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Marseille - ND de la Garde seen from le Vieux Port

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Marseille

Marseille - Le Vieux Port seen from ND de la Garde

In Marseille's Le Panier quarter (c)OTCM-HAUER

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If a city can have charisma, Marseille has charisma. A thrilling, cosmopolitan Mediterranean melting pot, it's a dynamic yet remarkably ancient port city, with a unique atmosphere and exhilarating joie de vivre.
 
A grandly beautiful boat-crammed rectangular port with wide quaysides is the city’s focal point. Around it,
and in all the surrounding streets, are bars, theatres, music venues - and scores of little restaurants, most specialising in fresh fish and offering their own version of the city’s most famous dish, the classic Provençal fish stew called bouillabaisse. Gourmets assert that bouillabaisse can only be made correctly right here in the city which invented it.
  Wander away from the quaysides to discover other attractions, the city's art museums, archaeological sites and fine architecture, as well as busy high-quality shopping streets, even sandy beaches and secret bays, and boat trips to little islands just
offshore, between the dazzling blue sea and a dazzling blue sky.


 Get the feel

Marseille has a tough image and a style all its own. With a reputation for crime, as well as political radicalism, France’s second city (pop: 1 million) might seem a bad choice for visitors. And in fact it has never especially fostered tourism, traditionally being more dedicated to solid hard work, commerce and heavy manufacturing.
  There's another side to Marseille, too - its love of innovation and creativity, contemporary art and artists, drama and performance.
  Its role as France’s premier Mediterranean gateway always made the city extremely cosmopolitan. In recent years Arabs and Africans arriving straight from North Africa have added a distinctive ethnic and cultural mix.
  The city of Marseille savours the leisure hours. It's vibrant, passionate, with a hedonistic streak. The breezy port and broad central avenue, La Canabière, with their history, diversity and energy, seem to encapsulate the whole story of the Mediterranean.

 What, why, where

Marseille has been the western Mediterranean’s main port ever since it was founded 2,600 years ago by colonists from Phocaea, an ancient Greek city in present-day Turkey. They gave it the name Massalia.
  As the Greek town grew, Massalia’s traders and settlers created several other towns nearby, including Arles, Nice and Avignon.
  Conquered by Rome, Massalia – renamed Massilia – remained a busy port. 7th-century Saracen (Arab) raiders brought Mediterranean trade almost to an end. But by the 11th century, the city had revived. It thrived - but was known as a place of decadence, exploitation and unrest.
  Marseille’s oppressed workers gave strong support to the Revolution. Marseille was the first town in France to call for the abolition of the monarchy, and the city gave its name to the new republic’s national anthem (even though the anthem originated in Alsace).
  World War II bombing caused extensive damage to the city. The ancient Le Panier district was systematically destroyed by the Germans. Yet after the War, Marseille quickly recovered and resumed its role as the one of the world's busiest trading ports.

 Getting started

Marseille tourist office is at 11 La Canebière, a few paces from the quayside of the Vieux Port. It's open every day.
www.marseille-tourisme.com


City Pass (24€ for 24h; 31€ for 48h; 39€ for 72h) gives free entry and discounts to the city museums and other attractions, and free travel on the public transport network, including the ferry to the Château d'If. It's available from the tourist office or online, or can be downloaded directly onto your phone.

 Compass points

La Canebière, Marseille's central avenue, is a wide, busy 1km-long thoroughfare running due west to Quai des Belges on the Vieux Port.
Le Vieux Port, or the Old Port, is the city's focal point. Along the port's north side is Quai du Port, and on the south side, Quai Rive Neuve.
The city centre or Première Arrondissement lies south of La Canebière, especially along Rue du Paradis and in the area around Place Jean-Jaurès (or "La Plaine").
Climbing steep streets away from the north side of the port is the city's oldest quarter, the compact Le Panier.
South of the port are diverse neighbourhoods, beaches, picturesque small harbours (called "Anses") and the coast road heading east.
Cours Julien, an appealing district south of La Canebière (2 metro stops from Vieux Port), has a colourful, creative feel, with artists, bookshops, music stores, local designers, markets, popular bars and scores of eating places.

