On Friday 9 August we boarded a five hour train to Marseille and took the opportunity to catch up on diaries, post cards and some facts about the south of France.
In the ‘dangers and annoyances’ section of our Lonely Planet we read about the colourful history of the old port town and second largest city in France. While it told us we could forget everything we had heard about Marseille being a ‘hotbed of crime’, it did warn us about the area around the train station at night. Upon arrival we therefore proceeded with caution (and haste) to our accommodation and settled in for an early night in our nautical inspired room.
On Saturday we made our way to Le Panier (The Basket) for breakfast in Place de Lench and shared a fougasse, a flattish, lattice-like bread studded with sausage, cheese and herbs.
Marseille certainly is rough around the edges and although it’s the capital of Provence it’s a million miles away from the storybook villages most of us associate with that region. The streets are dirty, the buildings are crumbling and there’s graffiti everywhere. But if you look beyond these superficial blemishes, what you find is a city bursting with character, quirks and energy. What we particularly loved was its multiculturalism and that it offered us our first glimpse of the Mediterranean.
Ships have docked for more than 26 centuries at Marseille’s Vieux Port (Old Port) and we took our time to walk around the port in beautiful sunshine.
After exploring a little street market we clambered our way up the hill to the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde and were rewarded with celestial views.
We were also able to see the 16th century island prison of Chateau d’If, immortalised in Alexandre Dumas’ novel Le Comte de Monte Cristo.
We took the opposite route down the hill in the afternoon to walk the spectacular corniches (coastal roads) and found a little beach for Ed to take a dip in pristine waters.
I had hoped to try bouillabaisse, a fish soup originating in Marseille, for lunch but decided to give it a miss after reading its price tag at Le Rhul – €50 per person! We settled on crumbed chicken wraps for €4.50 instead and returned home via a Casino supermarket with beer and wine in hand.
Exhausted after walking 30,000+ steps in flip flops (thongs) we put our feet up for a couple of hours before dinner at a pizzeria in Le Panier. It was excellent.
Marseillias will tell you that the city’s edginess is part of its charm and that, for all it flaws, it is a very endearing place. They’re right! Marseille was a surprise and we loved every minute of our time there.