Category Archives: Photo Intro

Marseille Beach Life

The Calanques of Marseille and its beach life

As much as I like the summer sun during the day, I visited the beach area along Avenue Pierre Mendès France during evening hours to experience the soft light that comes before dusk. There was the Nocturne de Marseille happening, a 5km-run organised by the Lions Club of Marseille, dedicated to the association against blindness and help for the visually impaired. Young and old participated in this sunset run that took them through the enticing Borely park to the seaside where the road was closed off to traffic, especially for this event.

Running the ‘Nocturne de Marseille’

A bit farther up, in one corner of the long city coast line, that continues along the Calanques, you can see what many people do after work – they go to the beach with family and friends. Contained parking lots can be found along the avenue, and large grass fields stretch to the sandy beaches where people picnic, play games, do yoga, skate board, jump on a trampoline, ride the ferris wheel, and take a dip in the Mediterranean sea.

The Red Lion is a popular meeting place after work; Marseille

Along Avenue Pierre Mendès France; Marseille 

Crossing Avenue Pierre Mendès France; Marseille

The beach area is well visited but is not noisy. The quiet atmosphere that the dusk-hours bring makes it even more special. It is a relaxing affair for taking photos although the light keeps changing fast as well as the sky colors, and brightly lit subjects turn into silhouettes. I noticed three friends standing at the deep colored sunset while being completely absorbed in checking their smartphones. Lovers of nature while keeping themselves active on WhatsApp.

Family and friends at the beach; Marseille


The river L’Huveaune ends here in the sea, and with the sunset-calm it looked perfect. The small river has its source about 50km away at the 1147m-high mountain-ridge Sainte Baume, and finally winds itself through the city of Marseille, joining the Mediterranean sea here at La Plage – The Beach. The last part of this river is used for canoe and kayak training.

River meets sea

The best colors happen after the sun has set, adding even more to the magic. At the busy intersection La Plage, Churros are sold, a fried dough pastry of Spanish origin that is served with hot chocolate. That, or Italian ice-cream – gelato, at the next shop. This is also the area where a circus would park its caravans and plant their huge tents, and where summer parties for the young are organised by the local government. Marseille beach life is quiet yet dynamic.

Churros, anyone?

Yucca the Spanish Dagger

The bell-shaped flowers of a Yucca

  • Last month August was definitely the Yucca month in Marseille. Everywhere in the city and on its outskirts you could see the plant flowering, mostly in private gardens and public parks. Although I admire the creamy-white bell-shaped flowers as they are, I find the plant comes out well in black&white photos.

A flowering Yucca in the midst of a private garden

  • When I tried to take a more close-up view of a blossom, I found out why the Yucca’s nickname is Spanish dagger, or bayonet. My belly got pierced by one of the spiky leaves, and it hurt. But the Yucca is not poisonous, on the contrary, its fruits, flowers and roots are edible, although those pointed daggers can give a good sting.

The ornamental Yucca can stand pretty tall, sometimes up to 8 meters

  • Yuccas are more known as shrubs, but here in south France I have seen Yucca species as tall as a house with multiple trunks and they can take quite some real estate to make their presence. Originally the Yucca comes from the hot and dry areas of the Americas and covers some 40+ species. Highly ornamental, not dangerous, but don’t accidentally bump into one.

Tulips Grow on Trees

Magnolia sunbathing 

  • Tulips do not grow on trees. Magnolias do. The person who came up with the name ‘Tulip Tree’ had a good point though, especially in their buds, magnolia flowers look like tulips. To me, when they are fully opened up, they look like lotuses. Good that we call them Magnolias. They are regarded as spring flowers, just like the tulips, but in Marseille you never know if they are announcing the summer, as the weather gets quickly warmer.

Resembling a Lotus; a Magnolia flower unfolds its petals

  • Across from my street, tall Magnolia trees grow in the front yards of apartment buildings, and whenever I pass by I am captivated by their presence. In gathering some information for this Vignette, I discovered that the Magnolia is one of the oldest species on earth, this tree existed even before the time of the bees, about 20 million years ago.

Matchstick-like stamens on a Magnolia petal

  • These trees have been part of earth’s evolution up to today, and are native to North, Central and South America, East and Southeast Asia. As there are over 200 species, the flowers can vary in diameter between seven to thirty centimeters. The several cultural significances that have been given to the Magnolia flower are nobility, purity, perseverance and, of course, beauty. 

The golden heart of the Magnolia flower 

  • And of immense beauty they are. The petals are almost succulently thick and the flowers, especially those from the Magnolia grandiflora, give a subtle yet rich fragrance. Inspiring, when you realise that such a giant plant has survived the severe changes that have occurred throughout time.

Marseille – Le Vieux Port

Nathan looks at Marseille from Frioul archipelago, with Chateau d’If on the right

Where to begin when talking about Marseille? The city is so diverse with such a rich history, and it is popular, even more so since 2013 when it was designated by the EU as the European Capital of Culture, for one year. With such a question, I normally resort to my yoga perspective and say ‘you start with the centre.’ Of course.

Le Vieux Port is one of the most attractive sites of Marseille

And the centre is of course Le Vieux Port, the old harbor. Others regard the beautiful Notre-Dame de La Garde, Our Guardian Lady, the Catholic basilica, as the central focus point, as it stands high above, guarding the city. However, the city‘s history starts in 600 BC when Greek settlers landed there to begin a trading post which later was known as the Vieux Port, and the city was called Massalia.

