Browsing Category

France

Marseille Provence Travel

5 Unique Day Trip Ideas from Marseille, France

January 4, 2020

Bonjour! If you’re no stranger to my blog and Instagram account, you know Marseille has become my home away from home. My husband’s family is from there and we go at least once a year. Marseille is a diamond in the rough, and I certainly advocate spending at least 3 days exploring the city itself. (See: my Guide to Marseille and my Instagram Guide to Marseille). If you find yourself wanting to wander off the beaten path though, I have 5 unique day trip ideas from Marseille that will make you fall in love with the surrounding area.

Cassis & Bandol

You may have heard of Cassis, the candy hued, charming (& somewhat touristy) seaside town. Maybe I’m biased because it’s where I got engaged, but I think it lives up to it’s hype. About a half an hour from Marseille by car, the view when approaching Cassis is one of my favorites in the world. The stunning red cliff of the Cap Canaille, the endless aqua of the Mediterranean, gorgeous houses dotting the mountain side…wow. It is simply breathtaking.

What to Do in Cassis

I would suggest leaving late morning from Marseille to start your day. You only need an hour or so in the village itself. There are a few dozen cute boutiques & souvenir shops and plenty of choices for food. I love picking one of the places on the waterfront for lunch (I’m not loyal to any one in particular) and dining on Moule Frites. If you still have room, head to Amorino Gelato for a tasty (and Insta-worthy) rose shaped cone. There is often a little market in the central Place Baragnon. The typical French Market is on Wednesdays and Fridays but they have traveling and art markets as well.

If you are interested in seeing the Calanques (beautiful inlets that dot the coast around Marseille), you can take a cruise from the harbor. The price and duration vary depending on how many Calanques you want to see and what time of year it is. If the weather is nice, it’s definitely a good option! (Plan to leave earlier if you plan to see the village, do the cruise, AND still want to see Bandol).

Onward to Bandol

As you enter and leave Cassis, you will see plenty of vineyards where you can stop and taste wine. Unlike most of Provence which specializes in rosé, Cassis is known for it’s full-bodied and herbaceous white wines. While Mike and I usually try our luck stopping at random places along the way, here is a more detailed guide to region if you would like specific vineyard recs.

As you head towards Bandol (30 mins further east down the coast), you will pass many more vineyards. Even though the wine region is named for the seaside town, you won’t find any vineyards in the city center. In contrast to Cassis, Bandol is known for it’s earthy reds but also makes great whites and rosés. Taking the A50 towards La Ciotat/Toulon towards Bandol will take you past the villages of La Cadière d’Azur, Le Castellet, in the heart of the region. This guide will point you in the direction of specific wineries if you’re looking to plan in more detail.

This should go without saying that you should always have a designated driver if you plan on tasting wine – those sips can add up quick and France’s love of wine doesn’t cancel out their enforcement of drunk driving laws.

If you have time, continuing on to the village of Bandol would be a nice way to end the day. It is a fun and festive seaside town with quaint streets plenty of options for food to soak up all that wine.

Once you are satiated and tired, you only have a 42 minute drive back to Marseille.

Harbor in Bandol

Six-Fours-les-Plages

Another gem along the coast that I wanted to make sure to include in my guide to 5 unique day trip ideas from Marseille is Six-Fours-les-Plages. Take the A50 from Marseille towards Toulon and you’ll be there in about an hour. We didn’t spend much time in the center of Six-Fours and instead continued towards the sea to the smaller commune of Le Brusc, which I would recommend. It’s quaint with a distinctly local feel. You can pass through the little town by car and park in the paid lot further down towards the water.

Coastline at Le Brusc

Here the shore is rocky with pretty formations and tide pools and you can jump right in for a pleasant dip. We were there for golden & blue hour which were particularly beautiful. Adjacent to the coastline is a small island called Île du Petit Gaou which is reachable by foot bridge. There are walking paths to enjoy the beautiful nature, majestic cliffs and breathtaking views.

Scenes from Le Brusc & Île du Petit Gaou

There are a few nice restaurants close to island which offer amazing views. We chose to do a casual dinner of pizza back in the little village of Le Brusc which we ate on benches overlooking the harbor accompanied with rosé in plastic cups.

I would suggest allowing yourself a full afternoon here and ending up with sunset drinks and dinner. Six-Four/Le Brusc could also be paired with a morning trip to Cassis or Bandol.

