Marseille is my favourite city in France. The place has been settled a long way back to the stone age. In 2600 B.C. a Celtic tribe settled the region of Marseille. The legend tells the story of the Celtic Princess Gyptis who married a Greek Seamen and Trader and they founded the town named Massalia. Nowadays more than 860 000 people live here on a multicultural level. It is easy to meet people and find friends in this town. The beauty of the town and its harbour is amazing. I have always visited Marseille by train. Their public transports system is super and I am always surprised that in this lively city the bus will arrive, even though not in the same minute when you expect it. If you spend more than one day there, you may acquire the "Transpass", a ticket valid for the whole public transports system, in the summer even for the boats that go from the Old Harbour (Vieux Port) to the suburbs of Pointe Rouge and L'Estaque. This ticket costs only 15,50 Euro for one whole week. You can buy it in the big metro stations like Vieux Port or Gare de St. Charles. You need to bring your passport and a photo of yourself to get the card that can be recharged.
Don't be afraid to visit this town although you might have heard the most bloodcurdling news about it. The different cultures don't always mix, there are indeed very poor parts in the town, but the crime rate is not higher than in comparable big cities. It is not Disneyland but a vivid and authentic city.
In Marseille I have found open minded people, ready to help a stranger. I am not sure if I would find this as easily at home!
Each travel guide will recommend you to visit the old harbour "Vieux Port", the church "Notre Dame de la Garde", the museum "MuCEM" and the Panier Quarter. If you arrive at Marseille by train at the main train station "St. Charles", you can either walk to the Vieux Port or take the Metro. In the metro everyone is willing to help if you don't know the direction. At the Vieux Port there is always something going on to watch. Like a fishers market in the morning, the Christmas market in december, all kinds of cultural and political manifestations during the year. Cafés and Restaurants offer all you need to eat or drink on their terrace. Even in the winter the weather is mild enough to sit outside. The tourist boats leave here.
As for the MuCEM, the entrance is free on the first sunday of each month. In 2013, Marseille was the European Culture Capital. The MuCEM was built for this occasion. When my friend Elfi saw the huge building with its transparent steal construction for the first time, she took it for a parking deck, a modern car garage. The people of Marseille whom I talked to all love this museum. Go and find out yourself! The huge shopping mall "Terrasses du Port" was also built around 2013. It is a shopping paradise but it seems to me as though the former shopping streets in the center of the town suffer from not being as much frequented as before. Everyone can spent their money only once, right? After France lost its colonies in Algeria in 1962, ten thousands of French settlers came from Algeria to Marseille, just as to other towns in the South of France. New quarters were built to receive the so-called "Pieds-Noirs". In the 1970es the economical recession caused poverty and a rising crime rate in Marseille. In the early 21. st century the French state provided Marseille with high subventions. The project "Euromediterranée" includes a variety of new buildings along the coast starting from the MuCEM to the New Port. There has been quite a discussion about gentrification. Many old houses in the town are not taken care off very well. On Nov. 5th 2018 in the Rue d'Aubagne, two old houses collapsed and eight inhabitants died (See photos below). More than 100 houses were evacuated for safety reasons, more than 1000 persons became homeless. One year later, in August 2019 I found the Rue d'Aubagne closed for traffic and partly also for vistitors. The ruins and debris of the collapsed houses have been removed. The empty ground is guarded by two employees of a security company. (See photos below)
Nevertheless I recommand this city for an exciting trip!
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------The young Marseilleis' people meet at the Cours Julien. It is a former vegetable market and nowadays cafés and restaurants offer their tables. Here you will find vegetarian food, a health-food shop is just around the corner. Young families come to meet here on the week-end or on summer evenings. Once I saw and heard Jean-Luc Melenchon speak to his followers on this place. It is a place where you might find new friends if you want to settle down in Marseille.(Metro station "Notre Dame du Mont".) Not far away from the Cours Julien, there are some very nice Cafés along the Boulevard Chave, like the "Chez Georges". (Tram Nr. 1, stop "Chave") In the summertime residents and young families come here with their children to have dinner in the warm summer air. It reminded me a bit of Berlin Prenzlauer Berg. The nights are very hot in Marseille in the summer and life in the evening often takes place outside. The old houses mostly don't have air condition in private apartements so there is no use in staying at home before midnight, when it starts to cool down a bit.
Other places to visit: The museum la Vieille Charité and the cultural center "La Friche de la Belle de Mai".
When I visited Marseille the first time, I walked all the way from the train station St. Charles to the Vieux Port, along the Corniche and up to the hill to visit Notre Dame de la Garde. Walking is the best way to find out the spirit of a town.
The church of "Notre Dame de la Garde" was built in the 19th century, situated on the highest point of the town. There had been older churches on the site before which were replaced by the contemporary church. The view upon the Sea and the city is wonderful. The bus line number 60 goes from the Vieux Port to Notre Dame de la Garde. You will not be alone up there unless you come in the winter on a day when the cold strong North wind named "Mistral" is blowing.
