Exploring Marseille: The Charm of Beaches, Bouillabaisse, and Vibrant Street Art on the French Riviera

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Produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK), this article delves into Marseille’s rich character.

“Marseille possesses a distinctive identity,” comments local tour guide Alexandra Blanc Véa, as we explore the graffiti-laden Cours Julien district. Though born in Paris, she’s been living in Marseille for over two decades, showing me streets vibrant with protest art, leading to the striking mural “Man vs Wild,” painted by Mahn Kloix, depicting a swimmer approaching a giant turtle.

“Marseille may be loved or disliked, but indifference isn’t an option,” Alexandra emphasizes. With a storied past, receiving more sunshine than any other place in France, the city offers a sparkling harbor, delectable seafood, and proximity to the raw beauty of Calanques National Park. Though parts of the city show signs of decay due to a mid-20th-century economic downturn, recent improvements are noticeable. Marseille’s rough-and-tumble image distinguishes it from other French cities, a mix of grit and grandeur.

The city’s vibrant street art finds ample material in Cours Julien, where lively streets connect to a hub filled with lively bars and restaurants, and nearly every concrete surface serves as a canvas for creative expressions.

Marseille’s young, modern soul is alive in the hilltop neighborhoods, while the cinematic ‘Old Port’ vibrates with the sounds of boats, cafes, and fishermen. The city is the birthplace of bouillabaisse, a traditional seafood stew, invented by local fishermen.

Maritime heritage defines Marseille, with grand forts guarding the harbor and small, rugged islands dotting the glittering sea. Founded 2,600 years ago by the Greek-speaking Phocaeans, its position on the Mediterranean has made it a melting pot of people, goods, and ideas. However, its tough image led it to be overshadowed by Cannes and Nice.

2013 marked a transformation when Marseille was declared the European Capital of Culture, attracting attention with architectural marvels like the Mucem museum and the Villa Méditerranée. Ten years on, as host to games in the 2023 Rugby World Cup, the spotlight returns.

What to Experience:

  • Mucem: A museum celebrating Mediterranean culture, bridging the old and new.
  • Street Art Tour: Explore the vibrant identity of Marseille with Alexandra’s guided tours.
  • Le Panier: Stroll through Marseille’s oldest district, filled with art and architecture.
  • City Beaches: Relax on one of Marseille’s 21 beaches.
  • Château d’If: Explore the fortress that inspired “The Count of Monte Cristo.”
  • Calanques National Park: Discover cliffs and coves in this unique landscape.

Where to Shop:

  • Torrefaction Noailles: Coffee and chocolate delights.
  • Savonnerie Marseillaise de la Licorne: Traditional soaps of Marseille.
  • Trois Fenêtres: A craft store celebrating Mediterranean tones.

Where to Eat:

  • Au Comptoir du Livre: A quirky café and bookstore.
  • Restaurant Fémina: North African cuisine.
  • Miramar: A masterful presentation of bouillabaisse.

Local Insights:

  • Secluded Harbour: Visit Vallon des Auffes.
  • Pizza Passion: Enjoy wood-fired pizzas at La Bonne Mère.
  • Market Scenes: Explore various lively markets.

Accommodations:

  • Hôtel Le Corbusier: Stay in a UNESCO-listed building.
  • Maison Montgrand: Enjoy modern comfort in historical surroundings.
  • Sofitel Marseille Vieux Port: Luxurious harbor views.

After Hours:

  • La Maison Hantée: Experience eclectic live music.
  • L’Abri: Savor wine made on site.
  • Beer District: Choose from over 25 different beers.

This content was sponsored by Atout France UK and Marseille Tourisme and appeared in the September 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK).

To subscribe to National Geographic Traveller (UK) magazine, click here. (Availability may vary by location).

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5 comments

Sara Williams August 20, 2023 - 7:30 pm

Wow! never thought about it that way, this changes everything for me. Thanks for sharing

Reply
Michael Johnson August 20, 2023 - 11:10 pm

didnt quite get the point of this one but it’s probably just me, Maybe someone can explain it better?

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John Smith August 20, 2023 - 11:31 pm

really enjoed reading this but some of the infomation was kinda confusing, could use better explanantion

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Robert Thompson August 20, 2023 - 11:32 pm

this is something new to me and i loved it, learnt so much from this, looking forward to more like this.

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Emma Davis August 21, 2023 - 5:16 am

I think the author did a great job but missed some key facts, Otherwise, it’s a good read.

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