This is the second largest city in France and is now beginning to make a big pitch for international tourism, with 1.5 million cruise visitors expected this year.
New movie studios have been built and the city recently hosted the French-like ‘House of Cards’ political series called ‘Marseille’ on Netflix, starring famous French Actor Gerard Depardieu in which he plays a charismatic Mayor.
We dined at one of the locations, the Hotel Intercontinental, which boasts brilliant views of the city. This amazing hotel, a former hospital, has been lovingly converted lovingly. During these works they uncovered Roman remains, pottery and more.
From there, one can see the Virgin Mother Basilica, Notre Mere (our mother) on top of a nearby hill, again it’s a must see feature of the city in daytime with fantastic views of its environs.
This basilica was a symbol of hope for seamen on long voyages and a offered a blessed welcome home as they returned, often from danger.
There’s great food to be sampled at the Intercontinental, including a Milk Shake Bouillabaisse, a famous local dish of sea food soup. There are many great fish dishes and excellent steaks with a unique French flair.
The city is situated in the beautiful region of Provence famous for rose and other wines, lavender, herpes and perfumes. The region was also made famous for artists too with Gauguin and Van Gogh once living in these parts; nearby Aix is worth visiting to take in some of their artworks.
We also visited the port and the nearby MUCEM museum and display area, which was built especially for the European City of Culture in 2013. This is in the highest category of museum, a destination high on quality with ongoing exhibitions, including the story of Mediterranean civilisation and all with great views of the seas and coastline.
We enjoyed the permanent story of the region which saw civilisation from the time of the Greeks to the Romans and later the Renaissance era to the French Revolution; all are depicted as well as the many religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
From Mucem Fort you can look out at the islands, where French writer Alexander Dumas was inspired to write ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’, where a man is imprisoned on an island and later escapes to wreak revenge.
You can do boat trips there too; unfortunately our one was cut short due to rough seas but there is much to see.
We noted bollards along sidewalks, probably as a reaction to the Nice incident last year, a sad but necessary addition in these uncertain times.
Otherwise, the city, despite its tough reputation remains pretty safe; a night out in the Julien quarter proved both diverse and entertaining.
It’s a welcoming place for the young and young at heart, a very inviting place to socialise and find music or food, the port is also lively but Cours Julien is less ‘touristy’ but also safe, some say it is the hipster area of Marseille.
Panier, near the Mucem is also very good for dining out and seeing some arty shops, again safe, in old times it was known as area of ill repute for sailors but times change.
The city, which was rebuilt following World War II, is full of narrow streets. We also saw another type of modernist building, designed by Corbusier; a unique 200 block apartment village in a park with emphasis on light and minimalist living. It’s now a trendy neighbourhood for young ‘yuppie’ couples.
The city has great history, founded by the Greeks and Phoenicians, Marseille has been a trading port for 2500 years and the oldest city in France by 500 years. While the midday sun should be avoided, there’s much to see and do. It’s very multi cultural, with 20 per cent of the city composed of Muslims/Arabs, while 10 per cent of the population is Jewish. Many colonists and white French too from Algeria, who left North Africa in 1962 following the War of Independence.
The cost of living in Marseille is 30 per cent less than Paris and cheaper than Ireland. Also, the Marseille natives are much more helpful than many French cities and it’s not over run with tourists, like Paris or Cote d’Azur, yet you have the Mediterranean and its many beaches, such as Cassis and the Calanques, reachable by local bus and only a few kilometres away.
The airport is a half hour from the city, and it’s €5 to get there by bus or train; however the taxi is €50 so be warned.
On the sporting front, the city is home to the best soccer stadium in France, the Stade Velodrome, which hosted England and Northern Ireland during Euro 2016 and is also well known to Munster Rugby fans.
The port area has a multitude of restaurants; we would recommend Gallinette, where sea food and sardines a speciality – we tried lamb testicles!
Lunch costs between €15 and €20 (two courses or three); add €10 more for a three course dinner; similar to home in tourism areas but cheaper elsewhere.
Also good for eating? Panier, Bobolivo Brasserie and the Michelin star La Fenetre restaurant in the Intercontinental.
The night life in the old port is worth checking out. as are the Panier and Julien areas, which are home to bars such as the Notre Dame de Mont-Molotov. When it comes to live music, there are many jazz bars near the port such as Pele Mele and La Caravelle.
And of course there are Irish bars near the port, such as O’Brady’s, Shamrock and O’Malley’s; Berthon’s is good for Belgian beer and Guinness.
When it comes to shopping, the city is famous for soap manufacture; we got some nice lavender soap, navette biscuits with anise, (liquorice), pastis (an aniseed drink), Provencal wine, Herbes de Provence, fashion, books and stores such as Mango, Zara, Galerie Lafayette, H&M, etc. The Docks village shop and Bourse shopping centres are worth checking out and there are many local designers in Panier District and Rue des Saintes, which is located on the hill off the port.
So how does one get to Marsellie? Ryanair flies a Stansted – Marseille daily and Aer Lingus files there from Dublin every second day; there’s also the option of Aer Lingus or Ryanair via Nice, followed by a two and half hour train journey.
The Eurostar train from London takes six hours to London and is a direct service getting on train at St. Pancras.
The Hotel de la Residence at Vieux Port, is €150 plus, while the NEW Hotel is another option with prices from €130 upwards. One can also try the Panier district or the Calanques area for good value.
Budget hotel prices in Panier range from €60 to €200 while the Intercontinental is the pick of the city’s hotel offerings.
Overall, we found the city overall a genuine revelation and we really want to go back
For more, visit www.myprovence.fr or www.marseille-tourisme.com