Here’s a personal blog post for y’all – and that’s a warning! If you’re little interested in what I’ve been up to in my own life of late, turn away now. For those of you still reading on – hiya! We’ve only gone and been on our hols, haven’t we. In March, we visited the port city of Marseille in the South of France. Known for its’ football team, a fishy dish titled ‘Bouillabaisse’ and a regional alcoholic drink called ‘Pastis’ – this city is adorned in both historical and modern architecture and culture. The contrasts of the two, often side by side, making for quite an arresting aesthetic. A bit of a photographer’s playground, you could say. Which is exactly what me and my better half spent most of our time doing.
It was a city we arrived to quite sceptical of, and left having been romanced and seduced by its beauty. There’s no doubt that Marseille is a lesser known tourist ‘hot-spot’ and (depending on where you go) can be (sort of) unsafe. As with any city, especially on the scale of which Marseille is, there are parts you want to avoid – but other parts that will tantalise your senses.
We arrived off the plane in to Marseille Provence Airport, and hopped on a bus to the city centre. On the way, our curiosity was peaked by the seemingly never-ending amounts of graffiti lining the walls and streets. And there was nothing about this graffiti that was grotesque – it was all so skilfully drawn and punched full of character. Once we arrived in the city centre, it was a 10 minute walk to our hotel. That first 10 minutes was a frightening one. Why? Well, it became quite apparent to us that we would’ve been better off practising our French before we’d arrived. We were definitely the only tourists getting lost in this city at the time. When we found our hotel, and we stayed at the Best Western Plus Hôtel La Joliette which was surrounded by all of the best sights, we popped down our bags and instantly went exploring some more. We stumbled across, on the advice of the hotel staff, the old quarters of Marseille. Gracefully dishevelled and beautifully decaying, it was a colourful quarter full of winding lanes, stone steps, quirky shops and tiny cafes. Oh, and of course, graffiti.
We’d spent about 2/3 hours in Marseille and felt we’d already seen and done so much. We hadn’t even stepped foot on to the port. Depending on where you stay in Marseille, everything felt particularly accessible by foot. However, we did indulge ourselves in an electric scooter ride every now & then. The city was part of a fantastic scheme that dotted electric scooters all over the place for the public to use at the click of an app. It was super cheap too!
I mentioned earlier about the contrast of old and new that this wonderful city seems to have been built upon. There was no better example than the area of Joliette where our hotel was based. Within a 360 degree turn in one spot, you’d see Cathédrale La Major and Fort Saint-Jean, both spectacular historical landmarks, amongst Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée, all of which were a fair feat of architecture within their own rights.
We took a brief walk through that jaw-dropping Cathedral. It was only actually built in the 1800s, but lavishly decorated. I was smitten with the exterior AND the interior. It was only upon entering the Cathedral that my other half and I realised something; everything we wanted to see in this city came to us at no cost. Maybe we simply visited at the right time, but both the Cathedral, Fort and the Museum were totally free to access. And bizarrely, there were never any queues either. A total hidden gem of the coast of France, it seems.
Sunset was approaching from 6pm that evening. It became a tradition of our on this holiday to sit by the Fort, and watch the golden reflections of the sun tickle the cyan blue of the Mediterranean Sea as it slipped behind the horizon. We sipped a couple of beers and let the pink, milky glow bathe our skin. It was blissful, and probably my favourite moments of our holiday.
I’d second guess the above statement, about the sunsets being my favourite memories, because I’ve just recalled our day trip to the Calanques. Just a short drive south of the city, rests the most wondrous natural limestone coastline. The specific spot in this incredible part of the Mediterranean that we visited was Calanque de Sormiou, the largest and closest to the city centre. It’s famous for its’ climbing spots and its’ crystal clear, still waters. For me, it was the first time in my life ever dipping my feet in the Med. I was overjoyed. After a moment of serenity, we ventured upwards and climbed as high as we possibly could, before we got physically tired and a little bit scared. But heck, the views were amazing from up there.
There’s a café and a restaurant that open in the summer in Sormiou, but in order to eat there, you’ll have to walk the long and winding roads to make it. In the summer, the road access to the beach front closes due to the risk of forest fire. That’s not the worst thing though. It is utterly terrifying trying to get up and down that road in a car.
Anyway, later that night brought us our most beautiful sunset of the holiday. It was also the first time we ventured in to the Old Port, which seemed to be the busiest of all the areas we’d visited. Most of the tourist restaurants were dotted around the edges of this port, which is fine. But our advice would be to venture that bit further in to the backstreets of the port if you want something much more authentic.
Our final day in this beautiful place led us to the highest point in the city, Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde. During a trip that allowed us to access everything for free, with no queues, this was the only spot (we visited on a Sunday) that caused us to queue, albeit for 5 minutes. That’s a drop in the ocean compared to the 3 hours I queued to visit the Catacombs in Paris. This Church is the most visited spot in the city, so I’ve heard! But I can totally understand why. The views are inspirational. You really will be amazed. We stood in the same spots for ages just staring out in to the vast space before us. Just jaw dropping!
I should also mention that I had the best breakfast of my life that morning at Fuxia, hidden in a little courtyard behind McDonald’s. We took no pics of it because it was devoured in 0.23 seconds, but it consisted of 3 pastries and a coffee. We ate alfresco too, which made it all the more delightful. It was as French as it could’ve possibly been, and just what we needed before that hike up to the Notre Dame. When we finished up there, we continued to explore the city’s nooks and crannies. I can’t quite put it in to words, but this city is totally charming – in an unpolished way. We adored our time here. And if I could, I’d come back again (with much better spoken French).