As the gateway to Provence and the south of France, Marseille is an exciting cosmopolitan port and a popular stop on European cruise itineraries. With a busy harbor and vibrant urban energy, Marseilles appeals to visitors seeking a genuine South of France experience.
Marseille is France’s oldest and second-largest city and Europe’s third-largest port. It has a vast history stretching back more than 2,000 years to its foundation by the Greeks in the 6th century BC. This city blends ancient charm with Provencal beauty.
Marseille’s Vieux Port (Old Port), is one of the most picturesque parts of the city and is the tourism mecca of Marseilles. It’s ideal for wandering along the waterfront walkways lined with cafés, bars, and restaurants. On a hilltop south of the Old Port is the Notre Dame de la Garde, Marseille’s most visited and important landmark. The Romano-Byzantine basilica dates back to the 19th century and is best known for its grand bell tower capped with a gleaming gold statue of the Virgin and Child dominating the Marseille skyline. Le Panier is the oldest district of the city with beautiful buildings, charming squares, and narrow streets. The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations (MuCEM) stands at the entrance to the port of Marseille. It is the first national museum dedicated to European and Mediterranean civilizations. Weaving down the coast from the Old Port is La Corniche, a picturesque seaside walkway, and roadway that winds along the Mediterranean coast offering stunning views.
Nicknamed ‘La Cité Phocéene’, Marseille is a great seafood destination, offering an extraordinary mix of local cuisine and reflecting the deep-rooted influences from Spain, Italy, and North Africa. The signature dish of Marseille is without a doubt the savory bouillabaisse. This savory fish stew is packed with an array of local seafood including clams, white fish, mussels, or lobster, and the broth is flavored with fennel and pastis, a local licorice-flavored liqueur. Dive in with a crusty baguette and a glass of wine for the full experience. The late Anthony Bourdain described Marseille as a 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!”
Just outside of Marseille is Calanques National Park renowned for its beautiful landscapes, exceptional biodiversity, and cultural heritage. It’s a must-see natural wonder. with landscapes that are absolutely unique., Coastal massifs are peppered with calanques (narrow, steep-walled inlets), its submarine canyon, and its many islands including the island of the famous Château d’If (If Castle), a 16th-century fortress immortalized in The Count of Monte Cristo as the prison where the novel’s hero, Edmond Dantès, was incarcerated before ultimately escaping.
Marseille is also the gateway to Provence providing easy access to fascinating cities such as Avignon. Set on the banks of the Rhône and surrounded by medieval stone ramparts, Avignon comes with a fascinating history. Its 12th-century architecture makes the city look and feel like the backdrop of a medieval fairy tale. In the 14th century, Avignon was the most important city in Europe. Some of the most breathtaking sites are the Palais des Papes (Pope’s Palace) the icon of the city, Notre Dame-des-Doms (Our Lady of the Doms), an impressive Romanesque cathedral containing the elaborate tombs of popes Jean XXII and Benoît XII and the Pont d’Avignon (Avignon Bridge), which provides gorgeous views and picturesque strolls on top of the bridge. These sites are all within the historic town center and have been given UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
In 2013 Marseille was honored with the title of European Capital of Culture. Marseille is a marquis destination that is much more than a convenient gateway city to Provence. With its laid-back vibe shaped by 300 days of sunshine, a visit here will be memorable. You will be back!
Video credits: Vimeo – Mayeul Akpovi (Marseille in Motion) and Product Air (Avignon)