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A week in Marseille and Provence

Hello all.

I just booked a week in Marseille during the Christmas holiday. Just got a new job and this was the first thing on my list.
This is my first time to Provence and I will be stationed in Marseille for seven days. I've always wanted to go to Marseille, and I've always felt drawn to it after reading the Marseille series of Marcel Pagnol. I'm going to be staying in the very historic Grand Hotel Beauveau Vieux Port which is located right at the heart of the Vieux port.

What recommendations do you have in visiting Marseille? Any good tour companies? What part of the surrounding areas of Provence should I definitely not miss (I will for sure see Cassis, Aix-en-Provence, and Arles) buy what specifically do you recommend? Any restaurants that I must visit? I have already visited Nice and the Cote d'Azur, so I'm mostly interested in the western area of Provence.

A bit about me: Almost 30, I've traveled all over France and I speak French fluently. I'm game for a few guided tours but I'm also not opposed to going on my own. I'll be doing this trip solo. I'm interested in history, art, and a French foodie.

Merci, tout le monde!

Posted by
7124 posts

From Marseille you have train access and 4 easy day excursions to
1 Aix en Provence
2 Arles
3 Nimes - Montpellier
4 Avignon - Orange

Posted by
14 posts

We visited a couple of years ago and stayed at a moderate hotel very near there. Tourism is just a block away and I found them very helpful.

I thought Cathedrale Le Major was gorgeous and included some recent local history. You see the large international ships in the water there. My husband had business at La Vieille Charite, there are one or two pleasant squares near there with nice food and local feel, small shops on narrow streets that turn down the hill. We visited Basilique Notre Dame de La Garde by combination of local bus and walking. Just below it in one direction we came across a tank from WWII, I believe, and I recall seeing battle scars on the building itself, as in many buildings in Europe. We somehow walked along a hillside park I would like to have spent more time in. In June the tour bus (available from the port) to this stop was apparently oversold as lines were very long to return to town. The local city bus was much cheaper and easy to navigate. We tried visiting the public beach, it was extremely crowded and becoming privatized. The amusement park along Rue des Catalans was memorable for the view, worth another ride on the city bus. A significant local scene, a nice walk along the water with a boardwalk feel.

We had very nice meals on the pedestrian street just behind the hotels from the water, possibly Rue Paradis (it will be apparent). Lots to choose from. Our local host took us to one possibly on Rue Vacon, he was very proud of the seafood there, I'm afraid it was wasted on us. If I were to return I would consider visiting the opera just a block or two away. One of the evenings we were there, someone sitting outside at the McDonalds just below our hotel broke out in song, he must have been with the opera, it was beautiful on a late summer evening. Enjoy!

Posted by
8403 posts

Since you are a fan of Pagnol, I have a couple of suggestions:
the town (suburb) of Aubagne, particularly on market day, where Pagnol lived as a child. A local train will take you there. There are several wood carving shops where traditional Santons are still made and sold. Christmas is prime Santon time.

Rent a car and see Le Garlaban, the famous mountain where he spent summers. It's quite recognizable by its form.
With the same car, go to St. Maximin St. Baume, where, the crypt of the Basilica has a relic of Marie Magdalene's skull. From there drive the road up the St. Baume mountain to the hostel/restaurant/gift shop and the beginning of a trail that goes to the cave where it is said Marie Magdalene lived the final years of her life.

One other book helped me see Marseille and Aix-en-Provence from a deeper perspective: M.F.K Fisher's Two Towns in Provence. She writes information and knowledge about both cities that is now lost.

A final recommendation: be sure to go into the crypt of the St. Victor Abbey. It gets overlooked in guidebooks but has Celtic, Roman, and Christian carvings and artifacts in the crypt, in addition to a Black Virgin.

Posted by
1118 posts

Thank you all so much for your thoughtful advice! Just the kind of advice I was hoping for!

Posted by
150 posts

Excellent recommendations above, to which I would add St Victor's Abbey (Abbaye Saint-Victor), now a church. It's on the south side of the Vieux Port, and although most of the structure is from the 15th century, it was founded in the 5th century and the crypt is part of the original structure. It is free to visit the main part, but I really recommend spending 2 euros to visit the crypt - that is where they keep statues and sarcophagi from some of the earliest periods of Christianity in Western Europe (when Marseille was barely out of its Roman period) and there are sculptures of an adult Jesus without a beard, which are quite rare (and always very ancient; representations of a bearded Jesus started to come at about that time actually).

Edit - sorry, didn't see that Bets had already recommended visiting St Victor's! So I second her recommendation!

Posted by
8403 posts

We're on the same wavelength, Ian. It really does get lost in the guidebooks, but it's terrific. Notre Dame de la Garde has all the votives, which are fabulous, but it's almost 2000 years younger--give or take a hundred.

Posted by
396 posts

The Pont du Gard isn't a long way from Avignon or Nimes, especially if you have a car. The museum there is world class. It provides a very detailed look at the construction techniques used to build the aqueduct, as well as the context of the society and economy of the time that created the need for it. I've seen several Roman aqueducts in different countries but this was by far the best provided context.

Posted by
43 posts

Hi Alexander

Have a look at this classic French film of Marseille area (if you haven't already).

It is La Cuisine au beurre starring : Fernandel, Bourvil, Claire Maurier, Andrex, Michel Galabru

http://www.allocine.fr/video/player_gen_cmedia=19426093&cfilm=13467.html

Suggest you venture over to St Tropez for market day. I was nicely surprised how busting and enjoyable it was at Christmas time when we went over there last year. Visit the fort museum on the hill in St Trop for a really interesting insight into the maritime goings on in the area and wonderful views - also gets you out of the cold.

Best

Peter Horrocks