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Marseille - yeah or nay???

I hear good and bad about this city. Has anyone been recently who can give their opinion. I hear it's gritty? But, many say Rome is gritty too; and I LOVE ROME. I'll be in Provence for three weeks next summer. 1) most important is safetly, since I'm travelling with kids and grandma 2) does it have something particularly "special" that I won't experience elsewhere in Provence (I know it's a port city. We will probably visit Arles, Avignon, maybe Nimes, Aix-en Provence and lots of villages (Cotes du Rhone and Luberon), Cassis, the Calanques, Camargue, maybe even the Gorges du Verdon area. With three weeks we have time to see pretty much whatever we want - do we want to see Marseille. That's the question.

Posted by
501 posts

I'm not answering your question, haven't been there......but if you don't, consider going to Nice and adjacent towns!

Posted by
2023 posts

We were there in early June as a day trip and would not return. There is a basilica high above the city (trams near the harbor take you up) and the views are nice. There is a gritty feel( not unsafe ) to Marseille and the market area with produce was very unappealing-trash and rotting veggies strewn about-certainly nothing like the typical European street markets. IMO the charm of Provence is the smaller towns and villages. I agree with you about Rome!

Posted by
3049 posts

I like Marsielle. It IS gritty, dirtier than many cities in Western Europe, but also vibrant and different. It is also safe, at least in any areas tourists will want to go. What's special about it to me is it's multicultural atmosphere - parts of it you feel like you're in North Africa instead of France! Maybe it's not worth it to overnight there for you, but since you'll be going from Aix to Cassis, you have to change trains at Marsielle anyway, so you might as well hope on the Metro, you'll be at the Vieux Porte in 5 minutes, from there you can have fantastic Moroccan food, and walk up to the Panier quarter for amazing views and a cool atmosphere.

Posted by
80 posts

I agree with Sarah. I've been several times and a night or two is plenty. Stick to La Canebiere and the old port. The market is fun and try to visit Chateau d'If...very cool.

Posted by
115 posts

I have been in Marseille since yesterday. I spent some time wandering around and made it up to Notre Dame church. Had dinner at the old port. Today I went out to Aix en Provence. Spent about 4 hours there. Came back and made my way down to the "Arab" markets that Rick Steve's talks about. Felt very out of place there. Tried one of he places to eat he talks about. I have felt ok with walking around. My hotel is across the street from he train station. Good choice for me. There is a lot of construction stuff going on which causes detours. Should be done by the time you come. They are working towards becoming a cultural city next year. All that said. I felt more At home" in Paris.

Posted by
1505 posts

Second largest city in France........ 'tis safe, but during our visit we questioned why we had made the stop. With so many choices our recommendation is to select another destination, not due to any negatives about Marseille; just believe there are better priorities. Safe Travels!

Posted by
779 posts

funny...for each positive comment, there's a negative comment. My feeling is that I may actually like Marseille; to me, the more ethnic a place, the more interesting. One of your responses mentioned "feeling out of place in the Moroccan area", I think that might work for me! I love the Albayzin area of Granada, for that reason. I thank you all for your comments. Love to hear more opinions.

Posted by
10047 posts

We spent six months in Cassis, going into Marseille once or twice a week. As mentioned, Notre Dame de la Garde overlooking the old port is spectacular. The ex-votos inside are fascinating. However, it is a 19th century church, and I prefer the really very old stuff. There are several museums with archaeological finds going back to before the Greeks set up their colonies in Marseille. Inside the Vieille Charite is a Greek Temple. The Saint-Victor Abbey, on top of the hill overlooking the port, dates back to the pagan tribes in the crypt. There you'll see odd sculptures done by Ligures to represent cut heads, not mentioned very often. Of course, the Basilica was built on and around this pre-Roman site. Also see the black Virgin in the crypt. Across the street is a famous bakery, which bakes "navettes" cookies that are part of a religious celebration on Feb. 2. There is so much to see and do in Marseille. And you can read M.F.K. Fisher's "Two Towns". She lived in Aix and Marseile in the 1950s. Amazing to read what it was like and what she experienced. She was a fabulous writer, no matter what.

Posted by
32287 posts

Kerry, you are right - some like it, some don't. I don't. I prefer many other parts of Provence much more. But - different strokes for different folks.

Posted by
2916 posts

I liked Marseille a lot on 2 visits, for some of the same reasons Sarah and a few others mention. And based on your follow-up comments Kerry, I think you would too. I've also been to all of the other places you mention, and the only one I'd give a thumbs-down to is Avignon. Otherwise, they're all worth visiting. Even Avignon if you feel the need to fit it in. I just didn't like it.

