Not My Favorite City in Southern France

Palais Longchamp in Marseille

Welcome back to my dive into my travel journal. This post is a continuation of the last two posts about my trip to the southern part of France. You can read the first post here.

After four full days on the French countryside, it was time for the next part of our trip. We planned to go to Marseille, a port city on the coast. Initially I was excited about this. Before leaving the States, I tried to read The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas several times. Each time I failed, giving up and giving in to my large study workload. (As of one month ago, I now have the book in my possession again and intend to give it another go.) After reading the first half of the book I had an interest in Marseille and Château d’If, the prison setting in the first stage of the novel.

Fiction is a fickle thing, as the city did not give me any of the sense of intrigue as written by Dumas, and (spoiler!) I wasn’t exactly a fan of the city. Still, it’s a part of my travels, and travel isn’t always perfect. Therefore, I will share my experiences with you regardless of how much I (dis)liked the city.

One Hot City

I’m not a city gal, nor am I into hot weather. Marseille was more of a city than I am comfortable with despite being less that a million people. It was so much more busy, crowded, and fast-paced than I expected of an ocean-side city on the Mediterranean. The heat I expected, but I forgot that the buildings would block the sea breeze.

We arrived in the late afternoon and headed to our rented apartment. As it was so hot, our group decided to head out of the flat as soon as possible. We meandered through the streets down to the harbor where there was at least a nice breeze. Walking past all the boats, we decided to give in to our stomachs’ complaints and find some dinner. Since we were in a port city, seafood seemed like the best choice.

Marseille Harbor

We found a place not too far from the harbor and I experienced my first fresh seafood. And by fresh, I mean extremely fresh. This was my first time ever cracking open crab legs and discovering the struggle of trying to get every morsel of succulent meat out. The others had done this before, but the sea snails were new to almost all of us. It was an experience to try the sea snails, but I think I’ll skip them in the future.

After dinner we took a walk around before heading back to the vacation flat and getting some much-needed sleep to prepare for our second day in the city.

Marseille

On the morning of the next day, we decided to take a walking tour around town. We visited the Old Port again before heading east into the heart of the city. We wandered through markets and some streets which did not really appeal to me at all (if you’re into architecture, I’d love to hear your take). We also stopped by the Church of Saint Vincent de Paul, where a statue of the Joan of Arc stands outside. The interior was nice and a chance to cool down, but I was still not impressed by Marseille.

Joan of Arc before the Church of Saint Vincent de Paul

Eventually we got to the Palais Longchamp which fed my soul a bit since I was missing green spaces and trees. We paused here for a while to relax before moving on to a place by the train tracks full of skaters and graffiti. The street art was interesting to see, but it was too hot to enjoy. Instead, we retreated to the shade of some modern skate-style cafe to eat lunch.

Palais Longchamp in Marseille

The Calanques

After lunch, we grabbed the public transport back to our flat for a short rest and to change into our swimsuits. The plan was to visit the calanques and do a bit of swimming. We drove out to a place recommended by the tourist office and parked the car. We then started walking. It was supposed to be a nice easy walk there, but at some point we took a wrong turn and ended up quite high up overlooking two calanques on either side. We took a steep path down in flip-flops and sandals (neither recommended nor safe), finally emerging on the side of one calanque in a quiet, residential area instead of at the main beach which was full of people.

We found a spot on the side of the calanque from which we could relax and swim without the crowds. We laid out our towels on the rocky shore and then headed into the sea. This was my first experience swimming in salt water. All I can say is that the saltiness seemed to end up everywhere in my belongings afterwards and the water seemed slimy compared to fresh water. These were small things though as the view was picture-perfect and the water was clearer than anywhere else I’ve ever swam. (Again, no camera for this day, so you’ll have to settle for a postcard.)

Calanque de Sormiou

As sunset loomed, some locals gave us directions for a trail out of the calanque. They said it was an easy walk and would get us quickly back to the car. Indeed it was faster than our way in, but it was also very steep going up. In wet flip flops, it was a trek for sure. Returning to the car with our wet things, we started driving back to the city. Spying a grocery shop and pizza stand, we stopped to grab breakfast for the morning and eat some dinner.

After dinner, we decided to head to the Notre-Dame de la Garde, the highest point in Marseille and a great place to enjoy a view of the city at night. Of course the church is closed at this point, but there are enough lights both on the hill and in the streets below to keep you satisfied visually. It was also cooler after sundown, so we had a bit more energy to walk up and down the hill.

Notre-Dame de la Garde in Marseille

So nice views were the way we closed out the day. In the morning we wandered a bit more, including into some creepy church with many gruesome relics. I personally could have skipped that bit. Before long, we packed up the car and headed out of the city for our final stop in our French get-away. More on that in the next post!

Cheers!

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