Paris has the Louvre Museum. London has the Tower of London. Barcelona has the Familia Sagrada. So what made my visit to Marseille memorable? Two things: the outdoor area at MuCEM and the seafood. [There would be three things but there weren’t any boats heading out to Chateau d’If in January, so I’ll have to go back another time.]
Forget what you’ve seen in the movies (ie. 1971’s “The French Connection” movie about narcotics flowing through Marseille) and what you’ve heard about Marseille. It wasn’t scary. Nor was it dangerous (well, I certainly didn’t run into anything dangerous and felt very safe). In fact, in 2013, Marseille was named the European Capital of Culture, by the European Union. The title was given to the city which has gone to great lengths to promote its arts and culture. I was pretty impressed with the city and wish I had had more time to explore what it had to offer.
During my stay there recently, most of my touring was by foot as it is very easy to see diverse sections of the city walking around. I know many will say that I missed mentioning so many wonderful places in Marseille. Yes, there are many and they should not be missed. There’s a list at the end of this post, but for now, seeing that I like to talk about unique places and experiences, are two of my favourites:
Why visit: for the (fresh) seafood
As mentioned in the last post, you will find numerous restaurants serving the famous Marseille bouillabaisse fish soup/stew, and you will also find a unique restaurant and seafood seller, Toinou. Our hotel recommended this place and many people commented on how fresh the seafood was so we had to try it out.
On the pavement just outside the restaurant many types of seafood are sold, ranging from lobsters and clams to oysters and sea urchins.
Walk inside Toinou and you will encounter a very unique type of restaurant. Yes, they serve you…kind of. Here’s how it works:
- You line up, cafeteria-style, to pick up a tray and your beverage (lots of wines), entrée (ie. salad or cold seafood), sauces, and dessert.
- As you approach the cashier, you will see a menu listing the types of seafood dishes you can order. There are also special platters of oysters or crustaceans. My friend Laurie and I got a bottle of white wine and we each ordered a platter of 8 oysters. The platter consisted of 2 oysters from 4 different regions: Quiberon (Brittany), Isigny (Normandy), Marenne Oléron (Charente-Maritime), and Bouzigues (south of France).
- After eating the oysters my friend and I ordered sautéed shrimp (garlic and butter) and fries. Total bill: 21 Euros per person (about $30 Cdn). Not a bad price and the seafood could not have been fresher!
I would definitely return to Toinou on a future trip. Had I not gotten sick on the bouillabaisse (What You Need To Know About Bouillabaisse), I would have gone back for dinner.
Toinou: 3, cours Saint-Louis 13001 Marseille
2. MuCEM Area
Why visit: for the unique outdoor environment at Fort St. Jean and J4 and views
MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations) opened in 2013 and while I did not go into the museum, which focusses on the culture of the Mediterranean, I spent a great deal of time outside. It is split between Fort St. Jean and J4.
- Fort St. Jean was a fortress in the 17th century and for three centuries it was a military building. Up top there is a Mediterranean garden where a number of people were having picnics. I loved this area because of the garden and the superb views of Marseille and its port, and the Mediterranean Sea.
- The J4 building resides on the former J4 pier in the port and it houses the museum’s large exhibitions.
- Fort Jean and J4 are connected by a bridge and it is FREE to visit the outside area of these sites during museum opening hours.
Other Popular Sites
Chateau d’If —was a fortress that was turned into a prison and is most famous for being the setting in Alexandre Dumas’ 1844 novel, “The Count of Monte Cristo”. I visited the Chateau over 25 years ago and would add this to one of my favourites in this post; however, I don’t have any pictures)
Vieux Port (Old Port)—it has the fish market and is a lovely area to wander around. It also has a cross-port ferry that one can take from one side of the port to the other (to save time walking around) for just 0.50 Euros
Basilique Notre Dame (also known as Notre-Dame de la Garde)—take a bus or tour and stop off here to get a great panoramic view of Marseille. Worth the trek up there.
Le Painier—loved this area which is the oldest quarter in Marseille, settled by the Greeks around 600 BC. It’s a great area for a stroll. Some interesting street art, cafes and shops.
Corniche President John F. Kennedy- where you can watch some beach-volleyball, check out the Monument Aux Morts Des Orients , and see Chateau d’If and Îles du Frioul ( islands of Ratonneau and Pomègues)
The Vielle Charité
Jardin du Pharo
Musée des Beaux Arts