Le Vieux Port has become a marina where boat owners park their boats

Ferries and private boats have replaced the trading ships of the past at Le Vieux Port

During the nineteenth century, the trading activities were moved to nearby sites but Le Vieux Port retained its centre-of-the-city position and started to function as a marina and a terminal where ferries depart to nearby towns and islands, like the Frioul archipelago where also the famous Chateau d’If, prison island, can be visited.

A perfect location to view the setting sun, Le Vieux Port

Almost completely destroyed during WWII, and lovingly rebuild under architect Fernand Pouillon, Le Vieux Port is the heart of Marseille, offering inspiration when it comes to people, sea and city.

The Mountain That Swims

Cassis on the Rivièra

Always refreshing to start a new year in the slow pace of village life. It is said that the Romans were first in mentioning Cassis as a coastal fishing village that was flanked by ‘Cap Naïo’, as called in the Provençal language. It means ‘the mountain that swims.’

Nathan takes in the beauty of Cap Canaille

The beauty of this enticing ochre-colored cliff inspires you to sit down and just take it all in and let nature rebuild your state of mind.

Nature continues in the man-made environment, like the simple and solid lighthouse that is constructed from the natural stone found in the Cassis area. It still guides boats to the harbor at night while it stands on its own as a piece of art.

Cassis Lighthouse is constructed from natural stone found in the area

All along the harbor line one can sit down, taste the local cuisine, and enjoy the scenic character of Cassis

Sunlit Scapes


A lone sailing boat faces the massive Calanque de Sugiton 

To get some fresh air after the day the results of the US presidential election were definite, I went for a walk in the Calanques de Marseille. Just being there is a mind and eye opener and it opens your heart as well, the beauty just overwhelms you, especially during sunset.

At the belvédère viewpoint, one understands why it has been assigned as the best point of view. The majestic mountain range of the Calanques overlooks the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean sea while showing the diversity of cliffs and fjords, left and right. 

"Dragon Island" as the sun goes down

“Dragon Island” as the sun goes down

Sunlit Path. Pink colored clouds pass over a partial sunlit track

Sunlit Path – pink colored clouds pass over the landscape

Turning around and starting my way back, low-hanging pink colored clouds passed slowly over the landscape. It was getting darker but also more intriguing. On the seaside, the sky changed into warm yellow and deep red colors, contrasted by the now blackish landscape. I still could find the right path back by the time it was fully dark. 

Red Cloud Mountain

Red Cloud Mountain

Wild Colors

Autumn foliage in Cassis, south France

Autumn foliage in Cassis, south France

It is autumn here in Europe and nature showing its warm palette of colors. I am often inspired by plants, tall or small, and in any season for that matter. In south of France there is quite some flora I know from my time in sunny southeast Asia. One of them is the Heliconia with its bright red flowering bracts while its tall leaves and water-rich stems are as colorful and attractive.

Heliconia leaves show their lines and colours

Heliconia leaves show their colors

The stems of the Heliconia leaves can be as red as its flowers

The stems of the Heliconia leaves can be as red as its flowering bracts

Another of my favorite exotic plants is the succulent Agave americana, it stands out in its bold design as well as in its subtle patterns. The colors of the leaves can flow between light shades of blue to green, and the imprints of leaf on leaf look as if all the leaves were of one piece before unfolding into individual parts.

Subtle leave imprints on each leave make for a unique design

Subtle leaf imprints show on each leaf after the Agave opens up

The colours of an Agave flow from subtle shades of green to blue

The colors of an Agave flow from light shades of green to blue

Calanques de Marseille

Another way of discovering the Calanques is by sailing boat

One way of exploring the Calanques is by sailing boat

Historic and modern Marseille, the European Capital of Culture in 2013, is not only known for its characteristic Vieux Port, the famous MuCEM*, its sun-kissed beaches, and much more, .. but as well for the limestone mountains that embrace the city. The Calanques stretch from Marseille along the Mediterranean coast down to the pretty town of Cassis. It has become a regular destination for me for an invigorating walk that can last a few hours but could easily take a full day. And still, I would only be scratching its vastness. 

Pine trees at a coral site

Pine trees at a coral site

The Calanques are a national park, well protected against industrial and real estate development, emanating a pristine atmosphere that only untouched nature can provide. The rugged mountainous landscape ends in high sea cliffs dotted with pine trees.

Exotic limestone formations

Exotic limestone formations

Much of the Calanques’ coastline holds secret beaches that are better visited by sailing boat or kayak, or reached on foot, as the region is kept car-free. For the more scenic parts, Nathan Boonen, the son of my friend John, who knows the terrain by heart will ensure I will get to see some great sites through the viewfinder of my camera. Over the years, his father and him have explored the Calanques extensively in all four seasons and hiking there remains their favorite pastime. It has become my favorite too.

Knowing the Calanques by heart, Nathan is the right guide

Knowing the Calanques by heart, Nathan is the true guide

Is it the silence, the beauty of the pine trees, the deep azure waters, the blue sky and the white limestone mountain range? They are all part of the Calanques’ presence. 

The vastness of the alluring Calanques stretches from Marseille down to Cassis

The vastness of the alluring Calanques stretches from Marseille down to Cassis

The high cliff-coastline holds exclusive pebble beaches only accessible by kayak

The high cliff-coastline holds exclusive pebble beaches only accessible by kayak

Under the Pine tree at the Calanques de Marseille

Under a Pine tree at the Calanques de Marseille

*Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations, MuCEM