Looking across the port of la Ciotat, the towering cranes of the shipyard cast their square-shaped silhouettes against the Bec de l’Aigle. The Eagle’s Beak, the ever-present backdrop to the city skyline. Its massive form, round and bulky seen from the old town is a jutting, dynamic point that gives the formation its name when seen from the cliffs to the West.
Continue past the shipyard behind its derelict warehouses and through the old neighbourhood of eclectic villas. The sea is close but out of sight. Through a narrow unassuming alley or down a cul de sac to the calanques of Mugel and Figuerolles.
The latter is particularly hidden from view. First-time visitors stop to interpret the road signs. Take one direction, reverse and take another. Ask for directions from a rare passer-by, towel in hand. Wonder if the calanque is within walking distance of that parking space.
No exception to the rule, we followed the same routine one bright and windy day in early May. We finally parked and made our way through the sleepy streets to the path that leads down to the small, pebble beach via a hundred sloped steps.
Round the first bend and suddenly the view opens up and the “calanque de Figuerolles” appears. Just below is a café and a restaurant, terraces full and humming with lively chatter. The path continues past the restaurant through the leafy arch of a fig tree.
Beach goers are stretched out on the narrow strand, tanning in the spring sunshine or enjoying the shade of a fig tree or a pine. A small stream is lined with reeds and irises. A dragonfly flits in and out of view.
On both sides, the calanque is framed by steep banks of rock made up of tortured and fantastical forms. Each seems to have a name, the rock of the Lion, the Eagle’s Beak… All carved out of a brown conglomerate substrate, pebbles of a prehistoric river bound together by a natural concrete-like sediment. Puddingstone (the French term is simply “poudingue”) because it looks like… pudding. A pudding that an unimpressed child has taken to sculpting into mythological creatures perhaps.