The south of France was our next destination for a bit of sun and heat. Unfortunately, we arrived at the tail end of a wet and cold spell. But we made the best of it, and ended up with some very nice days to explore the city and the surroundings.
Marseille is a very gritty city. It is not as tidy and picturesque as say Paris. It is dirty and ugly in places. It is not a typical tourist city, but a city filled with working people of all backgrounds. But there is a charm to it if you take the time and let it come to you. From Vieux Port to Le Panier to the islands off the coast, Marseille grew on us while we were there.
Vieux Port, the old harbour, is one of the main tourist parts of the city. A wide open plaza lined with beautiful buildings, boats bobbing in the harbour, and the Notre Dame de la Garde towering on the right, it is an impressive view. Pieces of modern art mix with traditional fish markets.
We visited one of the main tourist sites, Notre Dame de la Garde. Pretty typical European church, with two noteworthy aspects — it sits high above the city and thus provides a great view of the whole area, and the nautical theme inside.
We spent time exploring Le Panier, the oldest neighbourhood in the city. Quite atmospheric and grungy. We also stopped in at the Centre de la Vieille Charite.
A walk down to Palais du Pharo treated us to sweeping views of the city, Vieux Port, and Fort St. Jean, which stands at the entrance to the harbour.
Cours Julien is the trendy neighbourhood of Marseille. We must have gone there on an off day. Still seemed quite bohemian.
The highlight of the trip was spending the day at the offshore island of Iles du Frioul. We had wanted to go to Chateau d’If, but due to the rough sea, the boats were not stopping there that day. We ended up exploring Iles du Frioul instead on a gorgeous day. We had great views of Marseille in the background, and exploring the island itself was fun.
The end of the island contains Batterie Caveaux, an abandoned WWII fortification. It is quite eerie and a bit disconcerting to see the remnants of war amidst so much beauty.
On our last full day in Marseille we decided to make a quick day trip to Aix en Provence. Honestly it was a let-down. Aix is the epitome of a “tourist trap”. Filled with high-end boutiques selling stuff targeted for tourists and hordes of said tourists shuffling along from one shop to another. It’s like a Disney version — not a real town, but one “created” to cater to tourists. Granted, we only had a few hours to explore and didn’t get outside the town, so our experience is coloured by that.