Before I post a guide on my recent trip to Marseille, I think it’s necessary for me to write a love letter to the city first.
Because the thing is, Marseille doesn’t get a lot of love. It’s historically been a city that the rest of France turns their nose up at, a train stop on the way to the beaches in the South. Perform any Google search and you’ll find articles on Marseille’s grittiness, its reputation for being rough around the edges, an old and crumbly city with graffiti everywhere, much less beautiful than its counterparts of Paris or Lyon.
But here’s the thing:
That grittiness, that rawness, that unabashed authenticity – that’s what makes it beautiful.
I got approached by Air Transat to do a trip to Europe to highlight one of their French destinations, a trip that would give me and my friend Meghan (the cutie in all my pics) total flexibility on what we wanted to write, photograph and share with our followers online (a.k.a. the dream for a writer). So when asked if I was interested in exploring Paris or Marseille, I was immediately drawn to the lesser known of the two. I’d been to Paris a few times before, and although lovely, I was keen to explore the South of France, and use Marseille as our hub.
A little bit of a background: Marseille is France’s second largest city, and one of its oldest. Its history dates back centuries ago when it was used as a Greek shipping port, a characteristic it still holds to this day. It’s a melting pot of immigrants, not unlike Toronto, and it’s reflected in the foods, markets and faces of the people who live there. It hasn’t been polished for tourists and hasn’t pushed out the working class with high prices like other major cities in Europe – it’s the beating heart of France, with its unrefined bohemian quarters contrasted against its gentrified museums and port. Marseille has soul, raw and unfiltered, and the people who inhabit it, the Marseillais, are proud to call it home.
I’d be remiss not to mention that the city did at times live up to its reputation of being rough around the edges. As two young female travellers, there were areas we wouldn’t go at night because we were told they wouldn’t be safe. The artist’s quarter we stayed in could feel a bit seedy once the sun went down. During the day, however, Marseille was like any European city – bustling, beautiful and filled with terraces of people drinking wine in the Mediterranean sun and laughing avec amis. So would I go again? In a heartbeat.
Because that diversity of Marseille is what makes it so magical. Every morning we woke up to the sound of soft jazz floating up from the street through our open windows, and every night we drank rose and watched the sun set. We had delicious Vietnamese food for lunch one day, and then fresh French bread and cheese the next. One minute we found ourselves in the middle of the energetic Lebanese markets, and the next we were twenty minutes outside the city on the beaches at Cassis.
A city of contrast, by all definitions of the word.
On our first day in Marseille, we ventured to a nearby coffeeshop, The Green Bear, one that we would end up visiting every day for the rest of the trip. Unassuming from the front, it was the sectioned-off back room that made us return day after day – high ceilings with Old World French charm, ornate wainscoting and large open windows that let light shine onto the wooden herringboned floor. We got to know our barista, Charlotte, a resident of the city, and she asked how we were liking Marseille. When we exclaimed how much we loved it, she nodded her head in agreement and smiled.
“I’ve lived in Paris, and other parts of France, but now I live here in Marseille and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” she said. When we asked why she loved it so much, she poured our lattes, handed them to us, and shrugged knowingly.
“Marseille is beautiful. Marseille is electric. Marseille is alive.”
My trip to Marseille was in partnership with Air Transat, although all images, opinions and words are my own. Want to give a huge thank you to the airline for letting me explore the destination and create content in my own voice and style, without restriction, allowing everything you read and see here to be entirely authentic.
Stay tuned for Part Two of my trip to Marseille, a city guide for the best places to eat, drink and soak up the sun!