Marseille, France

I’ve recently been thinking about all the destinations where I’ve spent my holidays over the years.

I’ve come to realise that I visited many of them because I had a personal connection there (family or friends were living there at the time of my visit).

Marseille is one of those destinations.

I was first introduced to the city thanks to one of my sisters.

Back in 2009, she was offered a PhD place in a business school in Marseille.

I offered to help her to find an apartment there –  I was living in Paris at the time but I had never been to Marseille.

When I arrived at the city’s main train station (Gare St. Charles) in October of that year, temperatures were in the early twenties, the sky was blue and the sun was shining – perfect weather for apartment-hunting.

Viewing apartments in different parts of the city gave me a good overall sense of the place and I loved it!

I loved the Vieux Port with its sailing boats, ferry terminals, cafés and restaurants.

I loved the narrow streets of the Panier area.

I loved the beautiful wide Avenue du Prado.

I loved the Corniche Kennedy and its beaches…….

After viewing a few apartments, we decided that a balcony would be a real plus in this city where you can sit outside for at least eight months of the year.

We found a great apartment (complete with balcony) just behind the Hotel de Ville and a minute’s walk from the Vieux Port.

My sister ended up living in that apartment for ten years and only moved out after she got married and bought an apartment of her own.

Over the years, I have visited the city many times.

My last visit there was in October of this year – I went for 2 weeks, arriving back to Ireland on 3 November.

The main observation that I would make is that the city has changed a lot over the past twelve years – changed in the sense that new amenities and infrastructure have been put in place.

The tramway that I took every day to travel to my sister’s apartment did not exist twelve years ago, the area where she lives did not exist twelve years ago and the beautiful new shopping centre (Les Terrasses du Port) which I got particularly attached to, did not exist twelve years ago.

And that’s not all – in the past twelve years, the people who manage Marseille have achieved a lot – they have rehabilitated the Vieux Port (although I had already thought that it was great in 2009, it’s really beautiful – and much more accessible – now), and they are currently managing one of the biggest city regenerations in Europe.

All of these improvements have added greatly to the city.

For anyone who has never visited Marseille, I would describe it as follows:

The great thing about Marseille is that even though it is the second city of France, it doesn’t really feel like a big city.

It has all the advantages of big city living (good underground and tramway systems, art galleries, museums, cafes, restaurants, theatres and shops) while still being close to the sea and nature.

Its coastal location coupled with its proximity to the Calanques National Park mean that it is very easy to leave the city and spend time in nature (whether it be hiking, sailing, swimming or just sitting on a beach enjoying the view).

Just as Marseille doesn’t really feel like a big city, neither does it feel totally French.

Due to various waves of emigration over the years, the city is now home to many different nationalities including Armenians, Chinese, Comorians, Greeks, Italians, Russians, Turks, Maghrebis and Vietnamese.

All of these groups and in particular the Maghrebi group, bring a distinctly exotic feel to the city.

My list of favourite things to do while in Marseille (because I’m usually there when the weather is good, most of the activities are outdoors).

Marseille has art galleries, museums, theatres and lots of other exciting cultural things to do – I just haven’t done them yet.

  1. Go for a long walk/run from the Vieux Port to the beach at Escale Borély (a distance of approx. 10 km)
  2. Swim (four beaches within easy reach of the city are Plage des Catalans, Plage du Prophète, Plages du Prado and Plage de la Pointe Rouge)
  3. Take a ferry to the Isles Frioul – a sunset picnic during the summertime is a must
  4. Visit Notre Dame de la Garde (the Basilica on the hill overlooking the city)
  5. Wander around the city centre stopping off at random vintage shops and North African shops
  6. Spend a day walking in the Calanques National Park
  7. Spend an afternoon at the Zein Marseille Hammam
  8. Visit a market (I like the one at the Place Castellane)
  9. Drink coffee at La Samaritaine or at one of the other cafes along the Vieux Port
  10. Have breakfast on the balcony of the Hotel Belle Vue

In my experience, people do not automatically think of Marseille when they think of the South of France.

For me, it’s a hidden gem in plain sight!

Similar Posts