Posted by
2916 posts

Looks like a lot of people here have "bought it" Ralph, including myself. If you want pristine places, go to Eurodisney.

Posted by
3696 posts

I have been to Marseille a few times and thoroughly enjoyed it. Heard scare stories about it being a place I should hide my camera and not look like a photographer (not a chance). While it is definitely not what I thought of as provencal (maybe its not even in Provence ?) but we enjoyed walking around, visiting the port and had great food. I did fly out of there so I am not sure I would make a special trip to visit again, as I would many of the towns in Provence, I do not regret my time spent there. Also, not a huge fan of Avignon as I prefer the smaller villages of Provence...the same for Aix (I was driving around there in circles for hours) The Carmague was a unique experience as well as the beach town there. The Gorges of Verdon were stunningly beautiful and well worth the drive if you enjoy nature.

Posted by
115 posts

I neglected to mention that before coming to Marseille, I spent three days in Nice which I enjoyed, was able to get around and see the things I had wanted to. Prior to that I was ona seven day food and wine tour in Provence. Visited numerous small villages as well as Avignon. Had a blast. Before that Paris, I will be retuning to Paris today for four more days. If I had to cut out a city I would have cut out Marsielle. I was really disappointed in it. I know before I went people tried to discourage me from it. I wish I had spent more time in Cassis maybe.
Maybe by the time you come it will be "cleaned up" a bit for the cultural celebrations.

Posted by
779 posts

Your answers are all helping me a lot! I think the way I'll approach "Marseille" is this. I'll be in a village (Pelissanne, about 30 minutes northwest of Aix) for three weeks. If we have done everything else we set out to do, we'll take the time for a brief day trip to Marseille. Have any of you been to Salon de Provence? That is the closest city (?) to where I'll be based. I can't find anything about it. Also, I'll be reconsidering whether we will go to Avignon and Aix. A lot of people see to think they are not very interesting cities? What about Nimes? I am interested in the Gorges du Verdon area as well. I'd like to hear more about that area. I would probably need to do that as an overnight, but we will definitely consider it if its really special. Can you swim there? Or kayak (I hate canoes).

Posted by
3049 posts

I really enjoyed Aix, although I was only there overnight. (We did a Aix - Marsielle - Cassis trip from Paris). It feels very different from Marsielle but it's only 30 minutes away! I can't speak to how it compares to other cities in the area, but I thought it was a very calming, beautiful city, I liked strolling along under the trees on the main drag (totally forget the name right now), drinking pastis (but to be fair, I did that everywhere in this region!), seeing some great art, enjoying the market. Given how close everything is together, I really don't see the point in skipping Marsielle or Aix, they're both convenient and easy to get to. The real question is how much time do you want to spend on them. If you're thinking about cutting them, maybe just do an overnight in one city or the other, splitting your time between both. That will give you a taste, at least.

Posted by
2916 posts

I gave a heads-up to Marseille earlier, but the 2 times we stayed there it was because we flew in and out of Marseille. I enjoyed the city, but wouldn't make a special trip to stay there. On the other hand, Nimes is fabulous for a short stay. We rented an apartment there for a week and loved it. I've also liked Aix quite a bit, and Cassis is great. As to the Gorges du Verdon, we've stayed near there and drove both sides. Really spectacular. And we also rented pedalos and navigated the waters for a couple of hours. I'd heartily recommend that.

Posted by
779 posts

Thanks Robert. I'll definitely have to consider both Nimes and the Gorges du Verdon, and since Aix is only 30 minutes from where I'm staying, we'll probably check that city out as well. Since my family loves beaches, we'll will most likely make several day trips to Cassis. We have been to Collioure and loved it; many have posted that they like Cassis even more than Collioure; in part due to the Calanques. I would love to swim in the calanques, I'm just not sure if we can get to them by foot or by kayak(with kids and grandma). Has anyone walked or kayaked to the nearest calanque. Is it easy/hard.

Posted by
10047 posts

There are trails to all the calanques. It's very rocky and the rocks are smooth from all the people who have walked over them, making them slippery when foggy or a little wet. Most people need ankle support on these types of rocky trails. The kids should be fine. How good of a walker is grandma? Local grandmas walk out there.

Posted by
3049 posts

It depends on Grandma's mobility if you can handle the walk to the Calenques, but if that's an issue you could take a boat out to one and have them pick you up later. The water between Cassis and the calenques can be choppy, so unless you're all experienced sea kayakers, I wouldn't do it unless it was part of a guided tour.