There are services offered several times per day in the church. Unfortunately hundreds of visitors walk through the church in a procession taking photos or eving making small movies of themselves in front of the altar. In the winter time old ladies who live close to the church come up here to sit on a bench at the South side of the church and enjoy the wide view upon the Sea. Winter in Marseille does not mean grey skies like we are used to in the North! The sun shines most of the time even in the winter. On a winter late afternoon the sun sets upon the Sea and seems to spread a path of silver light directly into the sky. It is magical.
In the South of Marseille you will find some small fisher villages like La Madrague de Montredon or Les Goudes. The "bout du monde", the end of the world is the tiny hamlet of Callelongue with its small harbor, a restaurant and a good access to the Calanque called Marseilleveyre. At the Vieux Port, take bus number 83, then at the Prado bus stop "La Plage" bus Number 19 and and in La Madrageue de MOntredon 20. The busses drives all along the Seaside and offer a beautiful ride. In July and August, take a boat "navette" from the Vieux Port to Pointe Rouge and from there another boat or bus to Les Goudes. The people of Marseille like to go to the cliffs for a picnic on the white stone cliffs above the Sea. Marvellous!!
There are restaurants around the small port of Les Goudes but don't forget to make a reservation ahead of time. In the tiny grocery shop you can buy delicious anchovies for a picnic.
In the South of Les Goudes there are the beautiful white mountains called the "Calanques". You can climb upon them if the Mistral-wind is not blowing. The wide view upon the deep blue Sea is gorgious. In 1991, a painted cave of the iceage was discovered close the Calanque called Marseilleveyre. The cave is named after its discoverer Henri Cosquer. It is partly flooded because the sea level rose considerably after the glaciers of the ice age had melted. Therefore the cave cannot be visited but you will find pictures on line. The parietal paintings of animals are about 30 000 years old.On the top of the Marseilleveyre there is a cave with sweet water: La Grotte de l'ermite. A hermit lived here in the middle ages and a small chapel was built. The Saint Michel chapels always indicate that in these places on older, heathern sanctuaire has been replaced by a Christian one, since St. Michael is considered as the dragons killer in Catholic mystery. (See explanation on photo beneath)
L'Estaque, about 10km North of Marseille used to be a fisher and workers' village. It has a small harbour. Until the 1960s a brick factory was situated on the hills North of L'Estaque.
The painters Paul Cezanne, Georges Braque and Auguste Renoir spent some time here to paint. Cezanne lived for a while in a house besides the church. The place in front of the church has benches with a view on the sea.
From May until September you can go to L'Estaque by boats that leave at the Vieux Port each hour from 8.30 a.m. until 19.30 p.m. or in July and August till 22.30 p.m.
In the late 19th century wealthy people built their summer villas on the hills of l'Estaque. The bus line 35 leaves at Joliette and goes to l'Estaque, the petit train de la Côte Bleue also stops here. From July until September you will enjoy a 25 minutes boat ride from the Vieux Port to L'Estaque. This part of the coast has its own flair, tourism is not dominating life as much as it does along the Côte d'Azur. Social classes mix here and give the village an authentic atmosphere.
Where stay in Marseille? If you are not looking for expensive hotels, you will be taken good care of in Catis "Chambres d'hôtes" "Olive et Pitchounette" in the central quarter Endoume.
Thank you Cati for the wonderful time that I spent with you!
There are also very many Airbnb offers in Marseille. Open minded people offer a room in their apartment to share. The quarter around Boulevard Chave and the metro station "Notre Dame du Mont" are a good address, with an easy access by tram and metro. Lots of cafés and restaurants and a vivid cultural life. From there you will have an easy access to the Port and the Sea as well as to the main train station St. Charles and other interesting quarter like the "Panier".
Continuing from L'Estaque further to the West, a short but very beautiful part of the coast is called "La Côte Bleue", the blue coast. Not to be mixed up with the Côte d'Azur, which starts on the East side of Marseille and continues till the Italien border.
From the main train station "Marseille Saint Charles" a small train leaves direction Miramas, serving the the Côte Bleue. You may hop off and on with the same ticket, valied for one day. Small paths lead along the coast and invite to walk above the blue sea. The villages are Niolon, Ensuès-La Redonne, Carry-Le-Rouet, Sausset-les-Pins and La Couronne. These villages with white or ochre colored houses and their red roofs are situated on the white hills of the Nesque-mountain range, wooded with pine trees. On the South side there is always the marvellous blue sea. The train follows the coast line so it is a beautiful ride. The Côte Bleue is not as crowded as the Côte d'Azur. The lady at the tourist office of Carry told me that German tourists were the first strangers that arrived only during the last years. This part of the coast is in big parts public property and a protected ecologic zone. An old path of the customer officers leads along the coast and is marked as a hiking trail "GR 51". Walk these 15 kilometers and never forget this vacation!