The South of France has been high on my bucket list for a long time, finally getting the chance during my last trip to the UK to visit this part of France. Enjoy the sea, sun, food, wineries and coastal drives, just some of the things that I hoped to do.
The flight from Manchester was around two hours and my arrival into Marseille was seamless. I was out of the airport in less than 30 minutes where I met my travelling companion. Arriving midday meant lunch was needed, we didn’t want to spend too much time around the airport so a quick jaunt to Burger King was in order, serving up really well prepared and packaged burger meals, which didn’t look like they had just done a round trip under a bus wheel, kudos to the French for their attention to detail, presentation and service. After our quick snack we proceeded to the bus ticketing outlet for a return ticket to the terminus 14.70€, (single ticket 8.30€ ), since we will be flying out from this airport again in the next couple of days, this is the best value we found. Just a note, there is no direct train service from the airport to the city centre or St. Charles Railway station. You can hop onto the free shuttle bus to the Vitrolles Aeroport train station then join the train to St. Charles. Taxis are also plentiful if you prefer a direct service.
Journey from the airport to St. Charles is around 30 mins. You can immediately feel the Mediterranean vibes with the warm sun and smell of the air. Views from my window seat were stunning but some were eye sores. The amount of graffitied buildings and infrastructure heading into the city centre was disappointing, even grand old buildings shown zero respect from this never ending scourge that seems plague almost every part of Europe that we have travelled to.
St. Charles Railway station is located on a hill top with historical significance contributing to the city’s rich heritage. Pillars and structural elements dating from 1806. You either take the lift or staircase to go down from the airy concourse to one of the main city streets. The spanning views of Marseille Provence from the top is quite a view, however, keep a close eye and firm grip on your belongings and personal welfare. Pickpockets are known to target this area.
It was a 15 minute walk from the station to our Airbnb accommodation located in the old quarter of Marseille, in one of the back streets of La Canebière a historical avenue. Known as the Champs Elysées of Marseilles, a majestic tree-lined avenue heading east from the Vieux-Port. It’s a busy area, you’ll find a lot of restaurants, cafes, outdoor seating areas and shops. It’s also serviced by a tram network so it’s easy to reach most parts of the city and beyond.
Our apartment was smack in the middle in the city centre in a well secured building. Life in and around any city centre can have its challenges, some areas around La Canebière, especially at night were litter-strewn coupled with the stench of rubbish and other unpleasant odours, watch what you step in! The bonus was nearby shops and food outlets open late, so supplies were always on hand for a late snack or bottle to take away. Once we got nearer the Port area it became much more appealing, dotted with cozy looking and softly lit cafes, bars and restaurants overlooking the boats bobbing in the marina.
WHAT TO SEE:
Porte d’Aix – (also known as the Porte Royale) is a triumphal arch in Marseille. Built in 1784 to honour Louis XIV.
La Rue de la Republic – It’s a major road in the city centre. Built in 1860, this straight road was based on the Parisian Haussmann model, a lovely place for walks and shopping.
Saint-Cannat Church – a 16th Century Church.
Vieux-Port area – This area is the heart of Marseille! Plenty of restaurants, bars, souvenirs shops, open markets and tourist booking booths. For a souvenir, make sure to check out the local soap which Marseille is famous for. From this area, you can walk to just about any of the great sites, galleries or museums quite easily. It is also the gateway to catch the ferry to the Château d’If located on the island of If in the Bay of Marseille, the ferry is subject to the days weather conditions so this is a must to check, sadly for us it was way to choppy for the ferry to operate.
Around the Old Port area, there are plenty of tour operators that you can join anytime without a prior booking, just purchase a ticket from one the many ticket counters like the Train Touristique – Little Marseille Train. They offer 2 routes. We joined Route 1- cost 8€ return, a 20 or so minute ride each way, passing along Corniche, the coastal road with breathtaking views of the Mediterranean sea. This circuit terminates at Notre Dame de la Garde located high overlooking all points as far as the eye can see. There are many ways to get to the top but the mini train we reckon is the best, it tears around the often steep little roads and is quite a thrill! Well worth it, fun and great value!
Notre-Dame de la Garde (Our Lady of the Guard) – Built in the 19th Century, Notre-Dame de la Garde is on a level with the small chapel which was built in the 13th Century. Towering above the city it can be seen from just about anywhere in Marseille. There was a special occasion being held when we arrived which meant that it was closed to visitors, fortunately our timing was such that we were able to enter as private program finished. It’s a smaller church compared to some churches that we have visited in Europe. Having said that, the interior is lavishly decorated with byzantine style tiles and ex-votos. Outside, you’ll embrace the breathtaking views of Marseille and beyond, the biggest port in France.
Descending from the hill is as exciting as going up. Keep an eye for all the fascinating buildings and views as train heads back to Porte d’Aix.
Hotel de Ville (Marseille City Hall) is a prominent building located in the Old Port. The building’s facade is an example of the Provencal Baroque, a highly decorative and theatrical style. Marseille was bombed by the Germans in 1943 and the Town Hall was one of the few that survived. It is worth a visit.
Musée d’Histoire de Marseille – The history of Marseille through centuries! What to see: original artifacts, marvellous exhibits, remnants of an ancient ship, excellent informational videos and audio commentary presented in a chronological historical sequences. There are printed visitor materials and free audio guides in various languages. After your visit to the museum, don’t forget to explore the courtyard where archaeological ruins have been unearthed, belonging to an old Greek port that dates back to the Roman Empire. The Museum of Marseille charges a nominal fee to enter, full price is 6€, reduced fees are also available, conditions apply. Free entrance on the first Sunday of the month. So if you love to learn about Marseille’s history, this is the museum to visit.
Dining scene in Marseille caters just for about everyone. From fast food, pop ups to elegant French dining, it’s your choice. We liked the scene at Place de Lenche, close to the Old Port just a few blocks away from Hotel De Ville. It has a lively outdoor seating square where patrons from all the different restaurants and bars can have a meal or drinks. It’s a great place to chat with the locals, kick back and reflect on the day while planning the next days adventures.
Next stop: Nice