Marseille is the perfect start to discover La Provence.
But since a few years, Marseille is also considered as a destination in itself.
I love the introduction about Marseille wrote by Seth Sherwood for the New York Times and published on August 11, 2011.
“FIRST the bad news: Marseille is not Paris. Unlike its culture-rich rival, France’s second-largest city has no world-class museums, must-see monuments or internationally renowned chefs. Now the good news: Marseille is not Paris. Kissed by the Mediterranean, Marseille can claim an un-Parisian combination of near-constant sun, miles of beaches and an ethnic mix — French, North African, Italian, Corsican, Armenian — that lends a flavor unlike anywhere else in the country. No wonder the rest of France calls it “Planète Mars”. And the news gets better: Named a European Capital of Culture for 2013, the historically gritty port is looking up, thanks to a waterfront renovation, a sleek new tram system, a first wave of design hotels, a generation of young restaurants and night-life impresarios and homegrown fashion scene. More than ever, there is life on Mars”.
I advise to stay 3 days to discover the city. If you stay less, you won’t have the time to enjoy the slow pace of the city. But if you stay longer, you will be bored.
Although Marseille and its surroundings have been inhabited for almost 30,000 years, as shows the underwater Cosquer Cave near the calanque of Morgiou with its Palaeolithic cave paintings dating from between 27000 and 19000 BC, its foundation has been established around 600 BC, as relates the legend of Gyptis and Protis.
According to this legend, in 600 BC, Greek ships from Phocea (now Foça, in modern Turkey) on the west coast of Asia Minor, docked in a cove – the Lacydon Bay – near the mouth of the Rhone. Among the young Phocaeans looking for counters was Protis, one of the expedition leaders. He met Nanus king of Segobriges, a Ligurian tribe living in this area. That day, Nanus was preparing the wedding of his daughter, Gyptis, who he was about to give in marriage to a suitor during the banquet. Offering his friendship to the king, Nanus invited Protis. When finally Gyptis was introduced during the banquet, his father invited her to deliver water to the man she wished to choose as a husband. And, turning herself to the Greeks, she offered water (coming from the Fontaine d’Ivoire, in Massalia’s hills) to Protis… who became host and son and received from Nanus a location to found what became Massalia. Then Massilia. And finally, Marseille.
When to go
Marseille is overcrowded during the Summer and dead during the Winter.
The best time to visit is therefore in May/June and September/October when the weather is already / still nice and the tourists have not arrived yet / are gone.
What to do
-Enjoy the panoramic view from Notre Dame de la Garde and visit the Basilica
-Take a boat to Le Château d’If to see where the Count of Monte-Cristo was confined
-Discover the gem of Le Vallon des Auffes
-Order a slice of pizza from a pizza truck, the ancestors of the now common food trucks
-Wander in the narrow streets of “Le Panier”
-Walk, hike, kayak or swim in a calanque: Sormiou, Morgiou, Sugiton, Marseilleveyre…
-Discover the arty and boho “Cours Julien”
-Visit a santon maker
-Take the “ferry boat” to cross “Le Vieux Port”
-Climb on top of a “colline” to admire the view
-Attend the lively fish market every morning on “Le Vieux Port”
-Dare to enter in Le Corbusier, a building designed as a small town with shops, sporting, medical and educational facilities, a restaurant, a hotel…
-Take a sunbath at “Le Bain des Dames”, “Colombet”or “L’abris Côtier”
-See an exhibition at “La Vieille Charité”
-Visit the Palais Longchamp
-Go to Callelongue to admire arid landscape, the islands and the sea
-Visit the “Cathédrale de la Major”
-Take the shuttle boat from “La Pointe Rouge” to “Le Vieux Port” or “L’Estaque” and come back
-Buy some “Navettes” at “Le Four des Navettes”
-Go shopping rue Paradis, rue St Ferréol, rue Sainte and rue de la République
-Pass in front the building of “La Préfecture”
-Buy a ticket to watch l’OM playing at “Le Vélodrome”
-Visit the MuCEM (the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations)
-Follow the Corniche and walk or drive along the sea
-Have a look at the replica of Michelangelo’s David
– Watch or even play “Pétanque” with locals
-Go to a market and enjoy the festival of colors and smells
For those who are still not convinced, read the article published in the New York Times titled “Marseille, the Secret Capital of France”:
How to move around
Marseille is an extended city with a diffuse center. It is therefore not possible, or at least not recommended, to go everywhere by foot.
Buy a 3 days pass to be entitled for an unlimited number of trips with metros, trams and busses.
Busses to not miss:
Bus 83 to follow the Corniche
Bus 19 and 20 to go to Callelongue
What to bring
Marseille is the sunniest and driest major city in France. Winters are mild and summers are hot. However, if the Mistral blows, the temperature can considerably drop in no time.
Don’t bother to bring an umbrella or a waterproof jacket.
In summer, take only summer clothes with a light jacket and a scarf for the evenings and in case the Mistral blows.
In winter, take light winter clothes and wear several layers that you can easily put and remove. Indeed, it is not unusual to eat on a terrasse in Februar
And don’t forget your sunglasses!
No visa is required for most of the countries.
The time difference is GMT+2 during Summer and GMT+1 during Winter.
Don’t expect everybody to speak or even understand English.
The currency is the Euro (1£ ≈ 1,36 € / 1$ ≈ 0,77 €).
Most of the clothes shops are closed on Sunday.
Most of the food shops are closed on Monday.
Marseille has the reputation to be a violent city. Since the beginning of 2014, 15 persons have been shot to death in Marseille and its surrounding. However, it is settling of accounts linked to drug trafficking.
So don’t be scared and cancel or postpone your weekend for this reason only. Indeed, Paris by various measures is more violent. Marseillais also like to exaggerate the crime; it’s part of our contrarian nature, burnishing the city’s tough image. “Marseille loves its gangsters,” as wrote the journalist Philippe Pujol.
For my part, I’ve never felt insecure in Marseille but I also developed certain habits in order to avoid troubles. Tourists are easy targets for professional thieves and should remember to:
-Never wear noticeable and expensive jewelry
-Always close their bag
-Always carry their bag on or over the shoulder which is not on the side of the road
-Never leave theirr belongings unattended at the beach
-Never leave any belongings in a car
-Always close the car’s doors when driving
-Give away any belongings if threatened, they will always have less value than their physical integrity