Along 35 miles of Mediterranean coast, Marseille is transforming itself into quite the jewel of Provence – a mix of old world charm and contemporary growth. On the one hand, you discover quaint little fishing ports and sherbet-colored buildings; on the other the brand new tramway and futuristic buildings. To the south are the dramatic “calanques”, wild rocky cliffs and inlets, where the mountains meet the sea.
Panier, Marseille’s Old Town, was where Greeks settled in 600 BC, founding the city of Massalia. The imprint of immigration shows through the over 100 villages that make up the city; where Italians and Corsicans, North Africans and South Americans now share the French city in an eclectic mix of culture, cuisine and custom. Add the ambitious transformation project called Euroméditerranée – the largest urban renovation project in Europe – and you have a city embracing its past, while headed firmly toward the future.
For a stunning view and instant understanding of the complex maze of Marseille, make your way to Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde. Beautifully restored and topped with a graceful, gilded statue of “Our Lady”, the cathedral is perched high on a hill overlooking the whole city. In addition to colorful, Byzantine mosaic domes, the interior includes an interesting collection of ex votos (votive offerings), primarily model boats left by sailors grateful for surviving treacherous seas and dangerous pirates.
Every day the old port hums with its traditional fish market, where the fresh catch of the day will become tonight’s bouillabaisse – hearty fish stew. The Vieux Port is the perfect place for a leisurely lunch and more discovery. Try the upstairs terrace of Chez Jeannot for good regional cuisine and a wonderful view of the old fishing port and colorful boats.
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