Côte Bleue

So you’ve heard of the Côte d’Azur but have you heard of the Côte Bleue? I hadn’t until I started visiting Marseille regularly. The Côte Bleue is a charming piece of coastline between Marseille and Martigues, with the Mediterranean on one side and the Etang de Berre on the other. You’ll find quaint and lesser known fishing villages and beaches to keep to occupied on your day trip.

Coastline near Carry-le-Rouet

L’Estaque

Driving East from Marseille you can start in L’Estaque which is a suburb of Marseille and worth checking out either on your way out or on your way back. This little village has been an inspiration to many artists over the years including Cézanne, Renoir and Georges Braque.

Carry-le-Rouet

Further west you will find the village of Carry-le-Rouet, another seaside resort town which is favored as a summer retreat by the locals. Besides the cute downtown and harbor there is a coastal footpath where you can walk along the sea and four different beaches:

  • Le Rouet: the first beach in town and the most popular,
  • Cap Rousset: a natural limestone cove
  • Fernandel: in the center of town
  • Les Beaumettes: edge of town, stone and shallow water

Fun fact: Carry-le-Rouet is known as the “sea urchin capital” and even has a designated urchin month (February) with events and tastings!

Martigues

After you can head to Martigues, a colorful village known as the “Venice of Provence”. It’s bright buildings and bridges were definitely reminiscent of the famed Italian city, however even in the middle of summer there were no crowds. The Moiroir aux Oiseaux, a little port along Quai Brescon, was particularly picturesque and also a famed spot among painters.

Road to Valensole

I’m sure you’ve heard of Valensole (hello, Lavender fields?). Not so unique, you might say. BUT- I want to recommend a few places surrounding the famed plateau that you may not have on your radar, qualifying it as one of my unique day trip ideas from Marseille. The places below are a bit on the further side for a day trip so I would suggest leaving early if you want to get the most out of your day!

When you go to Valensole during off season 🙂

Gréoux-les-Bains

A cute little town with shops, colorful buildings and cafes with outdoor seatings for prime people watching! It also home to a thermal bath healthy center at which you can prebook health treatments for an extended period of time. If you’re just there for the day though and want to enjoy some pampering, there are facilities to book day treatments.

Moustiers-Sainte-Marie

We loved visiting this quaint perched village! Also simply known as “Moustiers”, this pedestrian town has waterfalls woven through it’s streets and a glorious view of the valley below. It’s also well known for it’s beautiful and uniquely hand-painted ceramics called faïence. You will see many shops with plenty of opportunities to stock up on unique souvenirs (although they are not cheap!) Also make sure to be respectful in the shops as a lot of them have signs that say “no photos.”

As you drive up the hill to approach the building there are parking lots where you can leave your vehicle and continue on foot into the town.

Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon

Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon is a small town overlooking the beautiful Lac Sainte Croix (which I also recommend visiting if you have time!) In fact, you can take a quick visit to the lakeshore below the village and then drive up the hill for the view. The view, in fact is the main attraction and we’ve come back several times to have dinner at Le Comptoir. I still think about the lavender honey & goat cheese bruschetta and dessert plate I ate there, and the scenery is truly unbeatable.

Camargue

To conclude my 5 unique day trip ideas from Marseille I present you with The Camargue. It’s a natural park area in Provence, known for it’s marshy land, birdwatching & wildlife, salt flats & quaint villages, just west of Marseille and the Côte Bleue. I would definitely recommend checking it out if you’re interested in distinct landscape and natural beauty.

Aigues-Mortes

Aigue-Mortes is an old medieval walled city with towers, lots of shops & restaurants. It is at the edge of a large pink body of water known as an Etang, or Lagoon that gets it’s color from the high concentration of salt in it. You can take a guided tour of the salt flats on a little train – cost is around 10 Euros. It was a neat and unique experience! You can also find WILD PINK FLAMINGOS as well as over 400 species of birds. Wild horses and cattle roam the rolling landscape, which looks a bit like a Monet painting.

Arles

While in the area, you can also visit the village of Arles, made famous in part by Vincent Van Gogh’s painting “Cafe at Night” (here is where the cafe can be found). You can even take a Van Gogh Walking Tour organized by the tourism office! Other things to visit are the Roman Amphitheater, Ancient Theater, several museums and of course, shops & cafes.

