Marseille—France’s second largest city, home of the famous drink pastis, and the location of my favorite French soap opera (also the only one I’ve actually seen). With its own port, dialect, and football team, this Mediterranean mélange could be another region within itself. This old city has been one of the major places for culture and economy in French history. The Old Port was France’s main trading outlet, and brought new cultural influences from Greece, Northern Africa, and many other empires. It remained a strong pillar for the region and did not collapse with the influential Roman Empire. During the French Revolution, the soldiers marching to Paris created and sang Le Marseillaise, which eventually became the national anthem. From its food, to sites, to weather, Marseille is one of the favorite spots for Aix study abroad students to take a day trip.
Anyone from Marseille has a tremendous amount of pride in being from the city. They consider it the greatest city in Southern France…and France in general. And it is a pretty remarkable place. From my visits, here are some of my highlights of this grand old city.
Le vieux port— The Old Port is Marseille’s most famous cultural and economic hub that still attracts attention. No longer used for commercial boats, it harbors personal vessels from sail boats to yachts. This is also an amazing place for sea food. Fresh fish markets line the port while restaurants create famous sea food dishes that you can’t pass up. I had the classic southern France dish moules frites (mussels and fries) which is one of the best sea food meals I have tasted.
Notre Dame de la Garde—This is Marseille’s iconic viewing spot which you can see from nearly any point in the city. It is a citadel that sits on a hill overlooking the city, the port, the mountains, and the sea. Of course you can walk to this location, but it’s better to save your legs and take the shuttle.
Musée des civilizations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée—The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations is Marseille’s newest museum which was inaugurated the same year that Marseille was named France’s capital of culture. It celebrates the cultures that have influenced the city throughout history. Aside from the history inside and the cool looking architecture, the museum also provides an incredible view of the port and the sea.
Chateau d’If—There are four small islands off the coast of Marseille of which you can take boat tours. One of these islands holds the old prison, Chateau d’If, which was made famous in Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.
Palais Longchamp—This “monument” is actually a museum for Marseille’s art and human history. The building itself looks incredible, and the gardens have become a great attraction.
Les Calanques—The sea-side coast of southern France is lined with small cliffs called les calanques. They are fun to climb, provide fantastic views, and have small fjords where you can catch some sun. The calanques look different in each city, but they are a fun stop for anyone visiting Marseille.