Since Marseille’s stint as Europe’s Capital of Culture in 2013 people have begun waking up to a city that has a huge amount to offer the cultural traveler. Sat on the French coast on the Med, the rough and ready port town retains the feeling of still being an undiscovered gem. Once in possession of a reputation that might have scared off the more sensitive tourist, Marseille is now being talked about for a host of other reasons – most of them good.
Travelling to Marseille by rail is simple and fuss free. The Eurostar can be booked in advance for around £69 return, with the cost of the TGV train from Paris to Marseille on top of that (at time of writing there are also plans for a direct Eurostar train from London to Marseille to arrive in 2015). Alternatively, you can choose to change trains in Lille if you want to enjoy another French city alternative to Paris along the way. Be warned, journey times are around 7 hours in total so prepare for an early start.
A weekend in Marseille is just enough time to see and do enough to get a taste of the city. Start at the waterfront where the majority of regeneration work was carried out for 2013’s landmark year and you’ll find a plethora of galleries and museums. Stop in at The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisation before heading to next door’s Regards de Provence Museum for great artworks and other treasures.
At this point, given the heat and the time spent inside, it’s time to indulge in a glass of pastis. The drink was born in Marseille so head for any neighbourhood bar or café, take a sip and toast the city.
No trip to Marseille would be complete without doing two things: visiting the Vieux Port and eating bouillabaisse. So next head for the old port and drink in the architecture of the 3000-year-old dock. Time it with the sunset and it will be even better, in fact, make it a must to see the sunset at Vieux Port before taking a table at Chez Michel for the best bouillabaisse in town. It’s pricy but then the best often is.
A melting pot of cultures, Marseille is filled with choice. Wandering around the city is as much of an education as delving into any of the new waterfront museums. The North African influences mix with the Mediterranean and there is plenty to reward curious explorers. We would recommend starting at Noailles where the market has echoes of a busy Istanbul bazaar.
During the evening, Marseille has a buzzing nightlife. Live music is everywhere and areas worth heading for include Place Thiars, Vieux Port and Cours Julien. For something more refined, you could always try the famous Opera de Marseille, located on rue Moliere.
One weekend might not make you Marseillaise but a taste of the craziness of the Med city might just make you return.
Image copyright: Regards de Provence Museum