Marseilles, France, is a great choice for a short city break. We love this city as a shorter trip on its own. However, it is also perfect as an addition to a longer tailor made itinerary. This city is also fantastic any time of year – so it is a wonderful choice as well as we move towards the fall and winter.
The past few weeks we have been sharing some suggestions and ideas in some of our favorite cities for a short break. This week, we’ll tell you a little more about why we love Marseille, the “city of a hundred neighborhoods”.
Getting to know Marseille
France’s second biggest city is also its most multicultural and also its oldest. Marseille has had a reputation for being “different” since the time of the ancient Greeks. Originally a Greek colony, they recognized the importance of the strategic location and deep water port of the area. Their trade with the Gauls, so many centuries ago, brought olives and grapes to the region, which was perhaps the start of what we now know as modern Provençal cuisine.
After, from Caesar to various wars and conquests, Marseille became known as the “gateway to the empire” that was France. For better or for worse, everything passed through this incredibly important port. Its ties to Northern Africa run deep. That means that, since its conception, Marseille has been a host and home for immigrants, cultures, and cuisines.
Marseille still feels this way today. It’s gritty in parts but incredibly fascinating. You’ll find locals on a corner listening to arabic-french rap, Vietnamese food boutiques, incredible street art, fusion cuisine and street food, North African wares and even more reasons why the city truly feels like one of a hundred neighborhoods.
It runs a juxtaposition between glamour and what makes port cities so interesting. Over the past 10 years, the government has made an effort to clean up some of these more “realistic” areas of the port, and it’s made a difference. Today, the streets of the city feel like a lively blend of multicultural France. And coming to France without seeing Marseille is truly missing a big piece of understanding the country itself.
What to see and do in Marseille
Private walking tour of the city
One of our top activities is a private half day walking tour of the ancient part of the city. Today you will explore and visit the most interesting aspects of the old town – Le Panier.
Your private guide will meet you at your hotel. Then you will head to Fort St Jean. Here, you will explore the gardens and the Fort to gain an understanding of how the city developed from the period prior to the French Révolution up to the modern city of today. After, we will go to the Cathédrale St Marie Majeur, the second of the two principle cathédrales in the city. To continue, we will head into the old town Le Panier to explore the tiny streets & squares. Discover one of the treasures of the old town – La Vielle Charité, the ancient hospice that sits in the center. We explore the Innside walkways to marvel at this 17th century architecture.
Then a leisurely walk to explore the tiny streets – art galleries, local shops and artisans who live and work here and soak up the atmosphere of the old town. There is plenty of time en-route to visit a souvenir shop or enjoy a coffee.
Food tours for gastronomes in Marseille
A trip to France is always a delight for lovers of gastronomy. However, Marseille is truly a special place to indulge your appetites. With a balmy Mediterranean climate, Marseille is the sunniest city in France. Its historic importance as a sea port and trade center have influenced local cuisine and food culture for centuries. Marseille’s proximity to important French wine regions, reliance on fresh and local seafood, and historical exposure to culinary traditions from Spain, Italy, and Morocco have created a unique local food culture unlike anywhere else.
For some, food culture in Marseille practically starts and ends with bouillabaisse. Originally made from scraps of bony fish left over from the day’s catch, bouillabaisse is a fish stew that originated in Marseille and is now famous all over the world. While every Mediterranean port city has a local variation of a fish stew, bouillabaisse relies on Provençal herbs and spices, and has a flavor all its own.
Perhaps the best way to have an authentic bouillabaisse in Marseille is to learn to make it yourself. At one of our favorite restaurants, on the Vieux-Port of Marseille overlooking the ocean, our cooking class teach visitors how to make bouillabaisse with the classic recipe. Learning a classic recipe under the exacting eye of a chef is a great way to not only experience the best bouillabaisse, but to learn how to judge all others.
Other local dishes you might try to recreate in your cooking class include:
- Swordfish: with ratatouille and saffron rice
- Moules Marinière: mussels generously seasoned with garlic, onion, and Herbes de Provence
- Tapenade: a chunky paste of capers, olives, and olive oil, popular before meals or as a light snack
- Panisse: a pastry made with chickpea flour, fried crispy, reflecting Arab influences on the region
Go on a wine tour
Marseille is just minutes away from the wine regions of the Rhone, Provence, and Languedoc. There are ample opportunities to step away from the hustle and bustle of the city. For example, to visit a quiet vineyard and experience French wines in their native habitat. Our private wine tours with a private driver and sommelier are a great way to explore this area.
Of particular interest is the Cassis area of Provence, producing red, white, and rosé wines within a mile or two of the Mediterranean Sea. Cassis wines (not to be confused with the Creme de Cassis liquor that is produced in the Burgundy region) were among the first to be awarded the French appellation, but the small size of the region and high local demand leave little for the export market, and these prized wines are hard to find outside of Provence.
Go on a gourmet tour
There are a variety of gourmet walking and bike tours in Marseille, combining history, sightseeing, and tasting delicious local dishes. These tours are a great way to sample a variety of foods. You also learn about Marseille history and food culture, and get a little exercise between courses. The variety of different tours offer opportunities to visit chocolate factories. Or, shop at fish and produce markets, or even go truffle hunting.
Marseille offers a rich, flavorful insight into the combined culinary traditions of French and Mediterranean cultures. Here, mingled and celebrated here like nowhere else.
Calanques day trip
This special area is a short excursion outside of the city, and our tours here are plentiful. One of our favorite choices is a private e-bike tour through the area of Calanques!
Discover the remarkable beauty of France’s Mediterranean coast on a full-day electric bike tour! This unique outdoor excursion takes you to lovely ports and fishing villages like Madrague Montredon and Vallon des Auffes and through dramatic calanques-filled coves. Along the way, stop to swim and have lunch.
Hop back on your bike and wind farther south through the wild and dramatic Calanques region. Admire the distinctive limestone rock formations – called the ‘fjords of the French Riviera’ – that wrap around pools of crystal-clear water to make dramatic inlets. Stop at La Plage de la Maronaise (Maronnaise Beach) for an invigorating swim. Then, head on to the stunning Calanque de Callelonque (Callelongue Cove). Here, watch small boats drift in and out of the cove and locals lounge on the beach.
City breaks, always tailor made
A few days in Paris? Or even head to the north of the country and explore some of the D-Day sites? It’s also an easy trip over to Italy or Northern Africa. The choice is yours! All our trips are tailor made and can be designed as you wish. Marseille is a great choice for a city break!
We hope that these itinerary ideas provided some travel inspiration for your upcoming fall and winter. As always, its our mission and promise to make your Mediterranean travel dreams come true!
Contact us to start planning!