Welcome to Marseille so Many Reasons to Visit
France’s second-largest city – Marseille – had an image problem, not helped by its setting for gangster and crime movies. But ask any local this city is pure magic. Situated on the Mediterranean, Marseille residents can swim at their favourite beach before work and watch the sunset at another with a glass of pastis in hand. The culinary “home” to bouillabaisse is a gastronomic paradise with city markets carrying a cross-section of exotic and local food.
Marseille the Phoenix
Marseille rose to centre stage in 2013 as the European Capital of Culture that year. The exact value of total funds dispensed for urban infrastructure projects, new art exhibition space, and other enhancement work would require a forensic accountant. The results of this massive undertaking unveiled Marseille’s sparkle to the world.
We turned to the co-founders Christopher Curtis and Laurent Nurisso of boutique travel company OohProvence for their tips on what to do and see from Marseille. Both Christopher and Laurent are registered French tour guides. They launched OohProvence, in 2018 and have since received a steady stream of clients from around the globe. Available in English or French, the OohProvence excursions include half-day walking circuits in famous Provencal cities, full-day driving tours of the region, and customized itineraries. Read more about OohProvence tours here.
Locals Love Marseille
How do you describe Marseille?
Marseille is a rough diamond of a city; its diversity comes with a big heart. Beyond the bravado, you’ll experience a warm and diverse culture unique in the oldest city of France. The town has rough edges, but take the time to look closely, and you’ll discover urban charms you won’t find elsewhere. Marseille is the gateway to the continent of Africa.
What do locals love most about Marseille?
Local people love their football and all the cliché things that Marseille is famous for – like pastis, of course. Overall, you find that Marseille’s residents are proud of their city and its heritage. The locals are warm and open to showing people what makes the city so different than, say, Paris or Lyon. They will joke with you that Marseille is the true south and anything above Avignon is the north!
Is there a must-see attraction in Marseille?
You can’t visit Marseille without a visit to the top of the hill to the Basilique Notre Dame de La Garde. Set high up on the hill overlooking the city and the sea. Notre Dame’s views are spectacular over Marseille’s entire bay, and you get a perspective of this sprawling Mediterranean city.
Do not miss Fort St-Jean and the MuCEM museum. Discover the public gardens located on the top level of the old fort. Along with the MuCEM rooftop, these gardens are public spaces, so you’re free to enter and wander around. Fort St-Jean once guarded the city entrance, and the gardens have stunning views over the old port, Le Panier, the old town looking towards La Joliette and the newer part of the city.
Marseille for Food Lovers
Do you have a favourite market in Marseille?
Noailles is the traditional North African market. This market is attractive as it’s in the city’s centre and close to the old port. It is here where you begin to understand the intersection of North Africa and southern France’s cultures. The market is full of fruits and vegetables and has a real vibe, like the small streets nearby. We also like the flower market at Castellane, particularly in the early spring when the mimosas are blooming. These beautiful yellow flowers herald the start of the Mediterranean springtime. For local produce, head to the weekend market in L’Estaque.
If you are going for lunch with friends, where would you recommend?
L’Estaque is a small fishing port on the north side of the city with many simple, inexpensive restaurants and cafés. Combine your meal with a walk tracing the footsteps of the 19th-century painters (such as Paul Cézanne) who painted here.
At the other end of the bay, discover the little fishing village of Les Goudes. This charming old fishing port is full of restaurants that sell the freshest of fish caught the same morning. Bar des Goudes is a favourite.
Where is your go-to spot for an apero?
Just follow the coastline from the old port out towards the Calanque national park, there are so many small bars even pubs for a beer or a glass of wine. Les Goudes has a popular roadside bar overlooking the port, and it’s a great place to watch the sunset over the sea.
Where do you like to go for dinner with friends?
Cours Julien is a city square surrounded by small restaurants and cafés. There are traditional restaurants and plenty of other options. It is hard to pick a favourite, but there is a great Italian deli-restaurant with a garden at the back. In the surrounding streets, you find a Spanish tapas bar near a street full of Asian restaurants. For a real treat, try Les Bar des Goudes for ‘Bourride,’ a kind of fish stew or the traditional Bouillabaise.
Touring from Marseille
When clients are looking for day-trip ideas from Marseille, what do you recommend?
I like to propose a wine and food tour in and around Aix-en-Provence and Mont St Victoire as this captures all the flavours and essence of Provence, and the scenery is spectacular!
