Newest Review: ... the eighteenth century. There is also a smaller, older cathedral strapped to its side which is Romanesque and was built in the eleventh c... more
Member Name: Parisjetaime
Date: 02/09/01, updated on 02/09/01 (139 review reads)
Advantages: Great food, vibrant atmostphere
Disadvantages: Some hassle for females
Despite being the second largest city in France, Marseille is not renowned as a tourist destination, perhaps because it has something of a reputation for violence and racial tension. Having seen the Taxi films and greatly admired the vibrant and colourful city they portrayed, I decided to brave it this summer, reputation notwithstanding. And I wasn't disappointed!
The main street in Marseille is the Canebiere, which stretches down to the vieux port. The port itself is always full of boats, and surprisingly beautiful during the evening, when the water reflects the lights of the city. The port is also a meeting place during the evening for groups of young people, who often set up camps on the mooring platforms. During the day you can take your pick at the hundreds of restaurants (most of them specialising in seafood) lined on its sides.
One of Marseille's biggest attractions, apparently, is the beach. I'm reliably informed by a local that everyone who's anyone goes down there on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. As the beach is not in Marseille itself, you have to drive or take a bus. The beach is sandy and extensive, but if you're expecting either the glamour or the warm water of the French riviera you'll be disappointed on both counts. The people here are locals - no sophisticated cafes, I'm afraid - and the water, I have to say, is arctic, even in late July. If you're in Marseille then check it out, but I wouldn't travel all the way to the city just for its beach (even though Buzz are offering 'beach-break' flights for just £40...).
Marseille's other sites include a castle, a few other historic sites (e.g churches) and my personal favourite, the Chateau d'If. If you're an Alexandre Dumas fan then you'll know it from 'The Count of Monte Cristo'; if you're not, don't worry (I haven't read the book either). The chateau is located on an island just out of Marseille
(take a ferry from the vieux port) and served as a prison until very recently. It has fascinating insriptions from past prisoners and great views of the coastline. Just don't go on a misty day.
There are a few things to remember in Marseille.
Firstly, the accent is very strong and your schoolbook French may not be very useful. Just try to listen carefully!
Secondly, Marseille does contain a large African population (mainly from Tunisia). This does not automatically equal tension. We stayed in a predominantly Tunisian area and everyone seemed to get on well - certainly everyone was friendly to us. Having said that, I have heard that a lot of Marseille nightclubs are unofficially segregated. I didn't try any though, so I'm in no position to comment.
Thirdly, if you are female then expect to receive a lot of attention when walking alone or with girlfriends. Men seem to outnumber women by 10 to 1 on the streets after dark. Stick to main streets, don't go out alone, and take a man with you if you feel uncomfortable. But don't be too afraid; again, I never encountered anything too difficult.
Fourthly, accomodation in Marseille varies enormously. If you're backpacking then do not just turn up hoping to find a room. Quite often the only place you'll be able to find is a prostitutes' hangout with no facilities. I'm not joking - it happened to me. The light didn't work, the tap water was brown, the beds were concave and the toilet was shared with the whole corridor. It may only cost £5 a night, but it's not worth it.
My last tip is not to stick too closely with the tourist restaurants around the harbour. Just off the Canebiere, in the back streets, you'll find lots of places selling much more exotic food. Or pizza (don't scoff - I ate the best pizza of my life from a street bar in Marseile, and it only cost me £2). You can get loads of gorgeous food for hardly any money, so it's
well worth trying out.
I hope I've encouraged you to consider it. Not for a whole two-week holiday, perhaps, but fom my experience it makes an excellent weekend break. The city has an energy you can really feel - something you just cannot say about many other French cities.