Marseille is the oldest city in France; nestled between the Mediterranean and rocky hills of limestone. Marseille was founded in 600 BCE as a port city by Greek sailors from Phocaea in Asia Minor. The sailors called their new city Massalia, which is where the city gets its current name from. There is also some archaeological evidence that suggests that the Phoenicians may have settled in Marseille much earlier than the Greek sailors.
As a Roman city, Marseille rose in prominence and became a major trading center. During the late 18th century, Marseille was a focal point of the French Revolution. Today, Marseille is France’s largest city on the Mediterranean coast and the largest port for commerce, freight, and cruise ships.
Two 17th-century defensive fortresses that dominate the charming Vieux Port, or Old Port: Fort of Saint Jean that was built in 1660 by Louis XIV at the entrance to the Old Port that defended the north gateway; and the star-shaped, 17th-century St. Nicholas Fort built by Louis XIV in 1660.
Fort of Saint Jean
Star-shaped Fort Saint Nicholas
In 2013, it earned the title of Europe’s City of Culture, with a 6 billion euro regeneration project. The waterfront area got a face lift and the city got glittering new museums and public spaces. The crowning jewel in Marseille’s new crown is the MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations).
The natural harbor is packed with watercraft; sleek elegant yachts and old fishing vessels. Its picturesque quay, built on the order of Louis XII and Louis XIII, is one of the world’s most romantic walks, lined with dozens of cafés and shops.
Board the Marseille Hop-On Hop-Off Bus and Tour the following stops:
- Vieux Port
- Métro – Vieux Port
- Fort Saint-Nicolas
- Vallon des Auffes
- Corniche Talabot
- Parc Borely
- Oriol Corniche
- Notre Dame de la Garde
- Corderie Saint Victor
- Gabriel Péri / République
- Place de la Joliette
- Fort Saint Jean / MUCEM
Marseille, is also the capital of the Provence region. The rejuvenated southeastern coastal city has experienced a cultural renaissance. It is known for its sunny climate and lovely coastline.
Marseille is a historic port city. I love the area known as the Vieux Port, or Old Port, where the Greeks landed in 600 BC.
You can take a scenic ride along the Corniche du Président John Fitzgerald Kennedy, with lovely views of offshore islands and the shimmering Mediterranean coastline.
Monument aux morts de l’Armée d’Orient et terres lointaines; La Porte d’Orient (The Gate of East) was erected in 1927 by the architect Gaston Castel who also reconstructed the Municipal Opera and the prison of Baumettes. Located at Square du Lieutenant Danjaume, Corniche Kennedy.
The statue was inaugurated by Gaston Doumergue, the president of France, and was created to commemorate the soldiers of all faiths who died for France in North Africa during World War I.
Visit the splendor of Notre Dame de la Garde, the most magnificent building of its kind in southern France. Built in the mid-1800s in Roman-Byzantine style.
This basilica displays a statue of the Virgin Mary on the top of its bell tower.
In downtown Marseille, enjoy some free time among the numerous lively cafés, restaurants and quaint streets of this famous bustling port.
Dine like a Marseillaise, with a hearty bowl of Bouillabaisse. The Vino con Vista horseshoe-shaped Vieux Port is brimming with trendy outdoor restaurants where you can indulge is some flavorful and decadent authentic bouillabaisse.
In Marseille, the broth is served first in a soup plate with slices of bread and rouille, then the fish is served separately on a large platter. I like La Miramar at 12 quai du Port.
The Restaurant Scene in Marseille
For years there were just two or three places in town with a Michelin star. But in the 2019 Michelin guide there were six restaurants.
Le petit Nice continues to amaze me. For a fabulous Vino con Vista, dine at Le Petit Nice where chef “Gérald Passédat presents the Petit–Nice Passédat Hotel in Marseille, in an elegant hotel located in two villas from 1910 that overlook the Mediterranean Sea.
Le Petit Nice in Marseilles is a Michelin 3 Star restaurant:
AM par Alexandre Mazzia, pictured, earned a richly deserved promotion from one to two stars.
There are now four more restaurants with one star each: L’Epuisette; Lévy’s Alcyone, the restaurant at Marseille‘s new five-star hotel, the InterContinental Hôtel Dieu; Une Table, au Sud on the Old Port which was taken over by a young chef, Ludovic Turac, in early 2013.
Have a Vino con Vista at Une Table; au Sud in Marseille. “Ludovic Turac, who in 2015 became the youngest starred chef in France, chose Une Table au Sud to perfect his talent. A bird’s eye view of the Old Port and a grandiose view of la Bonne Mère never cease to inspire this daring chef who would not be cooking anywhere else.”
In 2019 Saisons, in the Castellane district was added.
Gene Hackman ‘s Oscar -winning performance in The 1971 French Connection cult-thriller was filmed in Marseilles. Get a City Pass so you can see all the places that Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) visited in Marseille. The City Pass is available at the Tourist Office; admission to the museums and unlimited public transportation are included.
Head over to the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) and take a selfie with the statue of Louis XIV. The town hall building, located in the historic center of Marseille, is one of the oldest in the city. It was built in the second half of the XVII century: the work began in 1653 and ended in 1673.
Then check-out the Museum in the Maison Diamantee for all things Provencal.
Marseille is the oldest French city. The Phocaeans came there in 600 B.C. The city is known for its harbor, sunny climate and beautiful coastline. At the Quai des Belges at the port, check out the morning fish market.
