This chapter of the Marseille travelogue represents one of the more physically challenging this I've done during the travels represented in this website. L'╬sles du Frioul was a hiker's dream, or nightmare, and I devoted the better part of an hour and a half scaling them under the intense heat of a sunny southern French summer afternoon. With their steep rocky cliffs, raw gravel pathways, and more nooks and crannies than a chunk of Havarti, these islands offered breathtaking views that required a lot of breath to reach!
The fact was, most people visited these islands not for hiking but for boating. While the tiny companion island of Isle d'If attracted the tourists, these islands took on the boaters looking for places to hide away. This was because of the way the islands formed. The French word was catanques, the hundreds of inner bays and lagoons formed around the moonscaped edges of these islands. These catanques harbored crystal blue Mediterranean lagoons that ware popular with yachtsmen and swimmers, as seen the so-named Catanque Morgiret in the second photograph.
Although an archipelago of numerous small rocky islands, the L'╬sles du Frioul that received visitors were two main islands of Ratonneau and Pomegues. They were connected together by an artificial earthen wall that held the ferry harbor from Marseilles -- typically the ferries reached Frioul via If. The first photograph showed the marina from the top of a cliff on the Ratonneau side. The small gray and orange building was a hotel, one of few commercial structures on the islands. Not far from the harbor, the islands became barren and rocky, with sheer cliffs, jagged walkways, and topped with old (and new) ruins. There were maps posted that pointed out several of those ruins, so I thought I would follow the paths up and down both islands to see what I could find.
I started with the Ratonneau side, which seemed to be the more popular of the two -- judging from the numbers of other hikers and the boats. I took the high path leading along the top of the island, which allowed me to capture the beautiful scenes of the first two photographs, which were on the city side of the island. Much further along, on the island's seaside, was far fewer people and boats. This was the part that held the intense heat. There were several abandoned forts I encountered, with the best preserved one being the Fort de Bregentin that was in use until fairly recently. But there were other little forts like the one in the third photograph at the furthest end of Ratonneau. It held a terrific vantage point over the sea and toward several other smaller islands that were part of the archipelago. The island in the background was topped by a large green monument that looked like a sculpture of a saint but I could not tell. Along the ground was a set of tracks, probably to truck ammo to the gun positions beyond this portal where cannoneers engaged invading forces.
The Isle of Pomegues was a French national wildlife reserve, so the island was left undeveloped. Like Ratonneau, scattered about were are several old forts and landmarks, such as the Tour de Pomeguet shown in the fourth photograph. But Pomegues was much longer, much steeper, and much hotter a walk than its twin. Although difficult to see in the fourth photo, the walking path up to the Tour was at an eight to twelve degree angle. Later on, there was an observatory, which appeared to still be active (I imagined that the nighttime skies near Marseille were wonderful for any sort of star gazing). Towards the end of the island was a full fortress left abandoned known as Cap Cavel, whose fighting positions were still intact. These were at the top of a twenty-meter tall cliff overlooking the sea... breathtaking.
But breathtaking it was, and I admit I did not bring nearly as much water as I should have for this walk. By the time I returned to the harbor area, I was badly overheated and dehydrated. Thankfully, the harbor area and strand were fully developed and all too happy to take care of thirsty customers.
A long view of the strand is shown in the fifth photograph. At the time I visited it was both very new and very nice. Roughly a half-mile long as I recall, the strand was filled with outdoor restaurants, cafÚs, bars, and glaciers (ice cream shops). After such a long afternoon of hiking in the hot sun, a huge dish of ice cream went down really well! The one structure that bore pointing out was the Parthenon-like building in the center. I am not sure what the structure was or what it represented, but it held its own position on a little hill overlooking the strand, as if it were the spot of some old temple of days gone by, but it was marked with a Christian cross. The catanques also formed a swimming hole near the strand but separated from the harbor. It had crystal blue waters and no intrusions from boats.
The round trip from the Old Port of Marseille, including the stopover ╬sle d'If, was very reasonably priced. Based on limited time, I had to rush things in order to hit as much of the islands as I did. But, this was not necessary, both islands were doable in a leisurely day, and I think one could wander only a short distance along Ratonneau to the first sets of catanques to get the flavor of the islands. It depends on how one wants to do. I was satisfied that I saw as much of them as possible, but I sure as heck wouldn't do so much on such a hot day ever again!
Trip taken 28 July 2001 -- Page Last Updated 26 September 2006 -- (C) 2001 Tom Galvin