Cassis. So all up, for this particular leg the TGV was faster, cheaper, and ultimately more productive, as it enabled me to write this post while travelling. I should briefly mention that Marseille St Charles station is also something of a treasure, although for entirely different (historical) reasons to the station at Lyon Airport. Here’s the view looking back to the station after exiting, which I think gives you a feel for the station as a whole. It’s a charming, grand old thing.

Once we got to Marseille the transport equation changed in two key ways. The first change was simply that we met up with our friend, so there were now three of us in total. The second change was that train services between Marseille and Cassis operate only every hour or so, and take approximately one hour in total, including a final bus connection to Cassis. So the train worked out at 20 Eur in total plus one hour travel time, versus 50 Eur for an Uber that took only 30 minutes. So we opted for the latter.

Putting transport to one side, let me now talk about our destination, Cassis. The town itself is shown below. In a nutshell: Cassis is a small town located in the south of France with a resident population of 8,000, although this swells markedly over the peak summer period when people like me, but probably wealthier, invade for a few months. Founded circa 600 BC, the village has long been known for its fish, stone, and wine. It’s rather picturesque.

As an aside, in that second image you can just see some vinyards located on the terraced slopes in the top left corner. I’d highly recommend the tour of the Closs Sainte Magdeleine vinyard, which you can walk to from the town. The tour takes only an hour, costs only 12 Euro, and includes wine tasting. You can book at the information centre, which is located on the wharf in the centre of town (I love information centres).

Cassis is certainly a tourist hotspot for reasons other than the town itself. One of the reasons is the stunning natural environs. To the east, steep cliffs tower over the sea (as per the previous image), while along the coast to the east is a national park and all its associated recreational activities, like walking and kayaking. Some of which bring you to places such as that shown below. We hired kayaks for half a day to explore the calanques, which was more than long enough in the sun for this Non-Indian pale male.

So what’s notable about Cassis in a land use and transport sense?

Well, the first thing you notice is that it’s relatively dense for a city of its size. The density reflects two attributes. First, all the buildings are between 3-4 stories high. Second, the roads are extremely narrow. In fact, most are so narrow they can only accommodate a small car in one direction of travel. The narrowness of the streets seems to have prevented Google’s StreetView car from covering the centre of Cassis to any large extent.

Here’s an image from one of the streets that they have managed to document (link).

Cassis streets

At night, many of the restaurants place tables out on the street, creating one of the most effective and enduring public-private partnerships known to human-kind. That is, streets are integrated into the town in a seamless and dynamic way. Yes, some streets accomodate cars at slow speeds and at some times. At other times the same streets become places for markets, pedestrians, and restaurant seating etc.

Street design in Cassis doesn’t feel like an optional extra, something that is tagged on after the fact. It feels like something that is intrinsic to making the town’s character. To provide you with a tangible example, here’s a photo of a small roundabout in Cassis. You will note that the centre of the roundabout is home to a fountain, trees, and a decent amount of seating.

Cassis roundabout

In Cassis, prime space such as the centre of the roundabout is not something to be squandered simply to accommodate vehicle traffic, but must instead be used to deliver a multi-functional urban environment in which vehicles are only one element. The attention to street design, even in a small coastal town such as Cassis, is mind-boggling. The other thing that I found funny, as someone who turns my hand to transport engineering from time-to-time, is the complete absence of AustRoads like design standards. Sightlines? Turning radii? Meh. Instead, vehicles are expected to drive slowly. And, for the most part, they do.

Aside from our Uber ride to get to Cassis in the first place, our four days were spent completely car-free. We walked, kayaked, and swum ourselves into a happy little stupor.

Now, however, it’s time for me to wander out into the mild evening air to enjoy some pizza, wine, and crepes. Tomorrow we leave Cassis, and the next stop is Llanca, Province of Girona. Until then, bon nuit.

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  1. When I made a cycle tour from London to Rome and back up to France in 2008 I ended up basing myself in Cassis for a few weeks at the camping ground. I cycled in to Marseille each day over Les Calanques to use the internet at a cybercafé.

    (what I wouldn’t give to be back to that lifestyle!)

    Incidentally, the cliffs there are the highest coastal cliffs anywhere in Europe.

  2. The only problem with the excitingly chunky TGV stations is that the upper bits get really dusty/dirty and are apparently impossible to clean…CDG airport one was truly horrible last time I was there.

    1. To be honest i made a simple mistake. When i went to sncf website it told me the fares were 18 euro to cassis. I thought this was per person but it was actually for 3 people. When i saw 18 euro i thought it would be 54 euro for all of us hence we caught an uber.

      On way back we caught train – that’s in next post! 🙂

      1. Reckon it’s still better to take the train even if it was 54 euro as against 50 for the Uber plus a longer trip. Unless the difference in cost is gross, or you’re in a mad rush, GO THE TRAIN!

  3. And don’t forget there are always great deals available on the network- we took the TGV from Paris CDG to Montpellier for 20 Euros each ( this was in July 2016)

    1. Yes, although in busy summer months it can also cut the other way. Yesterday we wanted to catch a train from girona to zaragoza but renfe website showed all trains between 9am to 4pm were full.

    1. My pleasure, and yes it is a beautiful and charming spot. Extremely accessible from Marseille and in 4-5 hours by train you can reach all the way to Menton to the east (just on French side of border with Italy).

      So if you’re looking for a nice relaxed base to explore the south of France, then I’d highly recommend Cassis.

  4. To be fair, that shot of the water winding between the cliffs just looks like the Manawatu gorge, just without the sea part…. ;-_

  5. Awesome post! A glorious walk-able community. Yes, the location is idyllic and the architecture, and townscapes clearly date from another era. However, those postcards definitely serve to inspire on how we could inter-prate some of that lifestyle to NuZild.

    1. thanks – and yes I completely agree. Thing is NZ towns and cities have an enormous opportunity to blend what’s great about the old world with the benefits of the new. Unfortunately, in our haste to worship at the altar of technological process, especially in the way we accommodate private vehicles, we forget what the past can teach us.

      Great places put people, not cars, trucks, planes, or trains, at the centre of their design philosophy.

      1. Stu – ummm, roundabout? How does that work with a tree in the way? But more importantly, of Cassis – is that the home of the drink of the same name? Presumably the place is awash with it. Interesting to note that, despite it’s age and obvious attractions, it hasn’t grown into a sprawl of suburbs. How is that controlled? What is their Unitary Plan like?

        1. yup, it’s a roundabout. The thing with roundabouts is that they have this round space in the middle, which in this example has been used to accommodate a tree, fountain, seats etc.

  6. This is what the unitary plan looks like – filthy, filthy slums. Matthew Hooton please continue your crusade to save us from this

    1. is Matthew Hooton opposed to the Unitary Plan and/or density? That’s news to me, although I don’t follow NZild news too closely.

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