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Sentier Philémon, Cap Canaille

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An exceptional itinerary in the magical setting of the Calanques de La Ciotat: a long, aerial traverse on a cliff face above the Mediterranean Sea. The views are breathtaking, the route highly original and the geological formations sublime. The Soubeyranes cliffs are carved out of 3 superimposed rock strata: crenellated orange sandstone, white limestone with meringue shapes and, in the top layer, a pudding with a thousand golden potatoes. Please note: this is not a hike in the classical sense, but rather a vertigo trail with many exposed passages, sections to climb or unclimb, and a 30m abseil to progress. There are no technical difficulties, but falling is forbidden and vigilance is required at all times. The route is equipped with points at which you can belay, if necessary, using a tight rope. An unmissable outing in the Calanques.

Technical summary

Type ✦ Equipped hike
Location ✦ Soubeyranes cliffs, Cap canaille, La Ciotat
Region ✦ Bouches-du-Rhône
Country ✦ France
Orientation ✦ South
Distance ✦ 6.5km
Vertical drop ✦ 315m
Difficulty ✦ E2 / T4 / R4
Duration ✦ 4h to 5h
Interest ✦ ★★★

Access to the place

Drive to La Ciotat and cross the town towards the southern tip. Take the last street on the right, Chemin Notre Dame de la Garde, and continue upwards on Chemin du Sémaphore. Park before the last bend before the cul de sac.

Itinerary description

Hiking to the start 45' à 1h

At the last bend in the chemin du sémaphore, take the path leading to the climbing routes (signposted). Descend into the garrigue and pass the abandoned ruins. Immediately afterwards, turn right and follow a mini trail marked in blue. It descends through a small wooded gorge before climbing up on the opposite side to reach the villa Speany, tagged and abandoned. Spectacular view of the cliffs and calanques of Marseille in the distance from the terrace. Descend towards the cliffs and climb back up, still following the small blue markings, until you reach the base of the white cliff. Then head west along the walls. We pass a ridge of pudding rock before crossing an area of scrubland. Further on, you come to a second ridge where you'll find the start of the Philémon black trail. On the sculpted white wall, you can see the descent from the ridge if you start from the semaphore.

Course 2h à 2h30

Once on the Philémon trail, the itinerary is obvious: just follow the path along the walls. You can cover the entire trail without any protective gear, apart from a helmet, which seems essential. The equipment in place (mostly sealed rings, pitons in places) means that quickdraws can be fitted along the way as you progress with a taut rope. Abseiling down one level is done on a chain belay over about 30m. Vigilance and attention are required to walk in the right place without taking risks.

Part 1: Sentier Philémon to abseil (45' to 1h)

Continue through a scrubby area, then walk in a couloir under the rock. We cross a new ridge to see the upper pudding above the white limestone. A rope and a safety cable on the way, then further on, scrambling along the wall, pass under a tree almost suspended above the void. Follow the sculpted, crenellated orange wall and pass over another small tree. Here the path is very narrow. Further on, you literally shave the white wall before continuing under small roofs. After another ridge, the path descends into an indentation and a rocky rift that opens out towards the sea below. Cross the gap with a step and climb up the opposite side to a promontory above the waves (III). The traverse continues behind, on a sloping, sandy ledge. Above our heads, impressive white limestone sculptures in the shape of meringues. Keep going for a while and you'll spot a huge white rocky spout jutting out in front of you. Here, a belay enables us to abseil 30m down one level (see photo).
Part 2: Sentier Philémon to the parking des émigrés (1h15 to 1h30)

The abseil ends in a spider's thread on a small platform. Descend and unclimb a narrow couloir to find the black path between scrub and wall. Head back west, between more vegetation and small passages under the wall. The path then descends through the shrubbery to skirt the base of the easily recognizable cirque du 14 juillet. Cross over to a new ridge. The rest of the route becomes airy and exposed. We pass another ridge, then the narrow, wall-level route continues. We head straight for the Pas de la Chèvre, a small section to climb, exposed but not difficult. Behind, a large traverse opens up under the Draïoun wall, a great climbing wall. The rest of the route is less aerial, taking you through less steep terrain and brushwood to the grotte des émigrés. After passing the last limestone needles, the path climbs northwards to exit onto the route des crêtes at the émigrés parking lot.

Back

From the émigrés parking lot, head east along the yellow-marked crest path. Climb past the parking lot and the lookout. The path climbs a little more, then drops slightly as you approach the cliffs. To the east, you can see the semaphore towards which you're heading. Finally, the yellow path joins the road. A little before the semaphore, fork left to descend into the valley, then cut off to take the semaphore path, which leads back down to the houses of La Ciotat and the road where you parked.

Map & topo

The locations of the crossing points on the Black Philemon Trail are indicative.

Voir en plein écran

Photos

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