After spending my first night in Marseille dancing tango, I set out the next day to explore one of the city’s main attractions: the Old Port. The area has been completely redesigned in recent years, ahead of Marseille being the European Capital of Culture in 2013 and it’s a great place to walk around. If you get there early, you can walk around the fish market. During the day, there is a craft market selling souvenirs and local delicacies. It runs all along the Canebiere and surrounding side streets, leading all the way down to the Old Port.
I didn’t have long in Marseille, unfortunately, so I’ll focus on two experiences, one which I enjoyed and the other not so much …
Boat Trip to see the Calanques
Calanques are steep inlets that have developed in the limestone along the coast of the Mediterranean. The ones which can be found just outside of Marseille have been part of a protected national park since 2012.
Looking at the tour boats moored in the harbour, I thought briefly of my experience on a boat in Patagonia the previous year. But these boats were much larger and so I figured it would be fine.
Full of optimism and anticipation, I secured a seat at the front of the boat. We moved slowly out of the harbour, admiring the views of the MUCEM and the Fort St Jean. So far so good. The MUCEM is the Museum of Civilisations of Europe and the Mediterranean. Seen from a distance, its “glass and lace” architecture makes it appear almost ghostly.
Then our guide remarked that those of us sitting at the front were about to “get a bit wet”. I assumed he meant some ocean spray might hit us as we made our way out on to the Mediterranean. “A bit wet” turned into a bit of an understatement, however.
As soon as we emerged from the harbour, the Mediterranean greeted us with consecutive waves which crashed high over the front of the boat, leaving us soaking wet. After the third wave, several of us decided to seek shelter inside the cabin. Not an easy undertaking as the waves continued, shaking the boat. At one point, I saw someone’s Ipad whizzing past me. Eventually, I managed to get inside, clinging on to the side of the cabin.
Later, we entered a small cove of one of the inlets and the sea became calmer. We didn’t go on land, but the boat slowed down and so I risked going on deck, to take some photos.
I will spare you the details, but I wasn’t the only one on the boat who felt sick and many of us were unable to appreciate the beautiful scenery that we were passing. Apparently it is not always that choppy, so if you also tend to be sea sick, do check the conditions before buying a ticket. You can also see the Calanques on foot, which I will definitely be doing next time. You can find some information about walks from the Marseille area here and from Cassis here.
Safely back on dry land, I decided to head for the MUCEM, although it was by now early evening. Luckily the museum was still open and I had an hour or so to walk around. The building and its surroundings, just by the water are truly stunning. It is worth visiting for the architecture alone.
I think there might be different ways to enter but I recommend walking through the Fort St Jean, which is connected to the MUCEM via a bridge. Entrance to the Fort and along the bridge is free.
The day I visited the entrance to the museum was for free as, it was the day of national heritage (”Journée du Patrimoine”). This usually takes place over a weekend mid-September during which many museums offer free entrance. Trains tickets were also discounted, so if you have some flexibility in planning your trip to France, it could be worthwhile taking this into account. This year, the heritage days will be 15 and 16 September 2018.
Finally, the area around MUCEM and Fort St Jean is the perfect place for watching the sun set …
Have you been to Marseille? Do you have any tips for dealing with sea-sickness? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!