A Visitor's Guide to Marseilles, France

Travelling around Marseille is very easy as the local transport system is very efficient. One can travel either by metro, by bus or by tram and by train where long distances such as travelling from Marseille to another place outside the town are envisaged. Of course walking is also a pleasurable option however the roads are so long that walking in the hot and sunny climate can become very tiring! The transportation system however is very coordinated and is run accurately according to a timetable which is usually found in bus stops or in the metro station. 

Marseille is the oldest French town with 2600 years of history. In olden times it used to be called Massalia, Massilia and Marsiho and it was founded by Greek settlers. Marseille is a maritime town and activities are mostly centred round the Vieux Port which until 1844, was the only harbour in Marseille. The Vieux Port has always been a fishermen and seamen place, however nowadays it is one of the fourteen marinas in Marseille with a capacity of approximately 3500 berths, making it one of the leading yachting centers. There is a constant activity at the Vieux Port since it is a very bustling place full of multi cultural people.  

The Vieux Port is surrounded by various restaurants specializing in fish dishes and cafeterias. The most famous dish in Marseille is the Bouillabaisse. This is a type of fish soup which is usually presented in two dishes: one dish which contains three or five different types of fish and another dish which contains the broth.  These two dishes can either be mixed together putting the fish into the broth or else can be eaten separately. As an accompaniment, the “rouille” sauce and croutons are served with the meal. 

Marseille is also famous for other cuisine such as the “Aioli”. This is a dish which comprises cod, potatoes, beans, carrots and boiled eggs. These are served hot with a garlic mayonnaise as accompaniment. 

As an aperitif, Marseille is famous for its Pastis. This is an aniseed liqueur which is served before every meal however it is not to everyone’s taste since it is quite strong. 

Marseille is famous for its bakeries which are to be found in most streets.  The aroma which emanates from these bakeries who usually not only sell various types of bread and baguettes but also different types of pastries and biscuits, is out of this world. It is very hard to resist the scent of freshly baked bread and most of these bakeries also sell the “Navettes”. These are a type of biscuit which have been traditionally baked for more than 200 years and are and are flavoured with orange water and baked in the shape of small boats. Of course other versions such as chocolate, cinnamon and lemon are also to be found. 

The Vieux Port is overlooked by the Notre Dame de la Garde. This basilica is found on the La Garde Hill and is on the highest point of the city at 154m. This basilica is topped by the statue of the Virgin and child and whether Marseille is approached by sea or by land, this enormous  landmark seems to dominate the city. To arrive at this place, one can either take the bus or else go by “Le Petit Train” which is a tourist train and is run all year round. 

Guarding the narrow entrance to the Vieux Port are found the forts of St-Jean and Saint Nicolas. The fort of St-Jean is very old as it dates back to the 13th century and it has always been used to defend the northern gateway which is the oldest in the town. 

From the Fort St-Jean, one can go on to the Cathedral of La Major. This Cathedral which is built in Romanesque in style is the oldest church in Marseille. 

Not far from the Cathedral is the old district of La Panier. This district contains some very old houses which are still standing today and among these is the Diamond House. This house was built in the sixteenth century  and is so called because its façade is made up of diamond shaped stones. Nowadays this house is the Museum of Old Marseille. 

For those who love shopping, Marseille is a jewel. Establishments are found everywhere selling everything from clothes, to house ware to scrumptious food. The most famous road for shopping is without doubt “La Canebiere”. This road is one kilometre long and is famous for the numerous shops it contains, however traffic is very heavy and one must be very careful especially when crossing the road and its side streets. Establishments are also found in the surrounding areas and everyday these roads are full of shoppers especially at sale times such as in July, when shoppers are all set to grab a bargain in the available sales. 

Marseille has numerous monuments and landmarks and among these is the magnificent park of Chateau Borely which is really beautiful.  This park is nowadays used in the world bowling championship when many people and experts play bowling in this beautiful park. This park has a tranquil lake with ducks and ducklings and where small boats can be hired. A large rose garden can be found with different types of roses of all colors and various fountains and colorful flowers make this park more spectacular. 

Palais Longchamp is another remarkable palace, worthy of Versailles. Its most beautiful facet is the water aspect and fountains flowing which are connected with the Durance canal. The colonnade is built in a semi circle and sculptures of lions, tigers and wheat on carts adorn this beautiful edifice. Palais Longchamp is complemented with a park, however it is now full of large empty cages which in the past were used to house animals. These are now isadly in a state of disrepair. 

Marseille is famous for its Marseille soap and these could be found in a lot of shops selling souvenirs. Marseille soap is famous throughout the world and soap factories are still to be found operating in Marseille. Nowadays however soap factories are not as numerous as they were back in the eighteenth century, when there were thirty three factories operating and producing Marseille soap. 

Marseille is a very colorful city however a language problem can be met if no French is spoken since only very few of the occupants speak a little bit of English. Asking for directions has proved to be very hard as most of the residents can speak no English.  We were a little lucky as we can speak Italian apart from English and we met some who could speak some Italian too. 

Marseille is not a city which is sophisticated like Paris as it is more rough around the edges, however this aspect is what makes Marseille unique and with a soul of its own.