A day in MARSEILLES
Tuesday, 15 March 2011
Marseilles is busy, crowded, dirty and rough around the edges. But Marseilles is also one of the most progressive and forward-thinking cities in the country. People tend to either love it or hate it. Maybe it’s not the ideal location to spend your entire holiday, but this historic, lively, colourful city deserves at least a day of exploration.
Marseilles was France’s first city. Beginning its life as a Greek port, it has continued to be an important trading place, which has resulted in a bubbling melting-pot of a city. People from Africa, Italy, Spain, the Middle east, Indo-china and many other places have ended up settling here. This is one of the things which makes Marseilles such an interesting, diverse and thrilling city. It has remained an important city in France since it was first settled – it is second largest city in the country, after Paris.
As a city which relies heavily on trade for it’s livelihood, the ports are a important part of the city. Today, the new port has taken over as the major commercial centre of the town. 100 million tonnes of freight pass through this port annually, making it the third largest port in Europe. However the old port still has an important place for the fishing industry. The old port (“Vieux-port”) puts on quite a show when the fisherman gather to auction of their catch. It is definitely a highlight and throws you back a couple of centuries.
Marseilles hosts many cultural events and festivals. In fact, it was recently designated as the European Capital of Culture for 2013, so there has never been a better time to see Marseille. Over the next few years, as it gears up for the responsiblity of culturally representing Europe, Marseille’s artistic and cultural scene will only become stronger and more vibrant. Truly a city of contrasts: well-known not only for it’s Opera houses, theatres and art galleries but also as a centre for French hip-hop and rap. Marseille was recently dubbed by a blogger as the ‘San Francisco’ of Europe – a thriving port city with a large immigrant community and a keen artistic edge.
One of the highlights of the city is the Noailles market. The streets in this area are lined with Arabic and Indo-chinese shops – you feel as if you have stepped into a hybrid arabic-asian bazaar. You can find this area near the Noailles subway stop.
For natural beauty, visit the Calanques. This is a stunning area featuring fjords and limestone cliffs to the south of Marseille. Also, ‘La Corniche’ makes for a great afternoon stroll with it’s spectacular views of the sea and the Chateau d’If (the prison where ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ was set.) However, if you are looking for beaches, Marseilles is far from the jackpot. They can often be polluted and dirty. Concentrate on the other things which the city has to offer, and go elsewhere for swimming and sunbathing!
The public transport system can be a little chaotic — the locals are vocal in their disapproval of the irregular buses – however the subway and tramway are not too bad and are a quick option for crossing the city. They are certainly a better option than driving your car — the fearlessness of the inhabitants can be intimidating, especially on the bewildering,narrow streets in the tangled heart of the city.
The best cuisine in Marseilles is predictably seafood based. The ‘moules-frites’ (mussels and fries) are simple and inexpensive, but definitely a highlight! For around 10 euros, you can pick up a feast from one of the outdoor stalls. Eat them sitting on the harbour, overlooking the French Mediterranean. Also not to be missed is the ‘Pastis’ – a popular alcoholic drink in the region, which is made from aniseed and spices.
Where to stay
For a holiday we would probably not recommend Marseilles as the most tranquil destination! Rather, we suggest it as a day-trip from a home base somewhere close by. For example, you could stay at VU025A Maison Kad, which is located in the hills of the Luberon, in a lovely town called Goult. It is about an hour and a half drive from Marseilles – but a whole world away in temperament!
Only 200m from the village of Goult, Maison Kad is a charming Provençal style house. With its own private garden and pool with Roman steps. It has been beautifully restored and tastefully decorated with a lovely blend of traditional charm and modern comforts. Features include a stone fire place and terracotta tiles, a Moroccan shower room, a south-east facing covered solarium, balcony and shady terrace.
Contributions by Katarina Byrne