 Getting around

Most of Marseille's sights are within walking distance of the Old Port (Vieux Port).
For longer distances the city has an excellent integrated bus, metro and tram network.
  Single tickets (carte solo), valid throughout the city centre (Zone 1), cost €1.50. A 24h pass ("Pass XL") costs just €5.20., and a 72h pass ("Pass XL72") €10.80
www.rtm.fr
Marseille city bikes can be picked up at 130 'stations' around the city and used free of charge for the first 30 minutes (€1 for each subsequent half-hour). There's a registration fee - but it's only €1 per week or €5 for a whole year!
en.levelo-mpm.fr
A 4-minute crossing across the Old Port operates daily 8.30-12.30, 1-5 (7 in summer). Crossings are offered in two boats, one of which is a prototype solar-powered electric boat. The fare is only €0.50.
www.rtm.fr/ferry-boat

Buses to neighbouring towns and villages depart from the bus station in rue Honnorat.
www.lepilote.com

 Entertainment and nightlife

What's on in Marseille? Rock, pop and dance gigs, as well as classical concerts and stage shows, take place throughout the year.

Venues are mainly around Vieux Port and the streets between rue Breteuil and rue de Rome.


To find out what's on today:
Marseille en Goguette website - diary for today

 Eat and drink in Marseille

Fish restaurants cluster near the Vieux Port. Most offer the Marseille staples of fruits de mer (seafood) and bouillabaisse, often served with half a lobster. As an alternative to bouillabaisse, try marmite du pecheur (fish casserole). The accompaniment is rouille, a cream of olive oil and garlic.
Rue St-Saens, parallel to the port, is lined with small places specialising in local dishes.
Miramar is the leading portside restaurant.
Le Petit Nice, chef Gerald Passedat's luxurious villa hotel beautifully located at Anse de Maldormé on the coast road, has a renowned gastronomic restaurant with three Michelin stars.

 Bouillabaisse  
Marseille has several speciality dishes, none more famed than
the rich, succulent fish stew, bouillabaisse. Most restaurants near the port proclaim the excellence of their bouillabaisse, and some cook nothing else.
  Locals hotly dispute the correct recipe. The principal ingredients, all found just offshore from the city, include rascasse (
scorpionfish), grondin (sea robin) and congre (conger). Into the pot may go many other locally caught fish too, such as dorade (bream), baudroie (monkfish) and merlan (hake). Bouillabaisse doesn't have to contain shellfish, but often does, especially oursins (sea urchins).
  There are plenty of Provençal herbs and vegetables in the mix, and it's served straight onto bread and rouille (a local garlic mayonnaise) which is already in the bowl.

 Hotels in Marseille

The tourist office's hotel booking webpages provides comprehensive Marseille hotel information with online booking.
Most Marseille accommodation, from the most basic to the grandest, is close to Vieux Port.
There's a selection of quieter mid-range places on the waterside Corniche road heading out of  town to the east.
For the best-value Marseille lodgings move away from the sea to find modest hotels near the railway station and in shopping streets either side of La Canebière.

Grand Hotel Beauvau, in a superb location off La Canebière, backing onto Vieux Port, is Marseille's oldest hotel, and with an illustrious history. It combines modern comfort with many attractive period touches. Best rooms have port views, which is its greatest feature. An Accor Hotel, the Beauvau's absurd full name is now "Grand Hotel Beauvau Marseille Vieux Port - MGallery Collection".

 Must-see

 Le Vieux Port 
The Old Port, packed with boats, is enclosed by wide quays lined with 5- and 6-storey buildings, some of them rather dignified, built or  reconstructed after the Second World War. The harbour entrance is squared off and guarded - one each side - by the 17th-century forts of St Jean and St Nicolas.
  Characteristic russet and ochre roofs and facades climb away from the port to either side, adding to the picturesque scene. Standing high above all, on the south side, Notre-Dame de la Garde is exotically domed at one end while at the other a gilded Virgin rises bright.

