< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: Marseille, Our Second Port of Call

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Marseille, Our Second Port of Call

 Marseille is the oldest and third largest city in France. The city was built in just about 600 BC, well before the Romans settled the region. It is documented by Roman travelers and Greek merchants that it was, that long ago, the most important trading settlement of the Mediterranean Sea.

In the late Middle Ages, the Renaissance period, King Francois 1 decided to protect this very important port from his enemies and had two forts built. One was on the island of If, part of the archipel of Frioul, a group of small outcroppings about a mile or two from the entrance to the port of Marseille. You may recognize it, below, as the location where the fictional character; the Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas was imprisoned.

You can visit the island and fortress by boat while in port. The largest of the Frioul islands has stores, restaurants, beaches and houses on it.


 Another boat trip you can take is to the calanques, the little coastal bays and cliffs along the coast east of Marseille. It’s a stunning trip: there are many tiny villages that are only accessible by boat. The water is turquoise and since Marseille is known for its wonderful weather this would make a lovely day.

Speaking of the weather there are lots of beaches you can go to too. The largest is The Prada.

You can also take a cute little train for just a few Euros to Notre Dame de la Garde, high on the tallest hill. This church is dedicated to the sailors, completely covered in gold leaf and has the best views in the city.

You will also want to explore the beautiful Old Port. There are some very interesting neighborhoods and sites to visit around it. One of the most special is the new museum called MUCEM, a museum dedicated to Mediterranean cultures. It is situated on the edge of the Old Port where the docks have been turned into a large park with walkways and benches. One of the neighborhoods is called Le Panier and is the oldest part of Marseille today. It is undergoing a huge gentrification, and many artists and craftspeople live there. It’s very picturesque with cobblestone streets and hills. There is also a market near there with a North African influence with its exotic foods, Provencal fabrics and North African ceramics.

I also discovered that there is a free way to take a private or semi private tour of the city. Much like Chicago Greeters and Charleston’s Free Tours by Foot, you can make a reservation for a tour and just tip your guide any amount at the end. Guides are local and volunteers. http://www.marseilleprovencegreeters.com/en/  

And remember! You’ll be in France! So you must eat! The most famous dish of Marseille is its Bouillabaisse, a very elaborate fish stew made with lots of rock fish and some shellfish.

Also associated with Marseille are aoli, a garlic mayonnaise (Rouille), tapenade, a spread made with crushed olives and of course olive oil, which comes from the olive groves that grow all around the region. You may also want to try its famous aperitif, Pastis, an anise liqueur whose recipe is kept secret.

Some cruisers skip the city though and go into Provence.  It’s only about 30 kilometers, so a very short train ride. Aix is a popular excursion from here. (The buses to Aix have free wifi – something travelers are always looking for!) And I can help you with your plans to visit these other areas.

But if you’ve never been to Marseille, I’d suggest getting to know that first. In 2013 Marseille received the City of European Culture award. To be considered for this honor they started sprucing the city up in 2012. And they’ve done a beautiful job!

Let me know if you need the original flyer about our Western Mediterranean Cruise with prices and full itinerary. And feel free to pass this email along to anyone you think might be interested in joining us!

Nancy Geiger







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