This OohProvence full-day tour provides guests with a great combination of beautiful scenery and, of course, a bit of wine tasting:
A unique wine tour in the scenic landscape of Mont Sainte Victoire area the inspiration for post-impressionist artist Paul Cézanne, who painted many pictures of the mountain from 1880. The Côtes de Provence Sainte Victoire vineyards located east of Aix-en-Provence considered some of the most natural in France, due to the drying effects of the Mistral wind & shallow rocky soils, formed by limestone & sandstone which produces high-quality vines. Learn about the characteristics of the land, explore the winemaking process whilst visiting the cellars of three different vineyards. Meet the winemakers, taste the wines – full-bodied reds, subtle elegant rosés & distinctive whites. In the middle of the day, lunch to sample local provençal cuisine – an exceptional day out sampling the delights of good food & wine and discovering the delights of Cézanne country in the heart of Provence.
If you only have a few hours to spare, book the Classic Old Town Aix Tour:
See the iconic sights of Aix-en-Provence including the baroque and rococo 17th & 18th-century hôtels particular in the Quartier Mazarin, stroll along Cours Mirabeau a wide walkway shaded by rows of lush plane trees, mansions & restaurants. Wander and notice the city’s famous fountains many Roman springs that have been hydrating Aix for thousands of years. We will visit the gardens of Pavillon Vendôme, La cathédrale Saint-Sauveur, Le Tour de l’Horloge & l’Hotel de Ville (circa 1510) and the adjoining Provençal markets and a number of local shops selling high-quality local produce.
If clients want to visit a traditional Provencal market, which one would you recommend?
Without a doubt, Aix-en-Provence as it’s a beautiful Provençal town full of history, culture, small shops and boutiques, street markets. Aix is a great town to wander and experience the flavours of Provence.
What are your favourite villages near Marseille?
L’Isle sur la Sorgue: For its beauty, tranquillity, the river running through it, the antique shops, street markets and choice of lunchtime restaurants and cafes.
Lourmarin: For the castle, the old village streets, the Friday morning market and the lively cafés and bistros.
Cassis: Although busy in the summer, this town, with its lovely location and unique backdrop, is an excellent place for people-watching and seafood.
Puyloubier: Set against the backdrop of Mont St Victoire, this village is not touristy. Enjoy lunch at the restaurant next to the fountain in the village square in the Platanes’ shade (Plane trees).
What activities would you suggest for a week in the region?
- Relax, enjoy and walk around in either Marseille or Aix-en-Provence.
- Visit the Luberon villages of L’Isle sur la Sorgue, Gordes, Fontaine de Vaucluse and Lourmarin.
- Discover the Roman town of Arles, “capital” of the Camargue.
- Spend another day exploring Aix-en-Provence or Marseille.
- Take the train or the bus to Cassis, the beach, the old port and a boat trip to visit the Calanques National Park.
- Explore Avignon and Villeneuve Les Avignon for the history, architecture, and street culture.
Local’s tip – you might need an extra week!
And the Wine
Do you have vineyards that you like to visit with clients?
Château la Coste has fine wine, modern architecture & contemporary art in harmony with the Provençal landscape and great food options.
Domaine St Ser is a small vineyard set against the backdrop of Mont St Victoire. They produce excellent wines and a stunning location.
Château Grande Boise is opposite Mont St Victoire. The wines are outstanding, particularly the reds, and they have a selection of local produce available for purchase. We also enjoy a meal in their brasserie.
The Navettes de Marseille are sweet biscuits from the region found at markets and some pastry shops. These dull, cream-coloured cookies are almost hard enough to break your teeth. The navettes are the culinary representation of the modest boat believed to have transported St Lazarus and the two “Marys,” Saint Mary Magdalene and Saint Martha to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer some 2000 years ago. Or, in contemporary terms, a cross between a canoe and a rowing boat.
Our list of must-see highlights of Marseille.
Palais Longchamp was never a palace or even a private residence. The structure is an architectural folly. The structure was built to celebrate water’s arrival to a perennially plagued city where drought conditions and health epidemics.
There are four islands in the Iles de Frioul archipelago. Ferries run from the Vieux Port regularly during the summer months. You can easily spend a day hiking the trails or lounging on the beaches of Ratonneau. Do not miss visiting If, the smallest island with the fortress-prison Château d’If (home of fictional character Count of Monte Cristo).
Exploring with OohProvence
Christopher Curtis and Laurent Nurisso closed their design boutiques, put their possessions in storage, packed-up and drove from London to Provence. Their friends in England thought they were crazy, relocating to Marseille in 2013. However, Christopher and Laurent felt that the gritty port city’s transformation into the glittering European Capital of Culture was a sign of opportunities. Trading cloudy skies for the sunny south and a more relaxed lifestyle was pure joy – OohProvence! (pronounced O Provence.)
OohProvence experiences allow visitors to feel the soul of Provence at a relaxed pace. These guided tours include iconic sites, Roman engineering marvels, chic 17th-century neighbourhoods, the Papal Palace, the perched villages of the Luberon and Vaucluse, and the renowned Provencal markets. Expect OohProvence outings to dive below the surface, providing a glimpse of Provence’s unexpected and true essence. Join OohProvence to discover the secrets and to experience the region beyond the stereotypical itineraries.