Should you find yourself in the south of France, that Holy Land called Provence, and are tired of frolicking through lavender fields as cicadas chirp, then a stop to Marseille is crucial for those seeking a somewhat more dangerous (if only in popular myth) day trip.
Marseille, like Chicago, is much more attractive in person than what people assume it to be. The Mafia link in both cities means that most automatically assume Capone's relatives are still prowling the streets or that the French Connection lives on. Though that underworld makes it more enticing, Marseille is a beautiful, rough around the edges, rebellious city with much to offer. The almost constant sunshine gives it a glow that Paris will never, ever have.
For those accustomed to the whims of Parisians, you will be pleasantly surprised to find how laid back and friendly les Marseillais are. A welcome relief. Public transportation: the metro and the buses are well marked and easy to use and will make life very easy for you.
Here's a few suggestions if you have a few days. Please note that this list is hardly all encompassing but just features some favorite activities.
Oddly, most Marseillais never venture out by boat to visit this well known offshore island. They see if everyday and opine "there's nothing there except the castle."
Well, that's precisely the reason to go as a tourist. Built in 1524, walls surround the island inside which lies the chateau, a church, and a guardhouse. A prison since 1634 its most famous, though fictional inmate is Edmond Dantes, the hero of Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Montecristo. Fictional or not, you can visit his cell.
When you arrive, the starkness of the building will surprise you. A brief introduction is given by a guide and then you are free to explore the grounds on your own. A tv monitor has the black and white film version of the Count of Monte Cristo playing in one room. You can wander around and pretend to be an escaped inmate, as exploring the sparse and grim setting lends itself perfectly. The view from the Chateau D'if of the Vieux Port is impressive and must have been a bitch for the prisoners. There is a gift shop, but it was closed when we went. Alas, we have no Count of Monte Cristo mugs or towels to show off. You can purchase ferryboat tickets for the 15 minute ride at the Quai des Belges for around 7 euros. Entering the castle will set you back an additional 3 euros. You may stay as long as you wish, provided you arrive around 9 and leave by 5.
*For more information about the Château d'If, click here.
In the heart of Marseille, this jewel of a harbor is picturesque. A great view during the day and all the restaurants, bars, and nightclubs you could ever want at night are here. A seat at any of these places will offer a vantage point from which to gaze upon the ships in the harbor and the dressed up drunks staggering from one bar to the next. There's something for everyone, from the quiet beer to listening to techno or jazz. Le Trolleybus at 24 quai de Rive Neuve is a favorite among locals as well as a former haunt of the editor of this website.
This is the trendy neighborhood of Marseille, where you'll find cafes, restaurants, used bookstores and record stores that specialize in goth and techno, boutiques and lots of second hand clothing. It's the perfect place to wander around, stop for a beer, stroll through the fountains, watch children on the playground, have a coffee. The Librairie du Cours Julien at 51, Cours Julien has a nice used book collection while the Chocolat Theatre at 59, Cours Julien is avant garde entertainment. At the end of Cours Julien and Rue des Trois Mages you can hunt for deals at the book, cd, magazine, and video stalls. Metro: Place Paul Cezanne
St. Ferreol/La Bourse
From Cours Julien the rue Saint Ferreol is a short walk. This pedestrian street is filled with all sorts of possibilities for shopping, A stop at the Virgin Megastore is a must for music enthusiasts. Further down the street you'll find more department store staples like Marks&Spencer and Galeries LaFayette, the Spanish clothing store Zara, even the not very francais Disney Store. Sometimes entertainers hustle for change and actually provide some entertainment. Work your way to the end of the street and you'll find the Centre Bourse shopping center. There, the FNAC will have what the Virgin didn't, and the Nouvelles Galeries department store has a good gift section on its first floor with everything from cool Marseillais t-shirts to ceramic cicadas, provencal fabrics, and nougat for your friends.
The fascinating Musee d'Histoire de Marseille is a great stop to brush up on early Greek Massalia history. Here you can view the remains of a 3rd Century BC ship that was excavated in the early Seventies and take a look outside at the Jardin des Vestiges, where the vessel was found. From here you can walk down La Canabiere-the main North/South street that's sort of the Champs Elysees of Marseiile/ to the Rue de Rome to Castellane.
Santons, navettes, and crypts: Marseille is home to the makers of santons, clay figurines made to represent various characters and animals of the nativity. Stop by Marcel Carbonnel's studio at 47 rue Neuve Ste-Catherine to take a look at the exquisite detail given to the creche figures. There is also free in-house museum where some creches that are centurie old can be viewed. T You never know who may be inside; the guest book boasts the signature of Tom Cruise among others. The Saint Victor Basilica, built in the third century, is just up the streey. Exploring the crypts makes for an interesting hour. Around the holidays, the creche inside the cathedral is most impressive. If you're hungry after visiting the crypts, go just around the corner to get some navettes, a boat shaped biscuit whose secret recipe containing orange blossoms and made in an oven dating from 1781.
A REAL Bouillabaisse
No trip to Marseille would possibly be complete without eating their famed fish soup. Debate may rage over which fish should be included, but I can tell you where I went to eat and that it was excellent. I recommend the L'Epuissette in the Vallon Des Auffes, a charming seaside restaurant with exquisite food and service. A bouillabaisse with a bottle of Bandol , and you're set. After stuffing yourself beyond lucidity, take a stroll through the Vallon des Auffes, a charming little port with that hasn't changed much in decades.
The MAC at 69 av d'Haifa, is the contemporary art museum that covers art from the 1960's on in an all white setting. As their exhibits change regularly, it's always well worth a visit to view the latest offerings from their permanent collection.
The high rugged cliffs and countless inlets offer some small secluded beaches well worth seeking out. The wild beauty of the Calanques is marked by the harshness of the terrain and the emerald water- a great place to hike, picnic, and swim.