When we planned the trip to Provence, one of the destinations that I wanted to earnestly visit was Marseille. For a long time I thought of going there; it already inspired me when, as a teenager, I went to Provence every year with my parents. My mother spent the holidays there as children, at uncle who lived there home, and she had always spoken of it as a dangerous city, because of the port and the historic center where it was better not to get in.
Since when it was elected European Capital of Culture, in 2013, I read and saw very inviting photos, so ignoring the preconceptions I wanted to explore the city and make my own idea. An idea that was not at all disregarded: Marseilles is a beautiful seaside city, with its old port and the old city with narrow streets behind it that has been redeveloped and where it is picturesque to walk and get lost discovering the characteristic aspects.
After contacting the Marseille Tourist Office, then, asking for information about the visit of the city, we also had the honor of being their guest to taste the typical dish of Marseille, absolutely not to be missed: the bouillabaisse. Clearly a few more days would have allowed me to go deeper into the group, to visit some museums, but here’s what to see in Marseille if you have a limited time like me.
The Vieux Port is one of the pulsating areas of Marseille life. Around the old port there are many typical restaurants and in the surroundings there are many of the most characteristic hotels. We stayed right in a street that partly overlooked the Vieux Port and from our windows we could enjoy the view. The ambition of the Vieux Port is given by the fishermen who still today bring their fish here to be sold. Take a walk in the morning, it is characteristic to see the fishermen trying in every way to attract the attention of the customers so that they go to their fish counter instead of that of a competitor.
Here on the Vieux Port there is also the giant M of Marseille or the big Marseille Fr, where hundreds of tourists take a souvenir photograph.
And for movie lovers, the Bar de la Marine also overlooks the Vieux Port: this is the restaurant where Colin Firth asks to the portuguese girl Aurelia to marry him in the movie Love Actually.
Le Panier is the oldest district of Marseille, where the first primitive city was built. It is so called thanks to the hotel “Le Logis du Panier” which initially gave its name to the street and then to the whole neighborhood.
A visit to Marseille cannot be considered complete if one does not dedicate some time to le Panier, its narrow and uphill alleys and its squares shaded by trees in which to stop for a coffee or to sip a Pastis, the typical aperitif of anise-based Marseilles. Le Panier is also the ideal place for those who love street art and the characteristic little shops where to buy special souvenirs. There is even a shop that has everything to play bowls!
Coming out from Le Panier and heading towards the fort Saint Jean, you will come across a majestic church: the Sainte-Marie-Majeur cathedral better known by all the marseillais as the Major. It is a very impressive building, so much so that it is really strange to find it in this place. It was the only cathedral built in France in the nineteenth century, it is in Byzantine style with the facade and the external two-tone walls and can accommodate up to 3000 people.
Think that the first building stone was laid by Napoleon III himself!
The interior is as spectacular as the exterior. The domes and side chapels are really impressive, but go beyond the altar, just behind it. There you will find chapels that are true treasures of architecture. During hot days it is one of the most pleasant places to visit.
Notre Dame de la Garde
Also Notre Dame de la Garde, which overlooks Marseille from the hill, is one of the most beautiful religious buildings in the city.
It is located on the hill from which it dominates both the Corniche and the Vieux Port at an altitude of 150 meters and although it is thought to be a Cathedral, it is instead a Basilica and is also of clear Byzantine inspiration.
In addition to towering on the hill, what makes it even more impressive is the 41-meter bell tower and the golden statue of the Virgin on the top of the church which is almost 12 meters high and weighs more than 9000 kg. This statue is venerated by the marseillais with hundreds of ex-votos because it is considered the protector of the city and of the sailors who leave from the port of Marseille. To climb the rather steep hill, it is advisable to take a bus; there are many of the tourist ones that go around the city and leave from the Vieux Port or with the bus n.60 which in twenty minutes will get you fresh and rested to the top.
The Corniche Kennedy is another of the must-see places in Marseille, along the sea but also among the narrow streets that still retain the charm of past times.
This walk, which is part of the Catalans beach and reaches the Prado beach, is the ideal place to enjoy the sea breeze and beautiful sunsets while admiring the Frioul islands.
The Prado beach, then, is the favorite destination of the people of Marseille for a picnic by the sea.
On the waterfront there are several restaurants where you can spend a romantic evening, while on the sidewalk you will find the longest bench in the world: 3 kilometers!
Thanks to its being the European Capital of Culture in 2013, Marseille has inherited a beautiful museum that is located not far from the Fort Saint Jean from which it is accessed through a hundred-meter walkways: the MuCEM.
It is the first museum dedicated to the civilizations of the Mediterranean of the 21st century and it is among the most visited museums in the city.
Even if you’re not a museum fan, though, don’t miss this futuristic building. The views towards the sea through the perforated walls are a charm and in addition you can relax sitting in the garden of the Fort Saint Jean, or sip a coffee at the bar or have lunch in the restaurant with one of the most beautiful views of Marseille.
If you are lucky, you can also attend shows and outdoor events that are quite frequent in the summer.
The day in Marseille is intense, it never stops. But the possibility of enjoying foreshortenings or simply admiring the life of the Marseilles people sitting at a café is one of my favorite activities of all time.