article | Reading time5 min

An island in the heart of the Calanques National Park

Vue de l'archipel du frioul

For most of you, the Castle of if is synonymous with the Count of Monte Cristo. Historians, on the other hand, will think of the "iron belt", a network of fortifications protecting the kingdom. But who would associate the famous fortress with the European phyllodactyl or the Marseilles astragalus? Let us explain!

Calanques Natural Park

A little geography

Situated three kilometers from Marseille, the Frioul Islands are a privileged site shaped by the mistral wind and the sea.

The third largest island in this archipelago, after the Pomègues and Rattoneau islands, the Island of If (33,125 square meters in area, maximum width 180 meters and maximum length 300 meters) offers an interesting variety of flora and fauna, most of which is protected.

Vue aérienne de l'archipel du frioul et de Marseille
Vue aérienne de l'archipel du Frioul

© Marc Heller / CMN

The park

The archipelago's 25 kilometers of coastline are classified Natura 2000. It is home to almost 400 plant species and around 100 bird species. Its seabed is also home to emblematic species and a variety of environments.

To ensure the protection of this exceptional site, the Parc national des Calanques was created on April 18, 2012. It comprises a terrestrial heart of 8,500 hectares in the communes of Marseille, Cassis and La Ciotat, and a marine heart of 4,500 hectares including the Frioul archipelago.

L'archipel du frioul avec en fond la cote bleue
L'archipel du Frioul et la côte bleue

© Antoinette Gorioux / CMN

Its missions

They can be summed up in three words: preserve, welcome and pass on. The primary mission is to protect the natural and landscape heritage, as well as the cultural heritage.

The island of If meets these criteria perfectly, thanks to its species and its history. Equally important is the mission of raising awareness and passing on this knowledge. Without awareness-raising, this policy is doomed to failure. Finally, and to this end, regulations have been put in place to control activities.

In concrete terms, as visitors to the smallest island and its castle, you will be in contact with protected terrestrial species. For the marine environment, you'll need flippers and snorkels! Strolling around the island and its surroundings, you'll be able to spot the maritime asterisk , the sapinette spurge and the Marseille milkvetch! We could also mention the pale swift or the Sicilian lizard.

Vue de la cité phocéenne et du phare
Vue de la cité phocéenne et du phare

© Antoinette Gorioux / CMN

The stars

Two species stand out. First, the inevitable Yellow-legged Gull. You won't be able to miss it - it's omnipresent. Rather docile, they become aggressive and find it difficult to get close to their territory from early spring to early summer, when they are breeding and hatching their eggs. Be careful, pairs nest on the ground! Accustomed to humans, this species is now invasive. Its population must be regulated.

Much more discreet, the European phyllodactyl is a small nocturnal gecko that nests mainly in the castle ramparts. It measures no more than 6 cm and is only visible at night. In the restored walls of the island, you'll find artificial habitats made of overlapping tiles. In this way, this species, considered vulnerable on a global scale, has been provided with a permanent home. The good news is that the latest counts show an increasing population!

un gabian
Un gabian

© Antoinette Gorioux / CMN