There is a reason that painters have been coming to Provence for centuries; there is a very different light that you find here, that you don’t find anywhere else. When the sun rises and when it goes to bed, you’ll notice what Cézanne, Van Gogh and all the other great residents of the region noticed, The Blue Hour. It can be magical, particularly with a glass of wine in your hand and a sea view.
Bouillabaisse is a fish soup that comes specifically from Marseille and the surrounding coastline. Fishermen used to make soup with the rockfish they caught that they couldn’t sell in the market. They added Provençal herbs and simmered it over a period of a few hours. Nowadays, it’s a cultural delicacy – order it in advance (sometimes 48 hours) at the best restaurants, expect to pay at least €40 per head and most restaurants only take orders for more than 2 people. Read our guide on where to eat the best bouillabaisse here.
“Les Calanques” are a beautiful natural phenomenon on the coast surrounding both sides of Marseille. They are small inlets that have been made over the centuries and where people now hike down to the restaurants and beaches at the bottom. (You can’t always drive down because of overcrowding or risks of fire). People love the Calanque de Sormiou.
In the 1950s, Marseille was struggling to house everyone after World War Two and to provide all the amenities that people needed. Its solution was the Cité Radieuse – a housing complex that was a little city within a city. It was made from cement to keep the cost down. The architect was Corbusier and he became associated with a brutal style of architecture (“brut” is the French word for cement). This complex is a wonderful architectural experience, where you can wander the apartments, shops, restaurant, doctor’s surgery and cafe that you find inside. Head to the roof for an ultimate view of Marseille.
Head to La Friche, a huge urban space at the side of the railway tracks. Every weekend you’ll find something different going on – a mega music festival, a DJ spinning tunes on the roof, an art workshop for kids, etc. There’s also a lovely restaurant, playground, skate park and book shop.
La Friche, 41 Rue Jobin, Marseille, France +33 (0)4 95 04 95 95
The MUCEM is the new Museum of European and Mediterranean Culture. It’s a beautiful modern building with amazing art and a wonderful roof terrace. The best part is that there is a bridge that spans the road and leads into the very old (and beautifully restored) Fort St Jean, next door. It’s a great place to admire both old and new Marseille.
One of the main attractions by the Old Port in Marseille (“le vieux port“) is an art installation that reflects 180 degrees. People spend ages looking at themselves upside down and it’s also great fun to watch the buskers and street artists. The fish market is here every morning at 8am. A great place to while away some holiday time and relax.
Go to the old port to see your reflection and that of the port in the 180 degree permanent mirrored glass installation | © Martin Fisch/Flickr
Provence is loved for its Mediterranean cuisine but Marseille also offers some wonderful North African cuisine with a French twist. Head to the couscous restaurants by Noailles metro station or by the main St Charles train station. The food here is quick and cheap at many of the sit-down restaurants. For something a little more upmarket, head to the Cours Julien area, where you’ll find some interesting and varied types of African restaurants. The area is edgy but lively and fun.
The old fortress island of Château d’If is tiny but because of the strong currents around it, it was used as a prison in the 1800s, just like Alcatraz in San Francisco. Author Alexandre Dumas used the prison as a backdrop to his fictional story, The Count of Monte Cristo, where his hero was unjustly locked up for years. He escapes, seeks revenge and becomes very rich. Visitors today have an easier journey; it’s just a short ferry ride from Marseille’s Old Port.
Château d’If, Embarcadère Frioul If, 1 Quai de la Fraternité, Marseille, France +33 (0)6 03 06 25 26