Monday, 26 May 2014

What to see in Marseille in one day?

Situated on the Mediterranean coast of France, Marseille is the largest commercial port and the second biggest city in Francewith a population of over 853,000 people. Along with its rich history, the capital of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region has so many more to serve to its visitors.

It's been almost one year since I visited this charming city for two days and I fell in love with it irremediable. If I'd have to think about the first three things that come to my mind when recalling my short trip, these would be :
  • the most beautiful view of the bluest sea I've ever seen from the top of the Notre Dame de la Garde, a major local landmark located at the highest natural point in Marseille, a 149 m (490 ft) limestone outcrop on the south side of the Old Port.
  • the taste of bouillabaisse, an yellow fish soup that is a a specific dish of this area. 
  • the contrast between the poor and rough neighbourhoods in the North of the city and the lavish properties near the sea coast, two different worlds that create the charm of this city of contrasts.
The first day spent in Marseille was one of wondering around the Old Port and discovering the hip multicultural urbanites in the north of the city. If a few streets away, the chic restaurants are packed and the luxury goods shops are doing brisk business in monogrammed handbags and gold watches, in the neighbouring quartier, prostitutes and drug dealers duck and dive to avoid the police patrols.

These are the two faces of modern Marseille: the cosmopolitan, cultured pearl of the Mediterranean on the one hand and Rio-sur-Mer, as certain papers have nicknamed it, a lawless badland full of gangsters, dirty and dangerous as I perceived it.

Going back to the touristic spots of the city, in the city centre, one of the places that I loved the most was the area around MuCEM and Fort Saint Jean located at the entrance of the Port of Marseille, looming above the J4 pier.

Fort Saint-Jean is now an exhibition space for permanent collections. It also hosts temporary exhibitions, while offering the visitor a stroll through a Mediterranean garden. It also represents a meeting point between the city and the museum, between history and its contemporary setting.

The MuCEM Museum it's a fabulous building, and its blue lights make it look like from a fairy-tale at dusk.

Very close to MuCEM is the the Cathédrale de la Major, a national monument of France, a very imposing church that guards the shores of the city. 

This is a very tranquil place, perfect to watch a deep red sunset over the Mediterranean Sea. 

Turning right from the cathedral, you discover Le Panier. As the Marseille equivalent to Montmartre, Le Panier is a fantastic history-woven quarter; a mishmash of sloping streets and lanes flanked with ochre buildings and terraced houses. A clutch of artisan shops sell traditional products such as scented soaps, olive-wood carvings, homemade biscuits and chocolates – not to mention pastis, the quintessential Provençal drink. Here is the place to find a bit cheaper souvenirs and where my marseillais fridge magnet comes from.


Just behind this lovely quarter lies the Vieux Port, or The Old Port, the most picturesque part of the town and the place to go for some Marseillaise cuisine, which is usually dominated by fish and one dish in particular—bouillabaisse. This fish soup combines a variety of fish with saffron, fennel and orange zest. It is served with rouille, a garlic and chilli-flavoured mayonnaise. Olive oil, herbs, fresh fruit and vegetables are also abundant parts of Marseille cuisine.

This is where to find the boat shuttles to the Château d'If, toPointe Rouge and to L'Estaque as well as the boat companies offering excursions to the calanques. In the mornings there is a small, lively fish market.

I loved to watch the people beneath the huge mirrored canopy placed at the entrance of the port, the best shelter on a torrid summer day and during the evening the buzzing little market near the water filled my soul with heavenly smelling lavender and other beautiful crafts from the Provence.

I ended my first day in Marseille with a stroll on the busy Canebiere street, heading towards my hotel, situated near the Saint-Charles train station.