Conclusion

So, here you have it: 5 unique day trips from Marseille! If you can’t get enough of this region like me, check out my guides for Visiting Provence in Autumn and My Favorite Spots in Provence. If you scroll back up I’ve also provided a handy dandy MAP of all the places I’ve talked about here and color coded it by trip for your convenience. I hope this guide was helpful to you and that you enjoy your time in Provence, wherever it takes you!

Don’t forget to PIN this post for your trip:

France Provence Travel

Visiting Provence in Autumn

October 4, 2019

Visiting Provence in Autumn is probably the best idea you’ll have all year. “The South of France” is a hugely popular summer destination among travelers worldwide. Dreamy flower fields, aqua coastline and festivals – what’s not to like? Huge crowds and expensive prices for one.

I really enjoy traveling in this region during the shoulder season of late September, October and November. The crowds are smaller, hotels are lower priced. Also, it’s easier to book last minute and the weather is still pretty beautiful! In fact, my water-loving husband has been known to take a dip in Marseille’s gorgeous Calanques as late as October!

My first trip to Provence was in November of 2011. Since then I’ve spent several more years exploring the region and enjoying it’s autumnal charm…

wall at vineyard in provence with colorful ivy

Getting There

The most centrally located airport to the Provence Region is the Marseille/Provence Airport (code: MRS). The recently renovated airport is a low key base to fly in and out of.

Flights from the US tend to route through another major European city like London, Paris, Frankfurt, Madrid, etc. The airport is also serviced by several European budget airlines such as RyanAir, Vueling and EasyJet.

Transportation

I think it’s essential to rent a car for exploring the small towns in Provence. I suggest you rent it online beforehand via a site like KAYAK to get a better rate. Also FYI for my American friends, we have found also that for some reason when we rent it from a United States IP address we get a lower price!

Weather & What to Pack

Just for reference, here is a breakdown of the average temps for Marseille in the fall months:

Month Average High/Low (Fahrenheit)  Average High/Low (Celcius)  Days of Rain
September 78° / 61° 25.5° / 16.1° 3
October 70° / 55° 21.1° / 12.7° 6
November 60° / 47° 15.5° / 8.3° 5

As you can see, it’s pretty mild weather. So, a daily uniform of jeans, comfortable walking shoes or boots, tops that can layer, scarves and a light leather or jean jacket. You can pack a heavier coat but honestly I’ve never needed one, even in winter.

I made the mistake of choosing fashion over comfort during my first trip to Provence and tried to walk around cobble stoned villages in heels! Please save yourself the pain and opt for a flat or chunky heeled boot or walking shoe. Also make sure to pack sneakers or hiking boots if you plan on taking advantage of the beautiful trails. If you are visiting in September or October you can even optimistically throw a bathing suit in your suitcase.

Looking out over the Mediterranean at the Cap Canaille

Taste All The Wine

In my opinion you can’t miss the vineyards in the South of France in the autumn months. Even if you’re not a big drinker or wine connoisseur, the landscape and scenery alone is worth a day of touring around. Trust me, driving through the beautiful Plantane tree tunnels with their changing golden leaves is a magical experience you will not forget. Of course, it does help if you like wine (and have a reliable DD)!

There are basically two wine regions that are easy to visit from here:
Provence and the Rhone Valley.

Here is a comprehensive guide to the wine regions included in Provence. Personally, I enjoy the Bandol, Cassis, & Aix en Provence area (this includes my absolute FAVORITE vineyard Chateau LaCoste), particularly for rosé and white wines.

If you travel a bit north towards Avignon into the Rhône Valley you will find the prestigious region of Chateauneuf du Pape which is well known for it’s reds. You can visit the little town there and as you drive along the countryside roads you will pass vineyard after vineyard.

The Luberon region (within the Rhône) is also filled with vineyards – we had a great experience staying at Chateau Perreal, a vineyard with vacation rentals onsite (this is pretty common).

(From Top Left: Rosé at Chateau LaCoste, Foliage in Chateaneuf de Pape, Outside Chateau Perreal in the Luberon, Pool at Chateau Perreal at sunset.)

