This week in Postcard, Matt Blackwell recommends Marseille, France
Located far to the south of France, the country’s second largest city after Paris sits on the Mediterranean coast enjoying year-round warm temperatures and has a long and colourful history as an important centre of trade. Marseille was voted the European Capital of Culture for 2013, which allowed for the unveiling of 600 million euros (RO250 million) worth of new cultural infrastructure including the eye-catching Villa Méditerranée and the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations, which is the first stand-alone national museum outside of Paris. The city has a relaxed way of life and one of the best ways to spend your time is to simply while away the hours in a café close to the city’s old harbour, Le Vieux Port, watching the local fishermen selling their stock by auction.
My favourite place:
I am a water baby; there is no doubt about it. Show me a body of water, either salt or freshwater and I’ll be itching to get in it. It comes as no surprise then that the favourite place I visited during my stay in Marseille were the Calanques. Found just outside of the city itself, the Calanques are a series of miniature fjords surrounded by clear blue waters, rugged limestone cliffs and spectacular flora and fauna. Guided walking tours can be arranged or you can do as we did and book a mini cruise, departing from Le Vieux Port, and discover several of the secluded coves in an unforgettable half-day experience – remember to take your snorkel! If you prefer to do things at your own pace, you can always hire a sea kayak and explore the coast for yourself.
Marseille’s past can be traced back to 600BC, meaning there is no shortage of fantastic historical monuments to visit and topping the list is Notre-Dame de la Garde. The iconic basilica occupies a spot at the top of a high hill and offers striking views of Le Vieux Port and the sprawling city below. There is a thriving restaurant and café scene and unsurprisingly, the focus is on seafood. Make sure you try the bouillabaisse – Marseille’s famous fish broth. Football fans will be familiar with the Ligue 1 high flyers, Olympique de Marseille, who play their home games at the Stade Vélodrome and match tickets can be bought for as little as RO12.5.
Marseille was long viewed as a hotbed of drug-related violence and reports of muggings and pickpockets are often high. However, this image was largely banished with the investment that came as part of the Capital of Culture celebrations and walking round the city today, you would be hard pushed to find signs of trouble.
Second only to Paris in size, Marseille offers some of the best shopping opportunities outside of the capital. The Centre Bourse, close to Le Vieux Port, is an upmarket retail destination housing leading international brands, or for something more traditional, try one of Marseille’s several markets. Marché aux Puces (or simply “Les Puces”) is a quaint flea market and a cross between a North African bazaar and a car boot sale, where you can pick up traditional gifts such as Marseille soap or small hand-carved figurines called santons.
Where to stay:
We stayed in a rented apartment for 10 days, many of which can be found with a quick internet search, but for those who don’t fancy self-catering, there are plenty of hotels on offer. La Résidence du Vieux Port is a mid-range option conveniently placed in the heart of Marseille, with all rooms facing the port, while Le Petit Nice Passedat is arguably once of the city’s most upmarket hotels and home to the region’s only Michelin three-star restaurant.
Top five things to do: