Can’t believe I never posted our adventures in Marseille–currently our favorite French city! Adrienne has been our friend since before she was born, but when we were first invited to her wedding in Marseille, we decided we really couldn’t afford a long weekend in Marseille. Then one summer evening, a glass of rosé in hand, Ray said “We should go to that wedding. The Marchands are too important to us.” I leaped up to retrieve my MacBook and was back on the deck in a flash. Within minutes, we had booked our airfare and hotel!
Serious hat-shopping ensued and on a late October afternoon, we headed to Logan.
We flew through London again, which was fine going over but long going back. For a weekend trip, it was the most efficient, but with more time I would fly to Paris and take the TGV from CDG to Marseille. On the other hand, there is something to be said for arriving at a small airport–no endless corridors and snaking lines and transportation into Marseille right out the door. We decided to take the public bus (turn right on exiting the terminal, there is a little building where they sell the tickets). It cost about 8 euros each to take the bus and that included the metro to get from Gare Saint Charles to Vieux Port, where our hotel was located. It was a little stressful negotiating the metro because it was near rush hour and we were tired and unfamiliar with the system. In fact, when we left Marseille we opted for the 60 euro cab directly to the airport. I am still a fan of the buses, though, and I didn’t think I would be. Marseille is a nightmare to drive in, and the traffic on the surrounding networks of autoroutes is frustrating. Convenient, inexpensive and frequent buses can get you to Aix-en-Provence and Cassis, and it is only a quick train ride to Avignon, so in the future, we plan to do without a car there and make plans for using the bus. If we want to return to the Luberon, we would get ourselves by bus to the airport and rent a car from there.
Our hotel, the Alizé, was not nearly as nice as the one next door, the Grand Hotel Beauvau–the one we stayed in few years ago with Alex and Sheila–live and learn! The elevator started on the second floor so that meant traipsing our luggage up a really long flight of stairs (or two?). There was practically no storage, the sheets wouldn’t stay on the bed and the service was minimal. We opted out of having breakfast in the crudely decorated room designated for that purpose and instead ate in one of the many terraced cafes surrounding the old port. And twice we went next door to the Beauvau for drinks in the gorgeous bar overlooking the port. So if we needed a hotel again, we would opt for the Beauvau.
However, we were totally enamored with the apartment Jimmy and Catherine had rented on AirBnB. It was on the right side of the port, very close to the big Hotel Intercontinental where the wedding took place. The neighborhood is called Le Panier, and it used to be quite dangerous but is now pretty gentrified.
Cypress trees and red-tiled roofs dot the hillsides that spill into this bustling Mediterranean port. Marseille, a trade center since it was settled by the Phoenicians in 600 B.C.E. continues to be a hub of ethnic diversity. The atmosphere is redolent with spices and flowers, and fishmongers hawk their daily catch on the docks of the Vieux Port.
Tourist restaurants on the port feature bouillabaisse, the traditional fish stew, but the international character of the city is evident in a varied cuisine that can be found in bistros tucked away on the steep inclines of its narrow and ancient streets. We did not have time to sample everything but did have great experiences in the following places
For pizza, Chez Mario is located on a picturesque square not far from the Vieux Port. Service was friendly but, um, not fast. We didn’t care. I had been dying for French pizza — that is French ingredients on a typical wood-fired pizza dough. I chose jambon, Emmenthal et champignons and it was exactly what I had been waiting for. But the surprise hit was the artisanal vegetarian anti-pasta we started with: several kinds of cheeses, olives, grilled eggplant and baby zucchini, baby heirloom tomatoes, roasted red peppers, marinated onions, and mushrooms, all topped with a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette, shaved parmesan, and skinny bread sticks.
Our Booking.com “insider’s tips” led us to La Caravelle, an upstairs bar on the Vieux Port. It is a perfect spot for an apéro or for those able to stay awake past 9 p.m., a place to sip drinks, listen to great music and watch the glittering lights on the port. Unfortunately, we were unable to do the latter (nex time!!) but stopped twice for pre-dinner drinks. The little amuse-gueules were great, and the drink menu impressive, but sitting in the window overlooking the port was “priceless.”
Right before we left, Anthony Bourdain did a special on Marseille in his CNN series, Parts Unknown. Even though I find him too crass for my taste, the show was nonetheless inspirational. We weren’t able to follow all his tips, but we did have delicious couscous at Le Restaurant Femina (don’t order any other entrée!). The effusive owner was thrilled that we had seen the show and hurried to tell his staff. The couscous was great, and the restaurant is clearly a favorite spot of the locals