Visit Fairytale Towns

It’s no coincidence that painters like Van Gogh and Monet used the South of France as a consistent subject. The towns and landscapes here are right out of a painting! Speaking of Van Gogh, the town of Arles is home to the cafe that was the subject of his famous “Cafe Terrace at Night” and is worth seeing.

Other favorite towns in the region that are gorgeous during fall are Gordes, a postcard perfect perched village, Isle Sur La Sorgue, a tiny town filled with canals and antiques, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, a small hamlet with a “magical” natural fountain at the top of a hill. Honorable mentions include: Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Les-Baux-des-Provence, and Lourmarin.

The great thing about these towns is that a lot of them are close together so you can knock out several in a day, making the most of your vacation! I’ve put them on a google map you can reference below:

Also the larger cities of Aix en Provence and Avignon are worth spending at least a day visiting. Aix is great for shopping and Avignon is great for history (the immense Papal Palace there was the seat of the Catholic Church from 1309 to 1376).

Featured Post: My Favorite Spots in Provence

(From Top Left: Arles, Isle Sur La Sorgue, Aix en Provence, Walking in the Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, The Pool at Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, View of Gordes from outside the town)

Really Get to Know Marseille

I think Marseille is a completely underrated French city and you could spend days or weeks exploring it. If you are limited on time though, you can definitely get to see a lot of the main sites (Vieux Port, Notre Dame de la Garde, etc) in a few days.

I’ve written a large guide to visiting the city which includes all my favorite spots and you can find here, and an Instagram Guide to Marseille’s best photo ops here.

Featured Post: Why You Shouldn’t Skip Marseille

(From Top Left: Marseille’s Vieux Port, The funky Cours Julien Neighborhood, a street in the Panier Neighborhood).

Enjoy the Amazing Nature

This region is RICH in beautiful nature and scenery. For example, one of my favorite things to do here is visit the Calanques, a series of inlets that run along the Mediterranean coast from Marseille to Cassis. Most of them are only accessible by foot or boat. From Cassis (approx half hour drive from Marseille), you can take a Calanque Cruise, which will show you all the different Calanques from the boat. That option won’t allow you to swim in the Calanques, however it is a good option if you want to see them all in a shorter amount of time.

There are also plenty of options for hiking, one being the Mont Saint Victoire at the outskirts of Aix en Provence. This resource provides guides to other options in the area with detailed info on length, time and difficulty.

(From Top: Port Miou Calanque near Cassis, View of Marseille from the Mountains, Mont Sainte Victoire.)

Time to go!

In short, there are honestly so many activities to do in the South of France in the fall! Basically it’s hard to go wrong when planning your trip. I hope you consider visiting during this beautiful time and that this guide is a helpful starting guide to creating your perfect itinerary.

Bon voyage!

France Marseille Travel

Best Instagram Spots in Marseille, France

August 7, 2019

Looking for the best Instagram spots in Marseille, France? Look no further! Marseille: love it or hate it, there is no doubt the city certainly has a lot of character. It also has some beautiful and quirky photo ops.

While I have visited Marseille many times (my father-in-law is from here), there are spots that I continue to go back to for amazing views and photos. Here are some of my favorites:

LE PANIER

Le Panier is Instagram gold. Tiny streets with colorful facades and shutters, endless street art…it’s a visual wonderland for photographers. Getting here from the Vieux Port is an short walk. You can then easily spend a morning or afternoon exploring it’s charm.

In front of a colorful mural in the Panier

COURS JULIEN

This is my other favorite neighborhood due to it’s fun shops, bars and restaurants. It’s also a mecca for street art easily making it part of the best instagram spots in Marseille. If you come during a weekday you’ll have the tiny alleyways practically to yourself to photograph.

VIEUX PORT

A classic, but a good one. This is the iconic spot in Marseille to get shots of the harbor. You can see with the Notre Dame church perched on the hill. Stop by the Mucem where you’ll find an amazing wall that will make the perfect backdrop for your photo.

VALLON DES AUFFES

This adorable little port with colorful boats is a great place to come for photos. I love seeing the sunset from here! If you come in the evening you can try the famous Marseille Bouillabaisse at Chez Fon Fon. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a more budget friendly option, you can have pizza and rosé at Chez Jeannote.