Here are some other restaurants to try:
Le Bistrot d’Edouard for tapas in the Prado district.
Rue Jean Mermoz, +33 4 9171 1652, no website. Open Tues-Sat noon-2pm, 8pm-10pm.
Le Café des Épices in the La Panier District.
• 4 rue du Lacydon, +33 4 91 91 22 69, cafedesepices.com. Open Tues-Fri 9am-3pm, 6pm-midnight, Sat 9.30am-4pm. Prix-fixe dinner menu €45
Michelin-rated L’Epuisette overlooking the sea.
Vallon des Auffes, +33 4 91 52 17 82, l-epuisette.com. Open Tues-Sat noon-1.30 pm, 7.30 pm-9.30 pm.
I can’t wait to try La Table. It is located on the top floor of the MuCEM.
“This sleek restaurant run by chef Philippe Moreno, who executes the menu designed by three-star Michelin chef Gérald Passédat, Marseille’s most-famous chef.”
The Old Port is in front of the historic Le Panier district (Old Marseille). This was where the Greeks first laid the foundations of the city about 2,600 years ago.
Admire City Hall, interesting museums, the Place du Moulin and the Accoules church. Here’s a link to the museums http://www.marseille-tourisme.com/en/what-to-do/visit-marseille/museums/museum-cultural-sites/
Explore the two most significant religious symbols of Marseille, honored as a European Capital of Culture in 2013. The Abbey of St. Victor, Marseille’s oldest religious monument, was completely restored to its former glory in the 1960s. In the abbey’s grounds, according to legend, the relics of the 14th-century Marseille martyr St. Victor are buried. The main church has sarcophagi, fine altars and stained glass windows, and a superb 4th-century stone carving of Victor on a horse. Visit the underground crypt with the tombs of the bishops, and statue of the Black Madonna.
The famous and imposing crowned-jewel of Marseilles is the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde. Both a fortress and a sanctuary, the basilica is a neo-Byzantine construction studded with beautiful mosaics and murals, built on top of a Romanesque crypt. Located on a hill overlooking the Old Port and Frioul archipelago, this is the most visited site in Marseille and the site of a popular Assumption Day pilgrimage.
Take the tourist train from the Old Port; it departs every 30 minutes from 10-12:30 and from 2-6 pm. Perched high above the city, there is a spectacular 360 degree panorama Vino con Vista panoramic view of Marseille from the glistening dome.
The Roman-Byzantine basilica is built upon the city’s highest hill, La Garde where a small chapel was built in 1214.
Admire the lovely gilded 30 foot statue of Mary holding Jesus on top of the bell tower of the domed church. Each year on August 15th, there is an annual Assumption Day pilgrimage to the church. The church is lavishly adorned in marble and cloaked with fabulous murals and mosaics.
Marseille Vieux Port (Old Port) is where the Greeks landed in 600 BC. It is the hub of the city. Visit the fish market and the main street of La Canebiere; Marseille’s Champs Elysees. Follow it to the lovely fountains and monument; Palais Longchamp. The Palais Longchamp houses the Museum of Beaus-Arts and the Natural HIstory Museum.
Visit the fortress that was made famous by Alexandre Dumas’ classic 1840s’ novel Le Comte de Monte Cristo (The Count of Monte Cristo). This 16th-century fortress is on an island 2 miles west of Vieux Port.
In Marseille, you can discover the art of santon figurine making at a handicraft workshop. Visit an Aubagne studio and its museum, hosting more than 400 figures, depicted in captivating and picturesque scenes. Santons (“little saints”) are small, hand-painted terra-cotta nativity scene figurines produced in the Provence region. A traditional Provençal crèche includes 55 individual figures representing various characters from Provençal village life—such as the scissors grinder, the fishwife, the blind man, and the chestnut seller.
The first nativity scene, is traditionally attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi who is said to have asked the inhabitants of his village of Grecchio, in 1223, to play the parts of the characters in the Nativity. The first nativity scenes with figurines then appeared in churches around the 16th century.
After the French Revolution, which suppressed the midnight mass, the nativity scene, until then a large-scale affair, was reduced in size to a miniature scene that families could create at home. A small industry developed making the figurines. It was at this point that the santons appeared in Provence. Therefore, the first clay santons were created during the French Revolution, when churches were forcibly closed and their large nativity scenes prohibited.
Around one hundred workshops still carry on the tradition of making the santons de Provence. The oldest santon Fair, started in Marseille in 1803 and running every year from mid-November to the end of December, is still highly successful today. To learn more about Santons visit:
The Iles du Frioul is a collection of 4 islands off the coast of Marseilles. In 1974, the small village of Port Frioul was established as a base for exploring the flora, fauna, beaches and clear-waters of the islands. It has restaurants and around 700 mooring points for boats.
Check out the Marseille Tourist Office
4, La Canebière, 13001 Marseille
Tel: +33 (0) 826 500 500
The city’s tourist office has plenty of maps and brochures and will make arrangements for tours and excursions.
Here’s a link to some of the excursions: http://www.marseille-tourisme.com/en/discovery-trips/
I loved visiting the the seaside village of Cassis with 5 beaches for my Vino con Vista! I also explored the Route des Calanques.
Stretching 20km along the shoreline from Marseille to Cassis, the Calanques National Park offers a secret network of crystal-clear coves nestled between craggy headlands.
Dr. EveAnn Lovero writes Travel Guides @ www.vino-con-vista.com