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Kayaking in France: Vacation on waves

Learning how to handle a kayak at Calanque de Sormiou outside Marseille, France, can be great fun — as well as scary when the fog rolls in, reports Kerstin Beckman.

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The kayak group consists of nine swedes, who all have travelled to Calanque de Sormiou outside Marseille to learn how to kayak. The course is arranged by UCPA, Union nationale des Centres sportifs de Plein Air, a French organisation aiming to have people to learn and develop within a selection of outdoor sports. UCPA is mostly known for it’s downhill skiing centers in the French Alps, but the organization also arranges different summer activities. You can, for example, sail in the Caribbean or go horseback riding on Corsica.

The center at Sormiou is situated at the beach. That really means directly on the beach — you step out of the house onto the sand and further out in the ocean.


Calanque de Sormiou is extremely beautiful. White limestone cliffs plunge into the turquoise sea. The area is also natural protected. That means that the center is one of UCPA’s most primitive: No showers, almost no electricity, limited running water and only three toilets for the forty persons staying here. But who cares when you got the Mediterranean at your feet and plenty of interesting people who likes being in the nature as much as you? And when you fell asleep every night to the sound of waves breaking at the beach, still feeling the gentle rocking of the kayak in your body.

Kerstin Beckman.

Kerstin Beckman.

The cliffs arevery well suited for climbing. Parallel with us, there are several climbing courses, both for beginners and for experienced climbers. Unlike our group, the consists of both Swedes and Frenchmen. But the exchange between the two nationalities is limited. The Frenchmen in general speaks poor English, which limits the communication since few of the Swedes speaks French.


A couple of days later, we are much more comfortable in the kayaks. We have learned how to steer our kayaks in three different ways. Just to explain the difficulties; the kayaks are wide and rather heavy sea kayaks. They don’t have any rudders or skeg, so you have to steer them entirely with the paddles and you body. And then there is the wind. [pullquote]If you drown, your family will know that you died with a smile on your face[/pullquote]

We also have flipped the kayak over, and helped each other to get back into the kayak, still in the water. Also there is the favourite manouver – the radeaux. That means that you put the kayaks side by side out in the water. When you hold on to the kayaks next to you, they stabilize and you could rest and enjoy the scenery.


We have learned to smile all the time, because “If you drown, your family will know that you died with a smile on your face” as Eric tells us encouragingly. We know how to get pass shallow rocks using the waves. And we have learned to stay together.

That last is especially important today, since a heavy fog has parked itself over the calanques. The plan is to go on a pretty long tour, to the beautiful Calanque d’en Vau. We are not a full group today. Some are staying home, because both of the mist and the distance. But we are a enthusiastic group leaving this morning.


We stay close to the cliffs when possible, but sometimes we have to pass the bays. Eric keeps us close, and sounds a foghorn almost constantly. His face is calm, and we follow him, a bit nervous but with confidence. The fog distorts every sound, you can hear boats and laughter far away. Suddenly they are close by, sometimes another kayak group but sometimes a tourist boat with more speed than you’d like.

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Calanque d’en Vau is really magnificent, especially with the mist coming and going. There are no buildings, and you get here only by boat or by walking some kilometers. We take a long break, eating our picnic lunch, bathing and walking around in the area.

Next: Last night of the trip — a beach party

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Kerstin is a frequent traveler and enjoys both kayaking and skiing.