I spent the past weekend in Marseille after taking advantage of a sale on train tickets. Arriving from Montpellier I instantly knew I was back in a big city. The best thing I did, however, was leave the city for the day and visit the beautiful Calanques (coves) to the south.
Marseille at night is beautiful
The first thing I did was drop off my bags at my centrally located AirBnb apartment and head towards Le Vieux Port (the old port) area to take some photos and find a bar. Cities always take on a new character at night, especially old, celebrated buildings that are illuminated. I ended up in a bar called Bar Unic. It was a cute place. The barmaid didn’t seem fussed when I didn’t have cash. My friend dashed to the ATM. Unfortunately the house wine wasn’t so great and it was on a noisy street, but it was good to have a drink in the city before an early night.
Les Calanques are stunning
The activity I was most looking forward, and was justified, was a visit to Les Calanques (the coves) to the south of the city. Small coves with blue/turquoise water with imposing cliffs and excellent trails made for an excellent day. It was the end of October but the weather was perfect. 22C and a light breeze. Great for cooling you down when you’ve walked a strenuous path in the sun. In hindsight I should have brought suncream because the sun was stronger than I anticipated.
I went to the easiest area of calanques to reach by public transport: the Sugiton. To get there, simply take any bus to Luminy and get off at the last stop. I took the route 21 bus and it stops at the entrance to the national park. From there it’s around a 15 minute walk into the park before you see signs to the Sugiton calanque. You have a choice of the high path or the low path. You’ll probably want to do both as they don’t take very long and all the scenery is beautiful. Get directions here.
La Basilique de Notre Dame de la Garde is No.1 for a reason
Whether it’s the architecture inside or outside, the surrounding scenery, or the religious significance of the basilica, it’s obvious once you finish the steep climb through the streets of Marseille why it’s so popular. Personally, I love good architecture and this building has a very distinctive style, most notably the striped brick work on the exterior. We arrived at a good time, with the tower almost perfectly position in front of the sun to appear as if it wore a halo.
Speaking of architecture, I loved the composition of the view from the outside of the building. Below us, residential Marseille sprawled outwards, followed by the new Stade Velodrome, home to Olympique Marseille. In the background were the mountains of the Marseille-Cassis calanques. Of course it was topped off by the clear blue sky.
It lacks bars that are just bars
It was the weekend of the Rugby World Cup Final between Australia and New Zealand. I headed to the Queen Victoria at Le Vieux Port area, but in fact there are a few British/Irish pubs in the area. Unfortunately Marseille is not a city blessed with bars it seemed. At least not in the area where I was for the evening. Many restaurants exist to cater for the many tourists, but very few were just bars, unless you wanted to go to the pubs. One of the things I love about France is the outside drinking culture. I’d like to go back and find out where everyone drinks!
So many McDonalds
I can’t finish this post without mentioning the sheer number of McDonalds restaurants there are in Marseille. Around Le Vieux Port area alone there are 3 or 4. I’m not complaining. It served as good breakfast spot on Sunday morning. Can’t go wrong with a bacon and egg McMuffin.
Don’t eat Japanese food in Marseille
Maybe it’s a trend in France but I ate at a place called Yoj by Yoji and the food was pretty bland. Foreigners in France often complain about how asian food lacks flavour and spice. My dish had neither and my friend’s ramen was lukewarm and made with the wrong noodles. Not good.
Treat yourself to a pizza and some ice cream
After a steep climb to and descent from the basilica, some lunch and refreshments were in order. Trying to find the perfect balance of sunshine and shade we opted for the Del Arte italian restaurant at Le Vieux Port. It boasts a great view of the port itself and therefore all the goings on of tourists and locals alike. I had a carbonara styled pizza and a good Belgian beer. Both were good. We followed that up with some cookie dough ice cream and Haagen Dazs, which was a bit expensive but did the trick!
Then came a wander to the MuCEM (Musée de Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée) which sat on the water. We walked around the grounds and to the interesting cage-like structure offering interesting views out into the marina.
Saying goodbye with a sunset
Yes I know it’s cheesy, but as we waited for our BlaBlaCar ride to drive us back to Montpellier the sun was setting and I thought it was especially sexy.
Have you been to Marseille? What did you think? What can you recommend that I do for next time? Let me know in the comments!