  A handful of fishermen and their wives sell the fresh catch daily on the Quai des Belges, the busy quay on the eastern side of the port.
  The original ancient Greek harbour was a little larger than today’s – Greek and Roman buildings whose ruins survive at the foot of Le Panier were originally standing right on the quayside.
  Take time to visit the imaginative and informative Musée des Docks Romains close by, for an insight into the busy, sophisticated life of the Roman port town.
Métro ligne 1 - Station Vieux-Port / Hotel de Ville

 Le Panier 
The Greek town rose from the north side of the port, where the Le Panier district is today. Rebuilt after Nazi destruction, it remains a vibrant, largely residential neighbourhood with a diverse population. The area is mainly traffic-free, and pleasant to explore at an unhurried pace.
  At the bottom of the hill, the Jardin des Vestiges archaeological site encloses remnants of a roadway of white limestone, parts of the Greek and Roman dock and Greek ramparts. Place de Lenche, likely site of the ancient Greek Agora (main square), is still a popular focal point and market place. 16th-century mansion Maison Diamantée (Diamond House - so called for the shaped stonework) houses the Musée du Vieux Marseille (Museum of Old Marseille).
  At the top of the hill, in every sense the highlight of the quarter, is La Vieille Charité. Now an arts and culture complex (with a cafe), this fascinating former poorhouse was originally a sort of lock-up and soup-kitchen for the homeless. Their rooms - or cells - are in three stories of galleries arranged around a courtyard with a little Baroque chapel in the centre.
Métro ligne 1 - Vieux-Port / Hotel de Ville
Métro ligne 1 - Colbert / Hotel de Région

 Musée Cantini 
Marseille's twenty museums range across arts, crafts, history and local culture. The Cantini, in a grand 17th-century private mansion near the Vieux Port area, exhibits a good collection of art from 1900 to the 1960s, and emphasises local subjects. A wide range of movements is represented, with works by Matisse, Dufy, Miro, Bacon, Picasso and many others.
Métro ligne 1 - Estrangin / Préfecture

 Palais Longchamp 
This landmark building, with an elaborate fountain in its courtyard and tranquil gardens behind, houses a Musée des Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts Museum - mainly focusing on 16th-17th-century painting), and a Musée d'Histoire Naturelle (Natural History Museum).
Métro ligne 1 - Cinq Avenues / Longchamp

 The islands: Frioule and If
A dread voyage for many in years gone by, the boat trip to the offshore Château d'If and neighbouring pair of Frioul islands is now one of Marseille's most enjoyable excursions. The 16th-century fortress on the island of If was for centuries a horrifically brutal prison. Its most famous (fictional) inmate - The Count of Monte Cristo - was the hero of a novel by Alexandre Dumas. The two Frioul islands have few sights, but are places to enjoy a breezy walk on the cliffs or a swim in the sea.
www.frioul-if-express.com

 The Calanques
East of the city, and most of the way to the beach resort of Cassis, the coastline is deeply indented by spectacular 'calanques' - a local word for narrow inlets hemmed in by high, pale limestone cliffs. Some can be visited from footpaths, but it's much easier to reach them by boat. The most impressive of them all is Calanque d'En Vau. Boat excursions leave from the Vieux Port, for example with Icard Maritime.
www.visite-des-calanques.com

 Shopping in Marseille

Although La Canebière is Marseille's main thoroughfare, you must turn off the avenue onto narrower Rue du Paradis to discover the real city centre. Marseille's major shopping district, with many good chic fashion boutiques, gourmet food specialists, household goods and plenty of budget stores too, is along here and parallel Rue de Rome and Rue St Ferréol, and the cross streets down to Rue Breteuil.
The indoor shopping mall Centre Bourse (including a branch of the upmarket Galéries Lafayette department stores) is found on the other side of La Canebière.
Perhaps more for sightseeing than shopping - the fresh fish sellers, and flower-sellers too on some days, gather every morning along the harbourside at Quai Belge.
Traditionally the city was known for its olive oil soap, Savon de Marseille. Today, it's mainly sold only as a rather unlikely souvenir.

 Events and festivals

Carnaval
23 April 2017

The "new formula" for Marseille's carnival is a Latino-themed day of fun and entertainment, and a big costume parade, in Parc Borély
.