Posted by
779 posts

My mother, while in good shape at 70, has diabetes and leg neuropathy. She also worries about falling and cutting herself. Soooo, she definitely can't do it. She would however love to swim in those Calanques! She is an avid swimmer. Is it really possible to have a boat drop you off and pick you up? At what cost. Has anyone done this? I do know you can take boat rides to see the Calanques, but I hear they do not stop to let you swim. Perhaps we can rent a boat for 1/2 day or something? We did that on the Amalfi Coast last summer. It was expensive however.

Posted by
2916 posts

It will probably also be very expensive in Cassis. I've walked to the Calanques in Cassis, but I don't remember if swimming is possible. It was so rocky. Sort of like the Maine coast: thousands of miles of rocky coastline but few beaches.

Posted by
3049 posts

Here's the info:
By boat - organised tours: The individual boat companies offering tours to the calanques are members of an association, the GIE des bateliers de Cassis. The boats are moored along the quai Saint Pierre in front of a small kiosk which sells tickets for all of them. Website for the GIE des bateliers de Cassis Four circuits are offered: a 45 minute tour to three calanques (Port Miou, Port Pin and En Vau), a 65 minute tour to five calanques, a 90 minute tour to eight calanques and a 110 minute "mini-cruise" to nine calanques, which will take you as far as Sormiou. You can book tickets for a boat trip to the calanques of Cassis at the kiosk between the February half-term holidays and mid-November. Outside this period, you can enquire directly with any skippers who happen to be around on the quay with their boats. Some circuits include bathing stops but you will be unable to get off the boat in the calanques themselves due to safety regulations. By kayak or boat - private hire: Among companies which rent out boats, either with or without skippers, are JCF Boat Services and Loca Bateau. For a hire without a skipper, you will be required to hold a valid boat permit for anything with a motor more powerful than 4.5 Kilowatts (6CV). The Tourist Office has a list of places where you can hire a kayak. Kayaking to the calanques and in Provence will be covered in full in a future article. So maybe kayaking would be the way to go? It would be a fairly long trip, so you'd all have to be in pretty good shape arm-wise and able to deal with some choppy water potentially.

Posted by
299 posts

Front page story of NY Times today (9/20) Marseille Journal
In a City Plagued by Violence, a Spike in Crime Opens Eyes Nationwide Marseille, one of France's poorest cities, has long been a haven for gangs, which first surfaced to control prostitution.... Today, experts and police officers say that crimes have become much more violent in the past year. ... Unlike the United States, guns are tightly regulated in Europe, but the gangs have armed themselves with weapons obtained on the black market. Police officers and residents are particularly worried about the increasing use of automatic and semiautomatic rifles... (check out the story - there are lots of bad stories about New York too, mostly exaggerated, but this article made me think that you should maybe go to Marseille another time, especially since you're concerned about safety)

Posted by
779 posts

thanks Sarah! that's very helpful information,

Posted by
2916 posts

Fascinating story about Marseille, Dorothy, which I just read. I was one of the pro-Marseilles commenters, and while this story is moderately alarming, it doesn't change my opinion, nor would it dissuade me from going, although like I said previously, I wouldn't make a special trip to Marseilles, but I enjoyed what I saw and did. That being said, the area where I spent my time was the port area and the mile or 2 in various directions that we walked from the port. When you drive or take the bus into Marseilles, you get a glimpse of the most hideous high-rise slums in France, and a tourist will never wander anywhere near there. So does the fact that there have been 20 people killed in the Marseille area in 9 months mean no tourist should go there? What are the stats for Boston, New Orleans, or NY?

Posted by
779 posts

I read the NY Times article on-line last night. But, as Bet would reason...were any of the 20 people killed tourists? ....were any???? It does scare me though, travelling with my most precious belongings - my kids.

Posted by
2916 posts

I understand your being scared Kerry after reading the article, especially with your children. But to put things in perspective, I checked murder rates in Boston, where I used to live and still visit frequently. Boston's population is about 3/4 of Marseille's. The murder rates were around 70 in 2010 and 2011, and 36 so far this year. So the rate is less than half of Marseille, and I consider Boston incredibly safe for a big city. And I bet the number of tourists killed in Marseille was about the same as in Boston; possibly zero. When we were in Marseille, we walked a little bit outside the usual tourist haunts, and the neighborhoods were different than what you see elsewhere in France, and in America. Two of the areas were overwhelmingly Arab, but they were working class Arab neighborhoods, and we never felt threatened nor saw anything untoward occur. That being said, as I said before, I wouldn't make a special trip to Marseille, but we were flying in and out of their airport, and I enjoyed my stay. My advice would be to do what you feel comfortable with. It's not as if Marseielle is on a list of 100 Places to See Before You Die.