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Marseille, the French Riviera’s most underrated destination

A cultural melting pot, Marseille is a colourful city you may not fall in love with the first time around

16 June 2017, 9:56am
Notre Dame de la Garde: Perched on top of the hill, Notre Dame de la Garde overlooks the entire city of Marseille
Notre Dame de la Garde: Perched on top of the hill, Notre Dame de la Garde overlooks the entire city of Marseille
The French Rivieria is a spot the destination of dreams, however it has become a victim of its own success. Sky high restaurant prices and standoffish locals have tainted her reputation. Marseille, however has remained refreshingly real, if slightly rough around the edges. 

Though France’s second largest city, Marseille isn’t nearly as “French” as Paris. A cultural melting pot, Marseille has seen immigrants from all of the surrounding areas. With North Africans, Spanish and Italians abounding, Marseille is a colourful city you may not fall in love with the first time around. However, give this city a chance and you will fall for her vibrant energy. 

Celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain, calls Marseille the most underrated destination, “A great city with great food and great views, sitting right on the edge of the blue Mediterranean, surrounded by freakin’ Provence. It’s got it all.”

Wander around the ancient Vieux Port

Vieux Port: The Old Port of Marseille dates back some 2,600 years, making it France’s oldest city
Vieux Port: The Old Port of Marseille dates back some 2,600 years, making it France’s oldest city
France’s oldest city, Marseille dates back some 2,600 years, with two harbour forts, designed by Louis XIV, with the cannons facing the city, a sign of his mistrust in his rebellious subjects. The Old Port is the heart of the city where tourists and locals alike gather to watch the fishermen come and go, walk along the quay to admire the boats, old and new, or sit in a café or restaurant and tucking in to a traditional bouillabaisse. A ferry boat takes passengers from one side of the port to the other, or tourists who want to get a look at the city from the water. Just a couple of streets in is The Museum of Old Marseille, housed in a 16th century Maison Diamantée, offering magnificent views of the city from the rooftop café.

Catch a boat to the island prison of Chateau d’If

Chateau d’If: The island prison of Chateau d’If was made famous by Alexander Dumas’ novel The Count of Monte Cristo
Chateau d’If: The island prison of Chateau d’If was made famous by Alexander Dumas’ novel The Count of Monte Cristo
Though the 2002 The Count of Monte Cristo movie adaptation of Alexander Dumas’ novel by the same name, put Chateau d’If in Comino, the home to the true location is Marseille. A 20-minute ferry from the Vieux Port will get you to the prison fort island. 

The historic quarters of Le Panier

Le Panier: Wander through the twisted alleyways of Le Panier, that open up into hidden squares, sun-baked cafés, artisan shops, ateliers and terraced house
Le Panier: Wander through the twisted alleyways of Le Panier, that open up into hidden squares, sun-baked cafés, artisan shops, ateliers and terraced house
A short hike to the north of Vieux Port, is the historic quarters of Le Panier, or the Old Town. Wander through the twisted alleyways that open up into hidden squares, sun-baked cafés, artisan shops, ateliers and terraced houses. The mixture of North African, Italian and French influences will leave you wondering if you are still in France at all!

Take in the cool vibes of Cours Julien

One of Marseille’s most lively centres lies in her very core, Cours Julien – a French hub of alternative culture. This is the art crowd’s headquarters and is suitably equipped with lively, hip bars, trendy cafés, antique stores, book stores and boutiques. Take a walk around the streets and take in the graffiti covered walls.  

Take a dip in the Calanques of Marseille

Calanques: The cliff faces and turquoise waters of Calanques add another dimension to the cultural city of Marseille
Calanques: The cliff faces and turquoise waters of Calanques add another dimension to the cultural city of Marseille
The ancient city of Marseille, the European Capital for Culture in 2013, has become a hot spot for travellers looking for a weekend break. There is more to Marseille than museums and exhibitions. The Calanques is Marseille’s rugged coast running some 20km of cliffs and beaches and pristine blue seas of the Mediterranean. Trek through the rocky terrain to get to the beaches of Sormiou, Morgiou, Sugiton, En Vau and Port Pins and reward yourself with a dip in the crystal clear waters, or, if that seems like too much trouble, get on a boat and visit these incredible beaches from the sea. 

Catch a glimpse of Notre Dame de la Garde

Perched on the hilltop south of the Vieux Port, overlooking the city of Marseille, is the Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica. The views from the Neo-Byzantine church, known as La Bonne Mère (The Good Mother) by the locals, are as magnificent as the church itself, featuring the city, the surrounding mountains, the Mediterranean Sea and nearby islands. 

Indulge in the local specialities

Marseille is the birthplace of the French fish stew, bouillabaisse. This started out as a peasant dish, which used up all of the leftovers from the market. Today the recipe has been refined to use some of The Cote d’Azur’s choicest pieces and Marseille has plenty of spots where you can indulge whilst overlooking the blues of the water. 

The aperitif of the south is pastis, an anise-flavoured drink first commercialised by Paul Ricard during the prohibition of absinthe. Today’s experts can be found at La Masion du Pastis, tucked away in the Vieux Port. They have 75 different varieties of pastis and absinthe, which you can try before you buy. 

Getting there

Air Malta is currently operating two weekly flights to Marseille. One-way prices start from €51, including taxes and charges. Fares include a 10kg hand luggage and 20kg checked in baggage.

Visit www.airmalta.com for more info.

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