Editor's note: In 2012, the Traveler is expanding our coverage of national parks in other nations with travel features and this weekly sampling of global park news. And if you live in one of the 200 countries where our readers reside, send Randy your news or suggestions.
New Park Makes News in France
France offers the world another stellar national park—the Parc National des Calanques, or National Park of the Calanques. The new park, which French Tourism says will likely be designated by June 2012, spans the Mediterranean coast between Marseille and Cassis.
Provence has the nation’s most national parks and is already an iconic and popular European destination. It’s only destined for greater visibility when word of this new and spectacular national park gets out.
Scattered all along this coast are dramatic fjord-like-inlets (calanque means “inlet” in French), with towering cliffs, dramatic sea caves, and capes topped in gnarled kermes oak and Pin d'Alep. Collections of islands, such as the Frioul and the Riou Islands, cluster along the coast.
A scenic village hides in the deepest reaches of the Calanque de Morgiou. Many others have isolated beaches. The aquamarine water shifts color by depth and offers a spectacular and popular setting for scuba diving, kayaking, rock climbing—even cliff diving—on the white limestone.
The deep fjords have sheltered sailors from storms for centuries. Boat tours are popular from coastal towns and are priced according to how many of the inlets the tour visits. A sampling of those options from the town of Cassis range from tours of three calanques in 45 minutes, to a one-hour tour of five of the fissures, to an eight-calanque foray of an hour and a half. Prices range in the area of 10 to 12 Euros for the trips. This video visits eight of the calanques.
Popular boat tours include landmark calanques such as Port Miou, Port Pin, En Vau, Loule, Devenson, Oeil de Verre, Sugiton, and Morgiou. Check out this site (in French) for photos of many of the fjords.
The 8,400-acre park (and 104,000 acres of sea) will include both more formally preserved core areas and residential zones where the rules accommodate the lifestyles of local residents and visitors.
The dramatically rocky terrain offers great hiking and is known for natural features such as Cosquer Cave, noted for cave art from up to 27,000 years ago. The site is closed to the public but a “virtual visit” permits inspection of the cave’s pre-historic cave art. The coastal clefts were formed ages ago by streams rushing into the Mediterranean. The sea rose over time to form the fjords—the reason why Cosquer Cave's entrance today is only reached through a submerged passage. The rise in water destroyed some of the lower cave art.That's also why the cave was only discovered in 1985.
The park area is also known for limestone called Cassis Stone which has been used as a building material in the region for centuries. The lighthouse in Marseilles uses the stone, as does part of the base of the Statue of Liberty.
The BBC reports that as recently as late 2011 some local activists were working against park designation for the Calanques fearing it would hurt the local fishing industry as well as traditional, informal patterns of recreational use. The coastal area has long been popular with locals for recreation. Rock climbers also fear regulation by the park.
Best time to visit? Probably early spring through May. Many portions of the backcountry are closed in mid-to late summer during peak fire danger in this very dry area.
Villages considered to be within the national park include Aubagne, Camoux-en-Provence, Cassis, Ceyreste, La Ciotat, Cuges-les-Pins, suburban Marseille, La Penne-sur-Huveaune, roquefort-la-Bédoule, Bandol, Saint Cyr-sur-Mer, and La Cadière-d'Azur.
Another Piece of Paradise Designated in the Bahamas
On March 17th, Bahamian Minister of the Environment, MP Earl Deveaux designated a new national park and expanded a few others.
Deveaux said, "Today, I am honored to announce the establishment of the Fowl Cays National Park, a new national park for Abaco between Scotland Cay and Man o' War Cay.” He went on to reveal the “expansion of the Conception Island National Park and the expansion of the West Side National Park on the island of Andros."
The northern Bahamas’ Abaco Islands contain six national parks already. Fowl Cays National Park is a 1,920-acre reserve popular with scuba divers, boating, and snorkeling. Reefs surround the cay (pronounced “key”) where scuba divers have a variety of dive sites in crystal clear water up to forty feet deep.
Conception Island National Park is noteworthy as one of the three islands that Christopher Columbus landed on in 1492.
The Freeport News quoted Deveaux as saying, "The 2,100-acre island is important for nesting sea turtles and as a seabird nesting area ...” including, “Tropicbirds, Noddy Terns and Sooty Terns,” and “was designated an Important Bird Area in 2002."
Eric Carey, Executive Director of the Bahamas National Trust, said, "The Government of The Bahamas again showed globally significant environmental leadership today.” The Freeport paper noted that, “The Bahamas like many other countries is committed to protecting 20 percent of our marine environment.”
Bahamas National Parks are often enjoyed by "the boating crowd" who can anchor near the cays. Be sure to check your cruise ship's list of excursions—many cruise companies include snorkeling trips to national parks in their Bahamas itineraries.