ÎLE DE FRIOUL

Just a quick and inexpensive ferry ride from the Vieux Port. We found this amazing clear water (below) on the Frioul Island on Esteve Beach. Once the boat docks, turn right and follow the map path for a 20 minute walk to this beautiful beach (there are maps and signs). On the way you will also catch scenic vistas of the Marseille skyline. Other spots by the water include Callelongue, Les Goudes & the Calanque Sorimiou. (See my other post on Marseille for more information about the wonderful Calanques!)

Headed to Marseille? Don’t forget to Pin This for later!

France Provence Travel

My Favorite Spots in Provence

October 27, 2018

One of the reasons I love Marseille is it’s proximity to so many amazing towns & natural wonders! While I wouldn’t have enough info to write a detailed guide for each place, I thought I would do a little list for anyone traveling to the area that highlights towns I would recommend checking out..

We always have a car when we are there which makes traveling to the villages much easier, although some are accessible by train from Marseille. There are sooo many quaint little villages so I may expand this post eventually or write longer posts for specific villages. For my detailed Marseille city guide, please click here. ♥

AIGUE-MORTES/CAMARGUE

The Camargue is a really interesting region in Provence, known for it’s marshy land, birdwatching & wildlife, salt flats & quaint villages. We spent a day in the village of Aigue-Mortes which is an old medieval walled city with towers, lots of shops & restaurants. It is at the edge of a large pink body of water known as an Etang, or Lagoon that gets it’s color from the high concentration of salt in it. You can take a guided tour of the salt flats on a little train – cost is around 10 Euros. It was a neat and unique experience! You can also find wild pink flamingos as well as over 400 species of birds. Wild horses and cattle roam the rolling landscape, which looks a bit like a Monet painting. While in the area, you can also visit the village of Arles, made famous in part by Vincent Van Gogh’s painting “Cafe at Night” (you can actually visit the cafe where he based his painting off of – I’ve read that the food is not great so you can go for the picture only!). We ate at this very cozy Spanish tapas place in Arles called Bodeguita

AVIGNON

Avignon is a must see – about an hour and a half from Marseille on the Autoroute. It’s larger than the other villages I’ve recommended (more of a city) and has quite a rich history as well as nice shopping & restaurants. The city center is walled so when you arrive there are large parking lots between the city and the river that is priced very reasonably and you are able to leave your car and walk in. Once inside the city, it’s easy to spend hours walking around exploring. Place de l’Horloge is great for strolling or people watching from a cafe. Rue de la Republic has a lot of French stores & international Boutiques – you can also find many shops selling local products and souvenirs. Les Halles d’Avignon in Place Pie is a large vine covered market with 40 stalls selling local and regional food & wine.

Avignon was briefly home to the Catholic church, and you can see evidence of that in the form of the grand Papal Palace that sits in the center of the city. The palace is colossal and you can simply walk inside or you can pay an entrance fee to tour the museum, which I would recommend. Avignon is situated on the Rhone river, and you can take a boat tour around the city which is a nice way to spend an hour or so. There is also the famous Pont Saint-Bénézet, the inspiration for the song Sur la Pont’Avignon. You pay a small fee to walk on the bridge, but you get a headset which tells you all about the history as you walk on it.

AIX EN PROVENCE/PUYRICARD

Every time I’m in Marseille I make at least a few trips to Aix, about a half an hour away on the autoroute. A large University town in the middle of gorgeous countryside with charming pedestrian streets, Aix is what I would picture/describe as a classic Provence experience and it is absolutely lovely in my opinion. Since we usually just drive in for the day or the afternoon from Marseille we haven’t needed to stay overnight much. There have been a few occasions though where we have needed to book accommodations, including a week stay with our friends in a luxury villa outside of Aix (that was AMAZING but unfortunately got sold and I’m not sure if the new owner rents it out!) and an AirBnB for my Grandfather right in the heart of the city that he thought was great.

Like most French and European villages, one of the best things to do in Aix is wander the streets. There are so many great shops (from luxury, to bargain, to local artistsans & souvenir shops) and great places to stop and eat or drink. A tradition for us is getting a slice of Pizza at Pizza Capri on Rue Fabrot- with takeaway slices as big as your head – you will not regret it! Walk by the Place d’Albertas – an old brothel but now a nice little fountain square where people hang out and there is sometimes live music. Rue de la Verrerie has a lot of bars and a good Kebab shop. There is a large market on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays that is not to be missed.

