Though movies like The French Connection and Transporter have their heroes racing through the maze of streets of Marseille, while visiting with a friend during a trip to Nice, we employed a more leisurely pace. Only a two-hour drive from where we were on the French Riviera, Marseille for a day seemed an exciting adventure. Looking on a map we discovered the drive would be a straight shot depending on which direction we chose. Among our options were stopping in St. Tropez for lunch, while still arriving in Marseille before day’s end. Marseille, originally the country’s main shipping port, turns out to be the second largest city in France. And because most people often choose other vacation spots in France, Marseille is not overrun with tourists and hotel prices are still very reasonable. The amenities it offers, rivals those of other French destinations like Paris and Nice.
To plot out our “French Connection”, I went onto my TripAdvisor app to search out a hotel for the night. After reading several reviews of what others had experienced at the C2 Hotel, I booked it for a surprisingly low price. In addition to having their own spa and restaurant, it seemed centrally located to the area’s shops and restaurants. My first question is always "Do you speak English" and their answer was, “Yes, we all speak English”.
The highway drive there was fairly easy but upon entering the city it does become a bit tricky, as there are one-way streets and circular roadways, but my iPhone’s gps brought us right up to the entrance as night was falling. The staff was very friendly and recommended a restaurant a short walk away called Le Bistrot Des Dames, which proved to be absolutely delicious and open late. Set in a town square, Le Bistrot, is surrounded by shops and restaurants, including a Hard Rock Cafe which made me feel right at home.
After eating, everything was pretty much closed, so we walked back to the hotel in order to get rest for the next day’s big exploration. Arising the next morning, we decided to head back to the square and grab a crepe for breakfast at La Creperie and did some light window-shopping for the soap that Marseille is known for, which contains a high percentage of oils. Lining Marseille’s streets are stores with herb infused olive oils, specialty mustards, delicately flavored fois gras and uniquely enhanced chocolates. One shop I fell in love with was called Le Comptoir De Mathilde where you can taste just about everything in the store before buying. The rosemary and olive dijon mustard, was one of the most flavorful delicacies I’ve tasted in France.
We discussed what we could actually fit into the day and came to the conclusion that two main attractions were to be the incredible Notre Dame de la Garde, a lookout over the sea atop the highest point in the city and then we would make our way down the hill towards the sea to visit the new museum situated right on the port called Mucem. To avoid getting mixed up with traffic we chose the local bus to take us high up the hill to a spectacular view at the Notre Dame de la Garde, rich with history. As you look down from Notre Dame de la Garde, the breathtaking views of the city and sea looked quite like a maze of salmon pink and yellow buildings surrounding different marinas, sandwiched between the blue of the sky and the azure of the ocean.
From the Notre Dame de la Garde we decided to give the Uber app a try, as we didn't want to spend extra time on a bus with multiple stops in order to maximize our day. In stark architectural contrast to rest of Marseille, the Mucem museum stands like a monolith. Uber was able to drop us practically in front of it. There is a spectacular bridge on its second floor leading back onto land to the older portion of the museum situated on an adjacent hilltop. Like a time traveler this bridge transports you from old part of the city to this ultra-modern building. Within one section of the exhibit there was a multi-screen video portrait of people talking in short segments about their present day lives and views, which came in stark contrast to the adjacent ancient portraiture.
After the Mucem we hopped in a cab to get back to the old Marseille Marina, walking distance to our hotel. A huge ferris wheel towers over the city’s main square quite like the one on the Santa Monica Pier. As we ascended, we were treated to a stunning view as the sparkling pink twilight reflecting off of the docked boats. After disembarking the ferris wheel we relaxed at a corner cafe for a Spritz, a popular local drink and enjoyed being mesmerized by the surrounding whiz of people and cars rushing by as the sun sank low in the sky.
Deciding to call it a day we stopped at the Marseille Visitor Center to ask some questions and they were extremely helpful, speaking perfect English, and told us about the magical Calanques, a place we plan to visit next time, which requires some hiking time and another full day. At this point it was time to head back to our car. Hitting up some shops while backtracking to our hotel we stumbled across a vintage clothing store called La Coquette with unusual yet charming French memorabilia and clothing. Though many other adventures remained for us in this magical city, they would have to wait for another day.
All photography by Patricia Meisels