Festival de Marseille (Marseille Festival)
Mid-June to mid-July 2017
Music, drama and above all an impressive programme of contemporary dance during this month-long summer arts festival, with performances and installations at city centre venues.
www.festivaldemarseille.com

Fête O Panier
21-23 June 2017 (tbc)
The portside Le Panier district's midsummer shindig
, a big, brash multi-cultural open-air street party. No event was held in 2014, but it reappeared in 2015, and at the last minute happened in 2016 too, but may or may not occur in 2017!

Festival Jazz 5 Continents
July 2017
For 10 summer days
Marseille falls under the spell of top jazz, with guests from around the world playing at Palais Longchamps.

www.marseillejazz.com

La Fête du Vent (Festival of the Wind)
Approx 15-17 September 2017 (tbc)
This colourful annual kite-flying festival shows the advantage of Marseille's breezy climate as international kite champions show their skills for three days over the 3rd weekend in September on Marseille's Plage du Prado beaches.

Jazz Sur La Ville
November 2017
Jazz for most of the month, at over 30 different city centre venues for the regular autumn jazz festival.
http://jazzsurlaville.fr/

Foire aux Santons (Santons Fair)
19 November - 31 December 2017
The distinctive figurines called santons, depicting Proven
çal characters at Jesus' crib, are a local Christmas tradition. They are bought and sold at this annual market by the Vieux Port, which has been held here since 1803.
www.foire-aux-santons-de-marseille.fr

 In the Know

Pastis is the city's traditional aperitif, a powerful aniseed spirit made into a refreshing drink with a big splash of cold water.
Street crime can be a problem in Marseille. Take every precaution. Be vigilant after dark. Keep car doors locked in slow traffic.
Insonorisation (sound-proofing) is a must if you're staying close to the Vieux Port.
Closed on Monday: museums, as well as many attractions and shops, are closed.

 Marseille basics

- Where is Marseille? In western Provence, SE France, on the Mediterranean coast.
- International phone dialling code: 00 33 (+ drop initial 0 from local number).
- Time zone:
GMT+1 (+ 2 during Summer Daylight Savings Time).
- Money: Euro (€).

 Flights / Getting to Marseille

Flights to Marseille
Marseille Provence Airport is at Marignane, 27km NW of Marseille on autoroute A7.
Marseille Provence Airport is served by 34 airlines with direct flights from over 100 destinations, including cities in Europe, Africa and Asia, as well as Quebec, Canada.
The A7/A55 interchange allows direct access between the airport and the city centre.
A
shuttle bus runs between the airport and Marseille main railway station (Saint-Charles). www.marseille-airport.com

By road to Marseille

Marseille is the southern end of Autoroute du Soleil (A7). It's well connected by autoroutes and major roads to Arles and Nimes to the west;  St Tropez, Nice and the Provence coast to the east; and the Provencal interior to the north.
Google map of road access to Marseille.

By train to Marseille
Marseille is 3h from Paris by direct TGV. Frequent TGVs and other trains connect it to the towns and cities of Languedoc, Provence and the Rhone valley. A picturesque coastal line joins Marseille to the Riviera resorts. The main station (Gare SNCF) is Marseille St-Charles.
www.sncf.com

Eurostar high-speed trains run from London (or Ebbsfleet or Ashford) direct to Marseille. The service operates weekly during winter, from 3 to 5 times a week for the rest of the year. Standard fares to any of the three cities start from about £145 return, except for special offers.
Journey time is about 6h27m.
www.eurostar.co.uk

Selling freshly caught fish on the quayside, Marseille Vieux Port (c)OTCM-HAUER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Marseille
Updated and revised January 2017.
All rights reserved worldwide.
Text © Focus Guides and Andrew Sanger.
Pictures:
Photographs at top left and top right are published under Creative Commons license. "Le Vieux Port seen from ND de la Garde" is part of a picture by Jan Drewes.
Other pictures (Le Panier street scene and Vieux Port quayside) are copyright ©OTCM-HAUER and have been used with permission of the copyright owner, Marseille Tourism.
Permission to use: This guide may be freely PRINTED ONLY for personal non-commercial use. Unless a LICENCE has been obtained it may not, in whole or in part, be COPIED nor used for any COMMERCIAL purpose.
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