One experience I highly recommend it Chateau LaCoste – a beautiful winery/restaurant/museum outside of Aix in Puyricard. I’ve been here several times and the grounds are beautiful, the wine is great and they have a lovely terrace restaurant where it’s nice to get lunch or aperitif.  There are also beautiful sculptures throughout the grounds and an art and architecture museum. During the summer they have movie showings on a large screen outside. It’s truly a wonderful place!

CASSIS

About a half an hour from Marseille along the beautiful (and winding!) Mediterranean coast. Cassis is a special place to me because I got engaged there, on the top of the Cap Canaille, which I highly recommend you visit for sunset. Cassis has more of a Riviera vibe being right on the sea and there are plenty of cafes and restaurants on the harbor where the people watching is excellent. Also there’s plenty of great boutique shopping in the village and there is usually a market in the Place Baragnon with art or different items depending on the day and time of year. There is a beach in the village, but if you feel like an easy hike you can visit my favorite calanque (see the Marseille post re: Calanques), Port Pin! There is a car park and a snack bar before the hike and it’s really not bad. The water there is gorgeous, just make sure you watch for jelly fish and you can because the water is CRYSTAL clear. You can also take a Calanque cruise if you prefer to see the Calanques by boat. If you decide to spend the night in the area, we stayed at a lovely B&B right after our engagement right outside the city center called Le Clos De Cigales.

LE CASTELLET

About 40 minutes from Marseille, this charming little village is easy to visit for an afternoon. Do not get confused, as there are apparently 2 places in France called Le Castellet, but I am recommending this one! Perched and walled, you park your car at the foot of the village in a car park and walk up and into the pedestrian streets. There are plenty of little gift and artisan shops and nice cafes, and the view is amazing. If you want to make a day of this area, there are tons of vinyards around as it is in the Bandol wine region. Also – there is a feral (?) cat colony there so you will see plenty of them roaming around, sleeping on your car, and some may let you pet them!

GORDES

One of France’s most picturesque perched villages, the breathtaking part of visiting Gordes will be your approach. Make sure to stop at the foot of the climb to the village and take photos! Once in the village it is mostly pedestrian and you will have your typical shops, cafes, restaurants, etc. It is very close to the famous Abbaye de Sénanque which you will most likely recognize as the church among the lavender fields in countless Provence posters, stock photos, etc.

ÎLE DE PORQUEROLLES

Lovely day trip from Marseille, drive to Hyères and you can take the ferry to this beautiful and virtually vehicle free island with a gorgeous beach. There are also dolphin watching excursions you can book from here, as well as biking, windsurfing, paddle boarding, etc.

LAC ST. CROIX/VERDON

The Gorges du Verdon are known as the Grand Canyon of France and are within 2 hours of Marseille. We rented kayaks with our friends during our summer group trip to Provence and had a great time paddling our way through the river running through the gorge. The water is a beautiful light green and there are plenty of caves and mini waterfalls to explore. It was pleasant and also a pretty good workout! There is also Lac St. Croix nearby which is a beautiful crystal lake with a beach where you can swim, camp and canoe. After our day of adventures we went to Sainte Croix du Verdon and had a magnificent dinner with a view overlooking the lake at Le Comptoir. I still think about the lavender honey & goat cheese bruschetta I ate there, and the view was truly unbeatable.

VALENSOLE/LAVENDER FIELDS

If you’ve ever dreamed of running through the never ending lavender fields of provence like you see in all of the posters/stock photos, this is the place to go! Lavender is in season June-August so if you are visiting in the summer be sure to check it out. You can find sprawling acres of fields around the village of Valensole, where you will also pass numerous farms/shops selling lavender honey and various other deliciously scented goodies. You can pull off the road to take pictures in the fields, and trust me you WILL have company! There are also many bees flying around the fields but they seem to be really focused on the lavender blossoms vs. stinging unsuspecting tourists. We made the mistake of having our windows down the first time we drove through and had a few bees fly into our car, so maybe only crack your windows or put on the AC :). After some photo ops we drove to the village of Puimoisson and had dinner on the lovely terrace of Cote Soleil, a simple and lovely pizza/french food place there.

