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Snapshot: Marseille

September 14, 2020

This vibrant port city boasts loads of character, grit and a rich history

The oldest city in France, Marseille is the gateway to the charming, dreamy Provence region – think rolling vineyards, olive groves and lavender fields. But this busy port city has a certain grit and personality of its own. The sunny seaside location, ancient history and diverse character make it a lovely port to explore.

Wander the Old Port

It’s been the soul of the city for centuries and there’s still a bustling atmosphere at the Old Port. The promenades are lined with cafes, bars and, of course, seafood restaurants – so you can enjoy some bouillabaisse, the famous seafood stew. Sunset is a wonderful time to be here, if you can grab a seat to admire the sunset over an aperitif. Try a pastis, the anise-flavoured local favourite.

A view of the old port with a church, cafe's and restaurants visible.
A view of the old port with a church, cafe's and restaurants visible.

You’ll also find a number of interesting monuments around here, including the Abbaye Saint Victor and the Fort Saint-Jean located at the entrance. Vendors set up every morning at the daily fresh fish market on the Quai des Belges. It’s as fresh as it gets, and you’ll find locals shopping here too.

See the famous island fort

The imposing island fortress and former prison, Château d'If, was made famous by Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Montecristo. This historic castle is built on a small island that was completely uninhabited until the 16th century when the fort was built and later converted into a prison. Get there by boat; about a 20-minute ride from the Old Port.

Chateau D'if is a famous fortress prison on the island in the Bay of Marseille.
Chateau D'if is a famous fortress prison on the island in the Bay of Marseille.

Take a walk

You can see the towers of the Château d’If if you take a pleasant stroll along the Corniche, the waterfront promenade that follows the sea for several kilometres from the Old Port. It weaves through beaches and charming little neighbourhoods. Another stunning walk is along Boulevard Longchamp, home to the majestic, opulent Palais Longchamp. The Musée des Beaux-Arts is here, and Longchamp Park, a rare green space in the city’s centre.

A statue in Langchamp Park, Marseille.
A statue in Langchamp Park, Marseille.

See the rocky cliffs and bays of the Calanques

Calanques National Park is a rugged stretch of coast home to stunning geological formations; craggy white limestone cliffs that reach dizzying heights and drop sharply to the Mediterranean Sea. These narrow, steep-walled inlets are pristine and tranquil, a natural wonder. You can reach the largest calanques on a cruise from the Old Port.

The breathtaking view from the cliffs in Calanques National Park.
The breathtaking view from the cliffs in Calanques National Park.

Get the best views from Marseille’s highest point

The iconic Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde is the city’s best-known symbol. This beautiful 19th-century hilltop basilica sits 150 metres above the water. Its huge gold statue of Madonna and Child atop the grand bell tower is visible from afar. The opulent Neo-Byzantine interiors are exquisite and the panoramic views are spectacular, over the red rooftops of Marseilles to the Mediterranean.

The Catholic Basilica of Our Lady of the Guard or Notre Dame De La Garde.
The Catholic Basilica of Our Lady of the Guard or Notre Dame De La Garde.

You can walk up the steep hill, or take the bus. There is also a tourist train that departs regularly from the Old Port.

Learn about the area’s rich history

Given how old this city is, the Museum of Old Marseille is a must-visit, conveniently located near the Old Port. You’ll find artefacts from the Ancient Greeks, ceramics, the remains of ancient ships and much more. Or visit MuCEM, the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations, to trace the first footprints of Mediterranean history.

The Mucem Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations in Marseille.
The Mucem Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations in Marseille.

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