Marseille City Guide: Cultural Highlights of France’s Oldest Metropolis

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Marseille is a thriving and rapidly evolving city that is becoming as famous for its beautiful cuisine using the finest local seafood as it is for its rich history. This guide showcases some of the best things to see, do and eat in this exciting city.

What to See

Viex Port

viex port

Marseille’s vibrant focal point for everything from protest to celebration, the Old Port remains the centre of life in this bustling city. Timing is key when it comes to making the most of a visit to the port, with the early morning offering the tantalising sights of fishermen hawking their wares and later, the seductive bustle of a city coming alive after dark. A lot of business has been diverted away from the port now, and the waterside has been extensively refurbished for pedestrians to enjoy. Sculptures, street musicians, concerts and dance performances can be found throughout the warmer months, delighting the senses around every turn. The fish market is still located at the top of the port, and still gives a salty taste of old Marseilles.

Chateau d’If

Head out of the city and straight into the exciting world of The Count of Monte Cristo, with a trip to the infamous Chateau d’If. Famous for being the setting of Alexander Dumas’ iconic novel, the island fortress once served as a prison for political and religious captives. Built by Francis I between 1524 and 1531, it can now be more accurately described as picturesque than formidable. Looking out over the Old Port, Notre Dame de la Garde and Fort Saint-Jean, this tiny island offers some of the best views in Marseille.

chateau d'if marseille

Cathedrale de la Nouvelle Major

Marseille boasts two magnificent landmark cathedrals, but the imposing Cathedrale de la Nouvelle Major really is a sight to behold. The enormous stripy cathedral is built in the neo-Byzantine style from green Florentine stone and Carrara marble. Although Napoleon III laid the foundation stone in 1852, the structure wasn’t completed until the end of the 19th century. The interior is flanked by spectacular mosaics, and the remnants of the original 12th-century Romanesque church that was partly demolished to make way for the cathedral can be seen inside.

What to Do

Visit Regards de Provence

Once Marseille’s Station Sanitaire, where immigrants arriving in France were ‘disinfected’ and given medical treatment, sometimes with products used to treat cattle, Regards de Provence now serves to educate. Enjoy the fascinating documentary about Marseille’s history as the gateway to Europe and learn more about this historic city. The building itself is also a fine example of early modernist architecture, and has been totally refurbished to accommodate various historical and artistic exhibitions. Plus, the café is delightful and offers a wonderful view of Cathedrale de la Nouvelle Major.

Explore the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations

One of Marseille’s cultural highlights, the MuCEM offers a variety of fascinating and varied exhibitions. A range of art, archaeology and history displays can usually be found, giving new perspectives and contemporary commentary on Mediterranean culture. The building itself has become a landmark of the area, with its looming black façade standing in contrast to the sparkling waters of the bay. There is a well-stocked bookstore for intellectual keepsakes, and the restaurant is overseen by three Michelin-starred chef Gérald Passédat.

Take a Boat Trip Around Calanques

The unbelievably beautiful Calanques National Park is an unmissable escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. It can be explored by hiking, car or bus, but one of the best ways to see the magnificent white cliffs rising out of the azure ocean is definitely by boat. The National Park is home to some of the most beautiful beaches around, so be sure to book a tour that stops off for the chance to have a refreshing swim in those pristine waters. Wildlife is plentiful, and you’re as likely to see a Bonelli’s Eagle as you are an intrepid rock climber up among the cliffs.

calanques

Where to Eat

Chez Fonfon  

Chez Fonfon is a Marseille institution for a reason, and that reason is their exemplary bouillabaisse. This staple Marseille delicacy has been fine tuned to perfection by Chez Fonfon, combining five varieties of rockfish with a heavenly fish broth. Other local seafood is also showcased on the menu, with sole, seabream and sea bass all cooked to perfection and available depending on the day’s catch. The restaurant is located in Vallon des Auffes, a small and picturesque port that provides the perfect backdrop to this authentic traditional cuisine.

L’Epuisette

Although L’Epuisette’s views over the ocean are breath taking, you’ll be too busy marvelling at the outstanding seafood dishes on offer to notice. Boasting some of the finest seafood in the south of France, chef Guillaume Sourrieu works with the local small-boat catch of the day to create stunning dishes that showcase the best of Marseille’s local produce. Choose from classic dishes of the region such as bourride or mussels in a garlic broth, or let the produce shine out with the expertly cooked catch of the day. Marseille cuisine is famous for its world class seafood, and you’re unlikely to taste better than what is offered in this sought-after restaurant.

Pizzeria Chez Etienne

If Marseille dining has left you experiencing a seafood overdose, head to this delightful family-owned restaurant for an authentic sample of how southern Italian flavours have evolved among immigrants to the city. The restaurant is much loved among locals, offering wood oven baked pizzas and a delightful wine selection. It is a no-fuss experience and service tends to be a little hectic, but it’s reassuring to know that it isn’t personal and the food makes it well worth the matter-o- fact reception.

If a trip to Marseilles sounds like an offer you can’t resist, why not book one of our beautiful cruises that will let you sample the best of the region?  Browse our range of Mediterranean cruises or call our friendly team on 1300 857 345.

Image credits: Patrick Gaudin, Robert Cudmore

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About Author

Alyssa Beit

Alyssa lives in Sydney, NSW. Born on the 14th October and is a Social and Human Service Assistant at Cruise 1st Australia. She is in her early 40’s and loves tranquility on luxury cruises.

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