Lavender fields near Puimoisson

THE VAR

The Var is a department that is included in the Provence Region and borders Bouche-de-Rhone (where Marseille is located). It is home to some beautiful countryside and quaint towns, including the towns of Tourtour and Correns which we spent a few days exploring. We stayed with friends in Correns (fun fact: this is where Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie got married at their winery Chateau Miraval) which was small & simple but was a great base for exploring the region. During our stay we visited Le Cascade de Sillons – an easy walk to a lush (and freezing) water hole where we had a lovely picnic. There is a gorgeous waterfall where brave travelers take the plunge and jump into the deep waters below. We went to Tourtour one day for lunch and it was such a charming village with amazing views of the valley below, shops , restaurants & a sprawling antique market.  

France Marseille Travel

Why You Shouldn’t Skip Marseille

October 7, 2018

A Bit of Background on Marseille, France

Headed to the South of France? I’m going to tell you why you shouldn’t skip Marseille. It’s a complex and beautiful place that I feel has somewhat of an unfair reputation. Not as shiny or neatly manicured as Nice or other places on the Riviera, it can be gritty. But it would definitely be a mistake to look it over! It has cool culture and sense of pride in it’s residents and it seems to me to be more real vs. the touristy Nice & Cannes.

Firstly, The location is amazing, right on the sea but surrounded by mountains. It’s absolutely full of great little pockets if you know where to look. Marseille is a huge port, and the population is a beautifully diverse mix of French and North African cultures. The more I spend time there, the more I love it and I am going to tell you why you’ll love it too. In addition, I would recommend watching the Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown Episode on Marseille if you can before you go. It’s a great little preview and commentary on the city!

Where to Stay

Apartment in Endoume | Rue des Flots Bleus, Marseille France

We are extremely lucky in that we always have a place to stay in Marseille with family. However, last fall we took a trip with my grandfather and rented a place that was in a better location for sightseeing and had a good experience. This apartment, while a bit dated in decor, was perfect for a stay with 2 couples or a family.  The view & terrace alone would alone would make me book it again. The location was right on the Corniche JFK near the Michelin starred restaurant Le Petit Nice. 

Cours Julien

This neighborhood is one of my favorites in the city, and would be a great place to stay and explore. For a New York reference: It’s like the east village of Marseille – lots of fun bars and restaurants, cute boutiques, graffiti, hipster/boho vibe. I love to walk around here and browse the shops – there are also plenty of good restaurants & bars here. If you book an AirBnB in this area it would be easy to walk to plenty of places. There is also a metro stop here so you can access other sites and areas easily through public transport (see below under TRANSPORT).



Booking.com

Where to Eat

Chez Ze | 402 Chemin de Morgiou, 13009 Marseille, France

Chez Ze is our absolute favorite restaurant in Marseille, a big part of it being the lovely terrace with a large tree growing out of it, providing shade. Even if you can’t sit on the terrace, the food is really good- I usually get a Salade Niçoise but they also have excellent pizza and pasta. It’s also at the foothill of a mountain where you can hike to the Calqanque Sormiou (see below under DO).

 UMMAGUMMA | rue des Trois Rois, 13006 Marseille, France

Cute place in the Cours Julien, delicious food & romantic/cozy atmosphere. As I recall, they give you a sample of house liquor with your meal.

Chez Jeannot | Vallon des Auffes, 13007 Marseille, France

The food here is fine but you really go for the location – right on the Vallon des Auffes which is a small port with ships where you can watch the sunset while enjoying your food. They have a little but of everything here – seafood, pizza (of course), traditional French, etc.

La Grotte | 1 Avenue des Pebrons, 13008 Marseille, France

This place is on the outskirts of Marseille in a small village called Callelongue. The restaurant is run by a family that has owned it for years, and the decor is regal. It’s in a great location right on the water and the food is pretty good. They have pizza (sensing a theme here) but also lots of local specialties and fresh seafood. If you go during the day, you can do a hike to the Calanque Marseilleveyre, enjoy the beach, and then finish your day with apéro and dinner at La Grotte.

Pastis: the drink of Marseille

Where to Go Out

The drink of Marseille is Pastis – a liquor with a slight licorice flavor that is mixed with water and served over ice. It’s not for everyone but you should try it once. I prefer it mixed with almond syrup, which is called a “Mauresque”. It’s usually only 1 or 2 euros at the bar! Also wine is generally very cheap, so even picking up a bottle at the store and drinking it on your terrace is really nice!

