We spent a week on holiday based in Marseille – the French spelling has no “s” at the end. We’ve had a few trips to the south of France but mainly to Nice and its surrounding towns, such as Beaulieu Sur Mer. The city of Marseille is much bigger and more varied than Nice. It’s a city of contrasts with the conspicuous wealth of the Vieux Port marina not far from poor immigrant areas. For the tourist, there are plenty of options. The centre of the city is around the Vieux Port where a the old fishing harbour has been transformed into a forest of yachts, large and small and there is a constant flow of boats taking visitors out along the coast.
Overlooking Marseille is the Basilica Notre Dame de La Garde, a high ceilinged church built in the 19th century on the top of a hill which was formerly used as a fort and an observation post. We took the long route through the city walked for about an hour, finishing with a steep walk up to the basilica. The views from the top are stunning as you can see across the city and out to the islands.
Whether you are of a religious persuasion or not, this is an impressive building and you wonder how 19th century workmen coped, firstly getting the building materials up to the summit and then building the huge church. The inside of the church is very ornate and in some respects reminded me of Greek and Russian Orthodox churches I’ve seen.
When you strain your neck and take a close look at the high ceiling, you can see the different influences at work, for example the Greek and Roman lettering around the cupola.
At the entrance to the harbour in Marseille, there are 2 forts. On the right hand side going out to sea is Fort Saint-Jean which was originally built in the 12th century. This area has been transformed into a walking route around the ramparts of the old fort but mainly as the location of MUCEM (good photos) which was built as part of Marseille’s year as the European Capital of Culture in 2013. So there is a contrast between the ultra modern buildings of the MUCEM, with their vibrant art exhibitions, and the mediaeval structure of the ramparts. The entrance is a stunning walkway of interlinked wooden branches.
As you walk around the ramparts, through the lavender filled gardens, you come across some very modern sculptures such as the 4 large faces and then, further on the very impressive Villa Méditerranée .
So Marseille has much to offer the tourist willing to walk around the city and discover the stunning views and a wide variety of cultural activities. Being on the Mediterranean, of course, it has wall to wall sunshine and the temperatures in late June were 25-28 degrees Monday to Friday and 32-34 degrees on Saturday and Sunday. It is a big city and we were told by locals to keep camera and handbags strapped across our chests, and not to keep them hanging on our shoulders.