Poppy’s Travel Diary – South of France. Location – Marseille
A port city located in Southern France; Marseille is famously the gateway to the French Riviera. It has been a crossroads of immigration and trade since its founding by the Greeks circa 600 B.C.
At its heart is the Vieux-Port (Old Port). Here, you will find fishmongers selling their catch along the boat-lined quay, shopping huts showcasing local crafts, a multitude of restaurants and the opportunity to marvel at the exquisite beauty of the Notre Dame de la Garde. There is so much to enjoy on land, however, if you wish to take to the water, jet off on a boat towards the Chateau d’lf and Parc National des Calanques.
Having a few days in this beautiful city, with the aid of my trusty CityPass, I managed to see many top tourist spots and still had time to enjoy numerous eating and leisure destinations. The convenience of the all-inclusive pass includes public transport, tourist buses, maritime shuttles, the little train, culture, and leisure, allowing you to experience as much Marseille life as you like.
Where to Stay
Le Petit Nice-Passedat offers a 5-star boutique hotel as well as a luxury Michelin restaurant. With a breathtaking Marseille Seaview, it is 100% dedicated to the Mediterranean. Located between sea and sky, this neo-Greek villa offers exceptional cuisine by chef Gérald Passedat
The bedrooms are comfortable and spacious, with terrace or sea views available to make your stay, just a little more special. There is a wonderfully large, outdoor terrace where you can enjoy breakfast, coffee, and post-supper nightcaps.
The swimming pool was an additional bonus, although there are also public beaches close by.
Where to Eat
Naturally, the hotel has an unbelievable restaurant, however, there is an immense selection of eateries to choose from.
Although mixed review on trip advisor, we felt Paulette – Restaurant at Vieux Port was a little gem offering fresh homemade dishes, and specialities from the region and was perfect for lunch.
Whilst France, in general, might be known for its elegant and sophisticated cuisine and drinking scene, Marseille is particularly well-known for its pastis– an anise-flavoured apéritif. Also known as ‘pastage’ by Marseille’s residents and you will find plenty of spots across the city to sample this traditional tipple.
Where to Visit
Notre-Dame de la Garde – I took an enjoyable train ride, along the coast and through the town to this location, which is one of Marseilles’ most famous landmarks.
From here you can get the lay of the land: the Vieux-Port, the Vélodrome stadium, the Cité Radieuse and even the Pointe Rouge and the Frioul Islands. From the 154-meter-high hill on which Notre-Dame de la Garde sits, one gets a breathtaking 360° view of Marseille.
All Marseillais – from lifelong citizens to newcomers – refer to the basilica as the “Bonne Mère” (the “Good Mother”) who watches over the city day and night. Since the Middle Ages, this captivating religious edifice considered the guardian of sailors and fishermen, lures more than 2 million visitors each year.
It is free to visit, and the mosaic interior, like the beautiful views of the city, is incredibly impressive
This is the city’s best museum. It explores Mediterranean civilisations and history and provides an insightful look into the way they developed until they became what they are today.
Erected on the ancient harbour pier J4, Mucem owes its “feminine and muscular” structure to architect Rudy Ricciotti, an associate of Roland Carta. The 15,000 m space welcomes two exhibition halls: the Galerie de la Méditerranée dedicated to the discovery of major stages in Mediterranean civilisations as well as a temporary- exhibition space.
Apart from exhibitions, there are also mini films or lectures to help visitors better comprehend Mediterranean culture, as well as Môle Passédat, a restaurant by celebrated 3-Michelin-Star chef Gérald Passédat.
A suspended footbridge connects MuCEM to Fort Saint-Jean, a small village in which stone arcades, vaulted rooms, suspended gardens, and panoramic viewpoints over Marseille and the Mediterranean intermingle. A second footbridge connects the fort to the Le Panier neighbourhood, from the fort’s Port Royale to the Église Saint-Laurent.
Cathédrale de la Major – being one of the city’s most important buildings. Overlooking the sea, this spot is perfect for views and photographs. Its imposing structure, composed of several domed towers, with the highest reaching a height of 16 metres (52ft), and the use of green and white limestone might remind some of Florence’s Duomo, but the interior has been decorated in a completely different style, it is stunning and a visit point not to be missed.
The cathedral is also free to visit.
Musée d’Histoire de Marseille and the Port antique
Rue Henri Barbusse, 13001
This museum offers a lively, intriguing journey through 26 centuries of existence of the oldest city in France. More than 4 000 pieces and a hundred multimedia devices bear witness to this exceptional history. Two steps from the Vieux-Port, a visit is apt for anyone who wants to discover the origins and secrets of Marseille.
I am never one to shy away from the inspiration of street art and Marseille was no exception as the city is a playground in which many international and Marseille artists express themselves: graffiti artists, sculptors, photographers, etc.
France’s second-largest city for production (film, television, web series, and commercials), Marseille has seen its popularity triple in 10 years, a rapid rise that has led to around 385 shoots in 2020 alone, despite the health crisis. Therefore, the boat trip to explore the 16th-century castle, Château d’If was high on my list of things to do.
Those who have read Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Montecristo will undoubtedly find the name of this island familiar.
Although some guides suggest the events happened, the fictional count was never actually imprisoned here, although this makes Château d’If no less fascinating: visitors will be able to learn all about the 16th-century castle’s history as a prison for real-life political enemies of the state.
There is also a small café on the island, where I enjoyed a delicious light lunch.