Fun areas to go out are the Cours Julien & the Vieux Port, Cours Julien has lots of little bars and pubs that you can walk to. The place below is a spot called Au Petit Nice where we’ve gotten a drink on occasion – they also have a big terrace that may or may not be open Also the Vieux Port has a lot of bars and restaurants, O’Malleys is one we’ve gone to a lot to watch games and get drinks

20000 Lieues | 12 boulevard Alexandre Delabre , 13008 Marseille, France

Another really neat bar that is a bit off the beaten path is in a cute little old fisherman’s village on the outskirts of Marseille called Les Goudes. It’s right on the water and feels like you’re in an old ship! Definitely a local spot – they serve food during the day, have outdoor seating and I think live music sometimes.

What to Do : Beaches & Calanques

The calanques are a series of inlets that run along the Mediterranean coast from Marseille to Cassis. If you like hiking, nature, and beautiful beaches, this is a must for any trip to the Marseille area. Most of them are only accessible by foot or boat. There are a few calanques that you can access around Marseille, which you will find more information on from the link above.

From Cassis (approx half hour drive from Marseille), you can take a Calanque Cruise, which will show you all the different Calanques from the boat. That option won’t allow you to swim in the Calanques, but is a good option if you want to see them all in a shorter amount of time. The tours are usually in French only :). Port Pin is my favorite Calanque in Cassis, and Sormiou is a great option in Marseille. Sormiou can also be accessed by car during peak season if you have reservations at the local restaurant there, or from October-Spring.

Marseille city has a few of it’s own beaches – Plage de la Pointe Rouge &  Plage du Prophete are the main ones. However, these beaches are not as clean and have more of a “city beach” feel. For a more pleasant beach experience I would recommend hiking to a calanque in Marseille or Cassis.

What to Do : In Marseille

Vieux Port 

The “Old Port” of Marseille, lots of shops, restaurants, sometimes markets. Fun to walk around and take in all the sights and sounds

MuCem 

Mediterranean Culture Museum near Vieux Port, cool architecture – great to even just walk around if you don’t feel like going in

Notre Dame de la Garde

Large church of Marseille, France that sits on a hill – there’s a cute little touristy train you can take up the hill which is fun – I don’t think it’s too far from the Cours Julien to walk to the base of the hill.

Chateau D’If 

Island off the coast of Marseille – it’s an old prison and the site of Monte Cristo! There is a museum and tour. You can take a ferry from the Vieux port. In addition, the The ferry also goes to the Frioul which is another island with a nice beach.

Colorful Street in the Cours Julien

Where to Shop

Cours Julien

Mostly boutiques and fun vintage/antique stores. One of my favorites is Fifty Balloons, I’ve bought a few things there over the years.

Le Pleine Market 

Large open air market where you can find everyone from produce, to shoes to beauty products! Every Tuesday and Thursday in the Cours Julien. Just really watch yourself there- I’ve always felt safe but it is very crowded so bring only a small purse (if any) and keep it very close to you just in case. There is a Pizza truck there called Pizza Claude and his pizza is AMAZING fyi.

Vieux Port Rue Saint Ferreol 

Large shopping street near Vieux Port. Has lots of European chains. There are also lots of little shops and markets selling souvenirs.

Safety

Like any big city, Marseille has it’s share of crime. In general, I feel very safe in Marseille and I would just follow the common sense rules of going out in a city. Stay in well lit and well populated areas & keep your belongings close to your body. You might also see armed guards at places like tourist spots & train stations – they carry machine guns which can look intimidating, but that’s just how they all are and there are more of them because of the European attacks in the past few years. Avoid the Quartier Nord.

Transportation

Marseille’s Metro system is really simple. There are only 2 lines: Red and Blue. The metro tickets are 1 or 2 Euros each and you can purchase them on the machines in the station (which you can set to English). For example, if you stayed in the Cours Julien, you would be near stop Notre Dame du Mont Which is only 2 stops from the main train station. At that stops you could switch to the blue line which would bring you to the Vieux Port. I’ve ridden it by myself many times – like anywhere just be alert and mind your belongings.

Want to read about my favorite spots in Provence? Click here!

Planning your trip to Provence in the fall? I have a great guide for you here.

Can’t wait to visit Marseille? Don’t forget to pin this post!