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marseille
marseille
07.25.13

As the country’s second largest metropolis, Marseille bustles with activity and exudes historic appeal as an ancient seaport. It’s also the gateway to the Provence region in southeastern France, known for its French flair and charm. Read these tips to find out how to see Marseille from its best angles—by foot, bike, train or vintage car.

Petit Train Tour

Although it may seem touristy, the blue-and-white Petit Train delivers great bang for the buck. This open-air tram travels along two routes for just 7 or 8 euros (approx. $9.12 or $10.42 U.S.), depending which route you take. The first (and best value) travels from Vieux Port (old port) along the Corniche (sea road) before climbing to Notre Dame de la Garde, Marseille’s famous basilica on the hill that keeps watch over the city. Hop off the tram to admire the lovely mosaics inside and the spectacular views outside. The Petit Train’s second route heads to the old town-district of Le Panier. Listen to entertaining stories (in English) as you roll past the city’s neighborhoods, churches and ancient buildings.

Take a Walk with a Local

When you travel, it’s great to have a local show you the ropes. In Marseille, they’ve made this good idea accessible to everyone. The Marseille Provence Greeters organizes free walks with local volunteers (greeters) who take you to hidden places and favorite haunts, while sharing insider info and stories of the Marseille-Provence region. Extending a warm and friendly welcome, the greeters help you get familiarized with Marseille and unlock its charm on fun walks that focus on topics from architecture and stairways to football and sardine banquets. Be sure to wear good walking shoes. If you enjoy your walk, make a donation to the cause on the spot with your greeter, or via the website.

Specialties to Sample

Marseille’s maritime location makes it an excellent place to enjoy seafood and French-Mediterranean cuisine, along with several other regional specialties:

  • Aioli: A garlic sauce traditionally served with vegetables and dried cod that is rumored to have originated in Marseille.
  • Bouillabaisse: This famous, flavorful Provençal fish stew originated in Marseille. Made of various fish, shellfish, vegetables, regional herbs and spices, it’s traditionally served with la rouille (a mayonnaise of olive oil, garlic, saffron and cayenne pepper) on bread similar to crostini.
  • Daube: Stewed lamb or beef with olives and carrots.
  • Langoustine: The French name for scampi, a small pink-orange lobster that resembles a large prawn.
  • Moules MariniÀre / Moules frites: Mariner’s mussels are steamed and served in white wine sauce. If you order moules frites, you’ll get mussels with fries.
  • Navettes: Sweet biscuits flavored with orange blossom and shaped to resemble navettes (little rowboats). Le Four des Navettes bakery near the Abbey of St. Victor has been baking this local treat since 1781.
  • Patis: A strong, anise-flavored alcoholic drink made in Marseille that’s popular as an aperitif.
  • Pieds et paquets: Rolled, triangular packets of lamb tripe stuffed with bacon and parsley sauce.

Get Around with Le Vélo

It’s easy and affordable to get around Marseille by bike. The city has 130 cycle rental stations and plenty of bike paths. You can buy a 7-day subscription online or at any Le Vélo station for just 1 euro (approx. $1.33 U.S.). Once you subscribe, you can use the service as often as you like for seven consecutive days. The first 30 minutes of each trip are free for subscribers; afterwards, there’s a 1-euro charge for every hour the bike is in use. If you don’t return the bike by midnight (when the stations close), you’ll be charged for an extra day.

Weather & Wear

Fall is a fabulous time to visit Marseille. The summer crowds have dissipated and the high heat has turned to a warm glow. Temperatures hover from 52°F to 68°F (11°C to 20°C) between September and November, with an average of 6 to 9 days of rainfall per month (October is the wettest). But since the Provence region claims to enjoy a remarkable 300 sunny days each year, warm and breezy days are common.

While not as fashion-focused as Parisians, Marseille locals generally dress nicely. Jeans, skirts and capris are fine for sightseeing, while a dressier ensemble is best for dining out at night. Walking shoes are crucial to navigating Marseille’s many cobblestone streets and staircases, but remember that the French reserve tennis shoes for the gym. Cool fall evenings—especially in November—call for warm cardigans, sweaters or vests, and a stylish jacket that works in the rain. For added protection from the elements, pack one of our handy travel umbrellas.

MuCEM – 2013 Grand Opening

Occupying over 430,000 sq. ft. of space on the Vieux-Port waterfront, the brand new MuCEM (Museum of Civilizations from Europe and the Mediterranean) just opened its doors in June. This impressive cultural spot has a footbridge that links the 12th-century Fort Saint-Jean with a modernist cube covered in concrete latticework that resembles lace. Inspired by the rocky seaside landscape of Marseille, architect Rudy Ricciotti fashioned the building to represent stone, wind and water. Inside, you’ll find exhibitions that focus on the history and diversity of Mediterranean civilization, as well as restaurants, a café, gift shop and garden.

Le TGV – Riding the Silver Bullet

The French electric bullet train has whisked passengers from Paris to Lyon since 1981. Regularly reaching speeds of 200 mph, the TGV—Train à Grande Vitesse (high-speed train)—has a network that currently includes 149 destinations, with more to come. On the TGV, a journey from Paris to Marseille takes just three hours. Of course you can fly, but the train offers spectacular views of the French countryside (not visible by air) and a state-of-the-art travel experience.

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