After a strenuous, all-day hike at the calanques de Marseille, the teaching assistants and I spent the following day exploring more of the city center of Marseille. Even though we were super sore from almost 20 kilometers of hiking the day before (I’m not exaggerating), we still did a lot of sight-seeing in the southern port city of France.
We headed out of our hotel around 9h30, hitting up the Palais Longchamp north of the city. A large, Greek-inspired monument, the Palais Longchamp was constructed back in the 19th century to commemorate the flow of water from the nearby river into the city center. Today, it houses two museums: of natural history and of the beaux-arts, or “fine arts,” located on the east and west wings of the widely-spanned monument. Although we didn’t visit the museums, nevertheless we enjoyed admiring the edifice, taking photo after photo of it. Certainly palace-like, to say the least!
We also checked out the park behind the monument, although we didn’t have much interest in exploring it since much of the area was barren because of the winter season (even though it’s the south of France, it’s still winter!). Eventually, we made our way back to Vieux Port, strolling along the quay until a bit past noon, when we decided to get lunch near the port.
Originally, we had plans to get food at an actual “proper” sit-down restaurant, but we’d spotted an “all-you-can-eat” buffet for an unbeatable price of 23 euros that came with both local and general French specialties, including the regional bouillabaisse, a saffron-infused fish stew which is just amazing. That said, we decided to do that, and even though I’m more of a local, “fancy” restaurant type of gal, I think we made the right decision on eating at the AYCE buffet. The prices were on-par anyway compared with other restaurants, especially by Vieux Port where it tends to be more expensive (then again, it was basically the only place where you could get legit seafood, let alone the bouillabaisse). Compared with 23 euros at a “fancy” restaurant that only gave you one plate, we paid the same price at the buffet for two, three, even ten plates of food!
…and the food was actually good. Usually, I don’t consider buffets to be of high quality, since they’re made to be mass-produced for the mass public. But the quality of this particular one surprised me for being quite good, if not great! There was the bouillabaisse for sure, and even though it wasn’t as saffron-y as I’d liked, it worked for me in the buffet atmosphere. What really got me was the beef bourguignon, which isn’t a Marseillais dish (actually a Burgundy one, from central France), but nevertheless blew me away with its tender, moist chunks of beef. I could also taste the red-wine sauce that it’d been cooked with! Seriously, I have dreams about that dish; I even got seconds!
Aside from the main, savory dishes, I went crazy for the stuffed grape leaves and for dessert, the tiramisu (which was super light and airy, as well as moist from the espresso infused into the cake) and brownie (super indulgent and divine). Along with the pastis (a local apéritif made from anise seed; I personally hate the taste of anise-flavored stuff, including licorice, but when in Marseille, I had to get it), I was pretty much full at the end. No regrets, though!
With our bellies full, we headed over to the Fort St. Jean, located at the end of Vieux Port. Constructed back in the mid-17th century, the fort today is a museum dedicated to European and Mediterranean civilizations. We didn’t check out the museum (wasn’t interested), but we did wander on the fort, even went up the tour du Roi René to get views of the Vieux Port harbor (unfortunately foggy that afternoon).
Afterwards, we headed over to le Panier, the historic district of Marseille which is home to tons of narrow, winding streets, small family-owned boutiques, and the Vieille Charité, a former hospice in the 17th century for sheltering the poor and the homeless. Granted, there were some inclines getting there, but by then, the sun had come out for a bit, which was much-appreciated.
Once we were done visiting the Vieille Charité, we were pretty much done for the day: we returned to our hotel, but only 30 minutes later did I go out again with the German and South African teaching assistants to Vieux Port to catch the sunset, which is absolutely lovely. We only stayed out for an hour, taking photos and watching the sun dip lower and lower into the harbor, disappearing altogether. Quite the lovely sight. ❤
We stopped by the grocery store once again before heading back to the hotel. It would be our last night in Marseille, before we headed on to our next destinations during the holidays. After a light dinner (still wasn’t hungry from the large lunch buffet) and some chatting, we turned in for the night.
The next morning, we checked out at 8h30: I said goodbye to the other teaching assistants, since they would be heading over to Nice and I back to Normandy, since my classes would be starting back up again the following week. The overnight bus to Paris wouldn’t be until 18h15, so I had the whole day to check out the city center.
We parted ways, and I set off for the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde again, making the sweaty, tiring hike up to the top. Weather was the best that day, out of the ones we’d spent in the center; the sun was shining, and I wasted no time capturing the clear views of the city through photos.
I descended the hill and passed by Vieux Port before popping into a Starbucks to rest and figure out what to do next. Plus, I was craving a chai latte, so I got that as I used the Wifi to map out stuff for the day.
Eventually, I decided to return to le Panier, revisiting the Vieille Charité as well as popping into a well-known savonnerie, or “soap shop.” Marseille is famous for its soap, for it’s made not from animal fat, but rather olive oil, and has a strong, fruity aroma to it. Didn’t buy any this time, but it was nice to look around. Otherwise, wandering the narrow streets of the district was good enough.
Also returned to Fort St. Jean, where I took advantage of the warm sun that day to climb the tower again for the views of the harbor. Much better this time!
Starving, I decided to get lunch. For some reason, I was craving kebabs, so with that, I headed over to the Arab district of town, and popped into one shop that didn’t have too many customers (for the sake of peace and quiet). For only 4,80 euros, I got a MASSIVE kebab, with fries and water to boot. Although there wasn’t so much taste to it, quantity-wise it satisfied my hunger.
Still had about three hours to kill, so I wandered all over the city center, soaking up the sun’s rays in Vieux Port, checking out the expansive grocery store inside the Galeries Lafayette, and the Alcazar library (just to use the free public toilet). Eventually, it was time for me to make my way over to the bus station, located near the train station, and before I knew it, I boarded the bus and was well on my way out of Marseille.
…and there you have it! My three nights in Marseille over this past February holiday. Although it was short, it was much-needed, especially with the sunnier, warmer weather in comparison to the drab cold of Normandy. Glad to have re-explored the place with company, sharing some exciting and funny experiences with them.
Hope you enjoyed! Take care. 🙂
— The Finicky Cynic
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