The oldest city in France
Now, that was a long time since I wanted to go to Marseille. Family and friends always told me of how beautiful it was. But for some reason up to this point I was concentrating on destinations elsewhere, not in France. Basically, and excluding Spain of course where I tend to travel quite often, I usually like to get somewhere away from West and South Europe. But of course, that’s not a valid excuse and it’s finally the time for the well deserved beautiful France, with so many cities, villages and landscapes; its people, food, great wines and numerous beaches to name a few.
Of course we were not disappointed at all. The city has so much to offer, that a weekend is definitely too short. It is the second largest in the country after Paris, followed by Lyon. We needed at least one more day to have the chance and visit it all including the Calanques along the coast. Nevertheless, for a first time glimpse it was great and now I know this city deserves to return more times in the future.
The city evolves around the Vieux Port (Old Port) overlooking the Mediterranean. Most streets leads to this area and 90% or more of the sights are in a walking distance radius from the port. The best views of the port and nearby neighbourhoods are located by any of the two forts, one on each side of the port, or from Notre Dame de la Garde Church, which offers the perfect birds eye view over the entire city.
The oldest neighbourhood in Marseille is Le Panier, right behind the Old Port, and covers many small and charming streets. Not long ago this was a degraded area but with so many rehabilitation and gentrification projects finished and the ongoing ones, it has become a very trendy place with hundreds of local artists having their workshops filling all the streets. You will also notice the street art in the form of great paintings, graffiti or even at the street furniture.
With regards to food, well, you are in the country of mussels (together with Belgium). You can find mussels in all styles at any restaurant and at very competitive prices. I give you the example that at the time of this trip, a kilo of mussels in wine and cream sauce with fries was 12 Euros at most of the restaurants, give or take Euro up or down, and they will serve you free filtered water and bread too. If you want to try the the most famous seafood dish of the city then it won’t be complicated to find it either. In every restaurant you will find what’s called the Bouillabaisse, a fish stew containing at least three varieties of fish and vegetables, really delicious for any fish lover.
For more information about the city check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. France’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Marseille
- Vieux Port The Old Harbour area. One of the main sights in the city. You can get nice views of it all from the Palais du Pharo.
-Hotel de Ville It’s the City Hall, located in the Old Port.
-Fort Saint Nicolas and Fort Saint Jean Both flank the entrance to the Old Port, one on the north the other on the south side.
-Palais de la Bourse Right behind the Old Harbour.
-Abbey of St. Victor Near the Old Harbour. One of the oldest places for worship in Europe.
-Opera Located near the Old Port and the Canebière street.
- Notre Dame de la Garde The church in on top of the hill where to get the best panoramic view of the city and the Mediterranean.
- Cathedral Sainte-Marie-Majeure In Byzantine-Roman style, it was built between 1852 to 1896 on the site used for the cathedrals of Marseille since the fifth century.
- Corniche The road by the sea. Chateau d’If is located on the south on what is called Petit Nice, and Les Calanques to the east.
- Place Castellane One of the main roundabouts of the city with cinemas, cafes and restaurants.
- Boulevard Longchamp It is perhaps the most elegant avenue in the city with many beautiful upper class buildings. Walk from Réformé Church (up the Canebière) down to the Palace.
-Palais Longchamp Located at the end of the avenue. It is nowadays the beaux-arts and natural history museums.
- Le Panier Is the oldest area of the city where most historical buildings can be found.
-La Vieille Charite Now a museum is a former alms house. The interior courtyard is quite impressive.
-Hôtel-Dieu Former hospital, now the Intercontinental hotel.
- Unité d’Habitation Designed by Le Corbusier and considered one of his most famous works. From the roof you can enjoy great views of Marseille between the hills and the sea. Open from 10.00am to 18.00pm. Take the bus 21 from Rond-Point du Prado metro station or walk from the station.
Marseille Provence International Airport is located 30 km from the city centre. Buses and trains connect in less than 30 minutes. Bus is 8.50€ and goes to Gare St Charles, while the train is more expensive and it does even take more more time than the bus. You can get for 0.80 Euro cents extra a bus ticket including already a metro/tram/bus ride in the city.
Within the city there is a good choice of metro, tram and buses. Carte libertés cost 13€ for 10 trips. Transfers are unlimited within one hour limit. Single tickets costs 1.50€ also with transfer included. But the amount of times you might need the public transport are not many, therefore stick to single tickets as this will save you money. You can, instead of buying a single ticket each time, recharge the ticket you already got. Although they are paper tickets, they do have a small chip, so you can use the same ticket as you wish, just by adding more money on to it.
Like for most of European cities in low season, finding a great deal is very easy. The choice in the city is very good hence competitive. Having a look at some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers is the best way to start. Then, if your budget is still not met, there is a good selection of properties through airb&b and the likes of course.
We stayed at the Hotel Edmond Rostand, in 31 rue Dragon. A simple, small 3 stars hotel but in a very quiet street next to Place Castellane and the main Avenue du Rome. Clean, friendly staff, comfortable bed, complimentary WiFi. It’s funny to see some reviews how people complaint about the lift, well yes, it’s true it is the smallest I have ever seen, but the most important, works fine. To be honest, I was fine to use the stairs for just a second floor, but unfortunately some people are really bad enough to write a bad review just for a lift; a working lift!